I could talk about Simone De Beauvoir in many, many posts. In fact I could probably do a whole years worth of book club posts on her and still not get bored. It is the second time I’ve been graced with the joy of Simone’s writing, albeit in translation so not being able to fully connect with her writing in French but one still feels that intimate connection between writer and reader that was captured so well by the translator of the particular translation that I picked up (it is the Penguin Modern Classic edition translated by James Kirkup).
The memoir is about the first part of her life, charting up until the point that she finishes education and she finally meets the philosophical God that is John-Paul Sartre. Her childhood is laced with family, feminine expectations of the post World War One period with an atheist father and a stifling and devout Catholic mother. Diverting from the path that may have been pre-determined for her, it is the beginning of her works as one of the greatest female philosophers and writer of feminist work, Le Deuxième Sexe.
What I found most fascinating was the first part of her life and the narrative voice that depicted it. I found it harsh and incredibly insightful for someone who was meant to be recounting a four year olds experiences. It could be that I was a little intimidated by such a large mind, her perceptions of her family members and those around her were so sharp and refined; I found myself falling in love with her writing page by page. The intimacy of her account makes this a story of self liberation and a farewell to a childhood that had experienced expectation and regret. I would urge you to read the book merely for a sense of self-understanding, a subject that Simone touches on within the book and highlighted to me the need of self-awareness that we fall victim of not doing sometimes. The rediscovery of childhood from an adult perspective through me off in a way that as a reader of nearly eighteen, I’m still in the realms of her book but there were no parallels in our lives, only our thoughts of who we are and where our future may take us.
The urban setting of Paris adding to the draw of the novel, yet with a lapse in the grandiose mentions of the Louvre and instead, the Luxembourg gardens taking precedence. Place has a huge bearing on children that is just one of the reasons as to why this raw account of growing up is so beautifully real and illuminating to read. I’d love to know how other people react to her work because I think this type of recollection is so personal to the reader.
The most important message to take from De Beauvoir’s work is the courage that is imparted through her own independence and journey to find her sexuality and place in society, not only a quest to: “be loved, be admired, be necessary; be somebody”, but to inspire others with a stubbornness to retain her femininity whilst pursuing what was, and is still, the predominantly masculine field of philosophy.
What makes translated texts so interesting to read is that it isn’t just a work of the author but also on the translators part. Am I reading Kirkup’s work or is it De Beauvoirs? I ought to give her the credit but I think the translation is important as well; it is in the end what we consume.
After reading the book, I posted a picture on my Instagram stories and got a few responses saying that I should read her other autobiographies… she has MORE autobiographies???? I questioned and yes, yes she does and next summer when I am free from the restrictions of focused reading for college and university applications (as much as I love it, they seem to be the only literature on my shelves right now) I will be consuming them all because I want to know more about this amazing woman.
I really struggled to decide what book to choose for next months book club, I want it to be accessible for you to read at home or easily find the translation of the text so I had to bear that in mind with what I chose. I was going to choose Les Fleurs Du Mal which is a selection of poems by Baudelaire but I wrote about French poetry in May and I’m always looking for something new and exciting to read but also review. It may be that I write about the poetry for my last book club post which will be going up in January (and doesn’t feel that far away!!)
Diderot’s Supplément au voyage de Bougainville seemed like a really interesting (and short) book to read. It’s a philosophical dialogue between A and B, written in the eighteenth century in order to criticise the social and political structures of France pre-revolution. My second hand copy from Amazon is currently on its way to me but you can read it in French for free on the Kindle app or there is sure to be an English translation floating somewhere on the internet. It might not be to everyone’s taste but if you’re a social historian reading this or in need of a small French book to help aid you in your study of French then this might be the one for you.
I hope you feel enlightened about Simone De Beauvoir and perhaps she’s one to add to your reading list? I’d love to know whether you prefer the fully English reviews or prefer if I do translated texts opposed to choosing books that are originally in French and if there are any requests for books for the last few months (if not I do already have a plan for the last couple of book club books). Happy reading!
lots of love, eleanor xx