Simone de Beauvoir met Nelson Algren in Chicago in February 1947, when a mutual friend arranged for him to serve as her tour guide for two days. The attraction was immediate, and within two months they were in love. Because Algren was so alien to de Beauvoir's world, she spent time describing events and people to him she might otherwise have taken for granted. The result is that de Beauvoir's 300 surviving letters to Algren are unusually rich in detail--love letters with a conscious undercurrent of French social history. Translated and annotated by Kate Leblanc, they offer amusing insights into postwar Parisian life and characters, delivered with the charm of the nonnative writer.
In one letter, de Beauvoir sums up Albert Camus as "an interesting but difficult guy. When he was not pleased with the book he was writing, he was very arrogant; now, he has got a rather great success and he has become very modest and sincere." She coolly describes a dinner party where she witnessed the separation of the apexes of mind and body: "Sartre was alone in a corner, eating sadly some corned-beef, and I sat in front of Rita Hayworth, trying to speak to her, and looking at her beautiful shoulders and breasts which could have made so many men crazy but which were so useless for me." This is essential reading for devotees of the Paris literary scene and other literary romantics. --Regina Marler