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Rachel Bespaloff (1895–1949)

Author of War and the Iliad

Includes the names: Rachel Bespaloff

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Rachel Bespaloff was born to a Ukrainian Jewish family in Bulgaria and spent her early childhood in Kiev before the family moved to Geneva, Switzerland. Her parents were Daniel Pasmanik, a Zionist writer-activist and physician, and his wife Debora Perlmutter, who held a doctorate in philosophy. Rachel studied dance and music and received a diploma in piano performance from the Geneva Conservatoire in 1914. She then moved to France and taught music at the Paris Opéra. She married Shraga Nissim Bespaloff, a Ukrainian businessman and had a daughter, after which she gave up her musical career. In 1925, she became a friend of the Russian philosopher Lev Shestov and after spending time with him and his friends, took up philosophy as a career. She became a leader in the areas of existentialism and phenomenology. Her first book was a collection of essays called Cheminements et carrefours (Paths and Crossroads), published in 1938. That year she began to re-read the Iliad, which her daughter was studying at school. In 1942, she fled the Nazis Occupation of France in World War II via Casablanca to the USA, where she worked for the French section of the Office of War Information before getting a job teaching French at Mount Holyoke College. There she continued her work as a philosopher and literary critic, and moved in intellectual circles. She published On the Iliad: A Study of Homer's Interpretation of Man in War and in Peace, written partly before the war, in 1947. She committed suicide at age 53 in 1949. Her correspondence with Gabriel Marcel, Daniel Halévy, Jean-Paul Sartre and others was published posthumously.
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