Film-maker Claude Lanzmann has sold 112 passionate love letters sent to him by the legendary French feminist Simone de Beauvoir, Christie’s said Friday.
The director of the acclaimed Holocaust documentary Shoah said he has been forced to part with the correspondence because of a “scandalous” French inheritance law which means that they must go to her family on his death.
The letters, which are filled with the “mad passion” the couple shared during their seven-year affair in the 1950s, were sent to Lanzmann at Yale University and have never been published.
“I never planned for these letters to come out or be published,” said the 93-year-old, who was the secretary of de Beauvoir’s long-term lover, the philosopher and playwright Jean Paul-Satre. The golden couple of French mid-20th century intellectual life had a famously open relationship, in a time when similar love triangles where often the norm.
Lanzmann, who was 17 years de Beauvoir’s junior, fell in love with her while he was editing “Les Temps Modernes”, the ground-breaking review the couple founded after World War II, which he still heads.
According to Yale’s library, which for now is only making the letters available in its reading room, most were written while de Beauvoir was travelling with Sartre on their headline-making visits to Russia, China, Japan and Cuba.
Lanzmann raged against the French law which he said had forced him to sell the letters to Yale, saying it was crazy that it “states that the contents of the letters did not belong to the person they were addressed to”.
However, he had the right “to pass them on”, Lanzmann added, “in the hope that the purchaser can, if not publish them, then at least conserve them and make them available to historians and researchers”.
The top American university already holds de Beauvoir’s manuscripts and personal archives, and it can “now be proud of having all of her letters to me”, which Lanzmann called “an exceptional, passionate correspondence”. Christie’s did not reveal how much the letters had been sold for.