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Longleaf Combined University Press Titles Fall/Winter 2020

Sex, Love, and Letters
Writing Simone de Beauvoir
By (author): Judith G. Coffin
Judith G. Coffin


Cornell University Press



Product Form:


Form detail:

Paper over boards
Hardcover , Paper over boards


General Trade : Age (years) 18
Sep 15, 2020
$44.95 CAD


9.1in x 6 x 1.2 in | 560 gr

Page Count:

328 pages


4 b&w halftones
Cornell University Press
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Feminism & Feminist Theory
Feminism and feminist theory|Biography: general|Gender studies: women and girls
Aldo and Jeanne Scaglione Prize for French and Francophone Studies 2020, Runner-up David H. Pinkney Prize 2020, Winner Eugen Weber Book Prize 2020, Winner

When Judith G. Coffin discovered a virtually unexplored treasure trove of letters to Simone de Beauvoir from Beauvoir's international readers, it inspired Coffin to explore the intimate bond between the famed author and her reading public. This correspondence, at the heart of Sex, Love, and Letters, immerses us in the tumultuous decades from the late 1940s to the 1970s?from the painful aftermath of World War II to the horror and shame of French colonial brutality in Algeria and through the dilemmas and exhilarations of the early gay liberation and feminist movements. The letters also provide a glimpse into the power of reading and the power of readers to seduce their favorite authors.

The relationship between Beauvoir and her audience proved especially long, intimate, and vexed. Coffin traces this relationship, from the publication of Beauvoir's acclaimed The Second Sex to the release of the last volume of her memoirs, offering an unfamiliar perspective on one of the most magnetic and polarizing philosophers of the twentieth century. Along the way, we meet many of the greatest writers of Beauvoir's generation?Hannah Arendt; Dominique Aury, author of The Story of O; François Mauriac, winner of the Nobel Prize and nemesis of Albert Camus; Betty Friedan; and, of course, Jean-Paul Sartre?bringing the electrically charged salon experience to life.

Sex, Love, and Letters lays bare the private lives and political emotions of the letter writers and of Beauvoir herself. Her readers did not simply pen fan letters but, as Coffin shows, engaged in a dialogue that revealed intellectual and literary life to be a joint and collaborative production. "This must happen to you often, doesn't it?" wrote one. "That people write to you and tell you about their lives?"

Judith G. Coffin is Associate Professor of History at the University of Texas at Austin. She is the author of The Politics of Women's Work and articles on radio, mass culture, and sexuality and coauthor of four editions of Western Civilizations. Follow her on Twitter @judygcoffin.

Judith G. Coffin's book is a signal achievement in the history of reading and literary history writ large. Her sensitive and astute use of the unexplored letters written to Simone de Beauvoir gives us a truer sense than we've ever had of this writer's central role in postwar culture.

- Alice Kaplan, author of Looking for The Stranger

Beauvoir has often been either unduly attacked or zealously defended by biographers and critics. Coffin gets beyond this impasse, neither apologizing for her subject's limitations, nor reproducing the biased standards by which contemporaries and historians often judge women. Those who read bestsellers by Tony Judt or Rebecca Traister will enjoy Sex, Love, and Letters.

- Sharon Marcus, author of The Drama of Celebrity

A highly original, exciting contribution to the cultural history of the postwar period, Sex, Love, and Letters offers a nuanced, beautifully detailed portrait of Beauvoir's readership, her 'intimate public.' Coffin's book sheds vivid new light on the preoccupations of an entire era.

- Emma Kuby, author of Political Survivors

A delightful analysis of a little-known aspect of Beauvoir's life and legacy: the extraordinary epistolary relationships with her readers. Coffin shares intriguing insights into the highly personal and concrete ways that Beauvoir moved and inspired generations of women and men.

- Skye Cleary, author of Existentialism and Romantic Love

Coffin opens up a new perspective onto a major writer, and makes a convincing case for her continuing intellectual relevance.

- Publisher's Weekly

This beautifully written, frequently moving book is a crucial addition to the scholarship on Simone de Beauvoir.

- Kirkus Reviews

[Coffin] writes engagingly about... historic developments while paying strict attention to the vivid immediacy of those letters that range far and wide across the categories of sentiment, education, and motive, revealing personalities that run the gamut from the elegant to the crude, the appreciative to the demanding.

- Boston Review

Several years ago, Coffin had the great fortune to be the first researcher to open an uncataloged Beauvoir archive.... No less fortunately, she had the great intelligence and skill to translate these letters into English for us and cast them in a lucid and fascinating account of Beauvoir's relationship to her readers then and since.

- Los Angeles Review of Books

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