Thursday, June 23, 2011


Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter, Simone de Beauvoir, The World Publishing Company, 1959 translation, Librairie Gallimard, Paris, 1958, 360 pp

I looked forward to this first volume of Simone de Beauvoir's autobiography with much anticipation, but had no idea how wonderful it would be. Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter covers the first twenty-three years of her life beginning with her earliest childhood memories. I loved the way she explained the early tantrums that came over her whenever adults attempted to block her efforts to act in an independent, self-realized fashion. Apparently she was born with the sense that she was an individual who mattered and had the right to follow her own ideas.

Her upbringing was bourgeois Catholic, though her family was by no means wealthy. She went to Catholic schools, was trained and guarded as a young girl by a devout, socially conservative mother, yet stimulated by her father's love of the theater. Although she was kept close to home and inculcated with fears about bodily functions, passion, men and sex, Simone had always a brilliant inquiring intellect. She read and studied incessantly all throughout grade school, high school and college, entering the Sorbonne as one of the few female philosophy candidates. Every drive she had was sublimated into mental activity. She was almost twenty before she went out on her own to bars, plays, movies, at which point she went a bit wild but never experienced more than a kiss from a male.

As she relates her female friendships, her infatuation with her cousin Jacques, her quest to understand life through philosophy, I was enthralled by the combined emotional, spiritual and intellectual fervor which imbued every minute of her coming of age. The loss of her Catholic faith and her attempts to understand her own mind, passions and aspirations were as exciting to me as her tortured relationship with her best friend Zaza.

I doubt that I will ever reach the intellectual heights of this amazing woman, but I have always dreamed of doing so. As I mentioned in my review of The Second Sex, it blows my mind that Simone de Beauvoir was of my own mother's generation yet our mothers were so much alike. It is almost true that she went through my life a generation earlier in another country, in Paris of all places. I am lucky that she always kept a journal and could write so movingly about her life.

(Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter is available in paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

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