La femme rompue

Simone de Beauvoir (1908 - 1986)
Hélène de Beauvoir (1910 - 2001)
Title page of La Femme rompue

'Why have you chosen to illustrate the mediocre book your sister has written?' Hélène de Beauvoir was asked this question in a television interview prompted by an exhibition of her paintings. The interviewer referred to the deluxe edition of La femme rompue by her famous sister Simone de Beauvoir, which had been published in 1967, and which was illustrated by sixteen original engravings. That autumn, the three novellas from the collection -including the illustrations -were also published in women's magazine Elle. The book became a bestseller, but it was savaged by the critics. In Tout compte fait (1972), one of Simone de Beauvoir's autobiographical works, she wrote that the collaboration was something she had long wished for, and which had finally come true with La femme rompue. The short stories in this collection were better suited for illustrations than her other, longer texts. Hélène defended her sister's collection passionately: according to her, anyone unable to appreciate the work simply lacked the intelligence to understand it.

Inconsequential and unsophisticated?

The criticism of Simone de Beauvoir's last work of fiction came from various corners. Most -male- critics considered the work a thinly veiled autobiographical confessional, labelling the novel reading matter for 'seamstresses'. They generally found the work inconsequential and unsophisticated. For many, the mere fact that the stories had been printed in a women's magazine was reason enough to dismiss the work as a 'pulp novel'. But feminists also responded negatively to the collection’s publication. They didn’t consider the main characters strong women who were in control of their own destiny, but women who subordinated themselves to their husbands and children. Simone was annoyed by their sense of betrayal from the author of the 'feminist bible', as her most famous work Le deuxième sexe had become known.

But neither did the positive responses from readers please De Beauvoir. Many woman readers identified with the female characters in La femme rompue. According to the author, they were also wrong. She had wanted to show readers how it shouldn’t be done. The three novellas ('L'Age de discrétion', 'Monologue', and the eponymous story 'La femme rompue') feature women who live only for others, especially their husbands. Many readers thought that the work was autobiographical and that the themes the book dealt with- old age, abandonment and despair - had been taken from Simone's personal life. The readers of Elle especially sent in huge numbers of letters in which they expressed their compassion for the main characters. Simone absolutely rejected these declarations of support. She declared that these women were subservient or domesticated themselves; they were in any case moving toward such a state.


Wrongly interpreted or not, the negative judgment of La femme rompue failed to hurt illustrator Hélène de Beauvoir's career. While her famous sister Simone moved in the centre of cultural and intellectual Parisian circles with her companion Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980), Hélène lived a rather withdrawn life in the Alsace with her husband Lionel de Roulet. Simone would meet artists in cafés like Café le Flore, and at parties organised by the prestigious publisher Gallimard, including Cocteau, Camus, Genet, and Giacometti. She even rejected an illustration by Picasso that was supposed to serve as the front cover of the existentialist magazine Les temps modernes, which she had founded together with Sartre.

Hélène had always stood in the shadow of her sister, who was two years older. Simone, who was so much more successful, didn't always understand why Hélène didn't give up on her problematic career as an artist, but she did always visit all of Hélène's exhibitions faithfully. To Simone, success was an important factor in maintaining her motivation to work. Hélène had her first exhibition in Paris in 1936, and later had shows in Florence, Milan, and Tokyo, among other cities. Her decorative abstract art was influenced by cubism. She focused mainly on painting, but she also illustrated the book Paysages et destines balzaciens by Amédée Ponceau, which is also part of the Koopman Collection (signature: K 145).

The copy of La femme rompue in the Koopman Collection is number 73 out of 107 numbered large-paper copies. The edition was published by Gallimard, like the other works of both De Beauvoir and Sartre. A salacious detail is that Gallimard initially had strong reservations as far as De Beauvoir's work was concerned. The renowned firm was afraid that the publication of such 'feminine' literature would give it the mark of a publisher intent on overturning the social order, which would scare off buyers and critics alike. It is quite clear by now that this fear was completely unfounded.

Bibliographical description:

La femme rompue / Simone de Beauvoir ; ill. de 16 burins orig. par Hélène de Beauvoir. - Éd. Orig. - [Paris] : Gallimard, 1967. - 165 p. : ill. ; 40 cm
Tournon (text); Atelier Leblanc (etchings)
143 copies
This copy:
Number 73 of 107 on Lana
Cannac (box)
With handwritten dedication to Louis Koopman by the author; With prospectus
Bénézit 2-937 ; Monod-1265
KW Koopm A 409


  • Deirdre Bair, Simone de Beauvoir: A biography. New York, Summit Books, 1990
  • Simone de Beauvoir, Tout compte fait. Paris, Gallimard, 1972
  • Jean-Louis Ferrier, 'Sur la peinture d'Hélène de Beauvoir', in: Les temps modernes, 18 (1963) 201, p. 1504-1512
  • Claude Francis, Fernande Gontier, Les écrits de Simone de Beauvoir: La vie, l'écriture Paris, Gallimard, 1979