The characters referenced in Woody Allen’s movie “Midnight in Paris” (Part 34, Simone de Beauvoir)

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Ernesto Che Guevara reunido con Simone de Beauvoir y Jean Paul Sartre, en Cuba. 1960

Recently I read a review of “Midnight in Paris” the latest Woody Allen movie that noted, “Many a writer or artist has longed to travel back in time to the sizzling Paris of the 1920’s to sip absinthe with Hemingway at Les Deux Magots ,” and that got me thinking. What other famous people were patrons of this famous restaurant through the years? Today I am discussing Simon de Beauvoir.

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I am really reaching at this point. Up until this point I have really been trying to only talk about the characters that Woody Allen referenced in his latest movie “Midnight in Paris.” However, now I am stepping over the line and talking about famous philosophers who ate regularly at Les Deux Magots which is featured in the movie. So be it.

Les Deux Magots (French pronunciation: [le dø maɡo]) is a famous[1] café in the Saint-Germain-des-Prés area of Paris, France. It once had a reputation as the rendezvous of the literary and intellectual élite of the city. It is now a popular tourist destination. Its historical reputation is derived from the patronage of Surrealist artists, intellectuals such as Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre, and young writers, such as Ernest Hemingway. Other patrons included Albert Camus and Pablo Picasso.

The Deux Magots literary prize has been awarded to a French novel every year since 1933.

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The name originally belonged to a fabric and novelty shop at nearby 23 Rue de Buci. The shop sold silk lingerie and took its name from a popular play of the moment (1800s) entitled Les Deux Magots de la Chine (Two Figurines from China.)[2] In 1873 the business transferred to its current location in the Place Saint-Germain-des-Prés. In 1884 the business changed to a café and liquoriste, keeping the name.

Auguste Boulay bought the business in 1914, when it was on the brink of bankruptcy, for 400,000 francs (anciens). The present manager, Catherine Mathivat, is his great-great-granddaughter.

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Picture of DeBeauvoirSimone De Beauvoir


French Existentialist, Writer, and Social Essayist

1908-1986


De Beauvoir grew up in a respected borgeois family, the eldest of two daughters. She adopted atheism while still an adolescent, and decided to devote her life to writing and studying.

She graduated from the Sorbonne in 1929, writing a thesis on Leibniz. Philosophy was, for her a discussion and study of the essentials of existence– though she was also fascinated by beauty and aesthetics.

De Beauvoir taught high school while developing the basis for her philosophical thought between 1931 and 1943. Following in the tradition of the 18th century ‘gadfly’ philosophe’s, De Beauvoir used her background in formal philosophy to voice her sentiments on feminism and existentialism.

Jean-Paul Sartre and De beauvoir met after her studies in the Sorbonne, the beginning of a friendship which lasted until his death in 1980. This period began what she described as a ‘moral’ phase of life; the culmination of which was her most important philosophical work, The Ethics of Ambiguity(1948). She began the phase with an essay entitled Pyrrhus et Cineas(1944), and the earlier novel called L’Envitee(1943).

No doubt born of the confusion and madness of WWII, De Beauvoir included in her Ethics Sartre’s ontology of being-for-itself and being-in-itself. She also draws heavily on his conception of human beings as creatures who are free. Freedom of choice, humanity’s utmost value, is the criterion for morality and immorality in one’s acts. Good acts increase one’s freedom, while bad ones limit that freedom.

No doubt, her linkage to Sartre was the reason that she received the unwanted title of existentialist. Among other things, she also was an anti-colonialist, publicly criticising France’s position in Algiers, a pro-abortionist and a socialist with Marxist sympathies.

Her major thrust into philosophical analysis was due to her life-long friendship with Sartre. Using some of the ideas she worked with in Ethics and a few of the underpinnings of existentialism as described by Sartre, she went on to produce her famous work, The Second Sex. Working with the idea that women are the “other,” and another statement: “that women is not born, but made,” De Beauvoir delves deep into the history of women’s oppression. This was the definitive declaration of woman’s independence.

Her other works include a four part autobiography, a prize winning novel called The Mandarins, and a novel condemning society for its treatment of the elderly, The Coming of Age. Writing on her mother’s death she produced A Very Easy Death. One of her final novels was a diary recording the slow lingering death of her friend Sartre, called Adieux: A Farewell to Sartre.

Her final words on Sartre’s death(and her own, in Adieux) were:

“My death will not bring us together again. This is how things are. It is in itself splendid that we were able to live our lives in harmony for so long.”

This is a great review of Midnight in Paris at this link. It has lots of historical references to characters mentioned in the film.

 

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