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Simone de Beauvoir
via Creative Commons

Simone de Beauvoir’s previously unseen novel to be published after 75 years

Les Inséparables, about the feminist writer’s childhood friendship with Elisabeth ‘Zaza’ Lacoin, was originally thought to be ‘too intimate’

A novel by feminist writer and philosopher Simone de Beauvoir that was was deemed “too intimate” to release in her lifetime will be published in English next year.

Written in 1954, five years after publishing her groundbreaking manifesto The Second Sex, Les Inséparables tells the story of two girls who strike up a passionate friendship and rally against the cultural norms.

Vintage, which will publish the novel in the UK in late 2021, describes it as “the friendship between two young women struggling against conventional ideas of what a woman should be in early 20th century Paris: chaste, devout, obedient, and obliged from a young age to set aside her own interests and passions”.

The story is based on de Beauvoir’s real-life friendship with Elisabeth “Zaza” Lacoin, who she met at school. “Beauvoir’s real-life intense, formative relationship with her friend Zaza shaped, in many ways, the woman Beauvoir was to become – while Beauvoir broke free, Zaza never found a way out,” said Vintage.

Zaza died of viral encephalitis at the age of 21, following her family’s fierce objection to her relationship with philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty, who she’d met through Beauvoir.

According to literary agency 2Seas, the book was “too intimate” to be published in Beauvoir’s lifetime, but was recently discovered in her archives by her daughter Sylvie Le Bon-de Beauvoir, who’s written the preface.

Speaking to the New York Times, Le Bon-de Beauvoir, who’s Simone’s literary executor, said: “When she wrote it, in 1954, she had already honed her craft as a writer. She destroyed some works that she was unhappy with. She didn’t destroy this one. About her papers, she told me, ‘You’ll do as you think is right.’”

Les Inséparables will be published in France in October this year. English editions won’t be published until 2021.