Feminist Existentialism in Simone de Beauvoir's The Mandarins
This semester, I am taking an independent study course in Existential Literature. For the final paper assignment, I've decided to focus on The Mandarins by Simone de Beauvoir. It's the only book on the syllabus by a woman and the difference in the treatment of female characters is striking. In the other novels, women are delegated to mother figure or sexual object, but de Beauvoir embraces three dimensional female characters and weaves the unique issues facing women into her protagonist Anne's existentialist crisis. Existentialism is very much a Boys Club, so it is very exciting for me to engage with a novel written by a woman, about a woman.
In preperation for the paper, I've been re-reading Judith Butler's landmark work Gender Trouble, and perusing de Beauvoir's theoretical work The Second Sex. I'm planning on focusing on the intersection of feminism and existentialsim as focused on the female body in The Mandarins.
We have spent a good amount of time this semester discussing the place of the body in existnetialism, and how the body factors into the realization fo the absurd. However, it has always been the male body--or really the male body standing in for the neutralm ungendered body. Interestingly, once women entered our existentialist discourse, the realization of the body became a very different thing: the body was suddenly no longer just a body but instead a sexed and gendered object. This is wholly unsurprising, but it greatly changes the lens of study. I'm excited to keep pursuing this line of thinking.