Thursday, March 1, 2007

The Retro Read

Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter by Simone de Beauvoir
Harper Perennial 2005
Reviewed by Amanda Addison

In this first volume of de Beauvoir’s memoirs she discusses her childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood. The beginnings of her feminist ideology can be traced to her early memories of resentment at being treated differently because of her sex. Simone loved reading and longed to become an author, philosopher, and intellectual. She mistakenly thought that this would bring her closer to her father whom she admired greatly. Rather, her father mourned that his daughter was becoming a “bluestocking” and wished that she would temper her education with a sense of docile femininity. Simone resented this ideology and firmly believed that the sexes should be treated equally – no double standards.Simone also felt this difference within her friendships. Her best friend, Zsa Zsa, was equally erudite, but knew that her life path would not be that of an intellectual. Zsa Zsa submitted to her mother’s tyranny – her mother insisted that her daughters take a prominent place in society and secure a “successful” marriage. Study was placed in the background while Zsa Zsa went to teas, shopped for dresses, and engaged in civil activities required of a lady in her station. This dampened Zsa Zsa’s spirits and, although they were extremely close, Simone felt this difference constantly and was surprised that Zsa Zsa willingly submitted to these requirements.In fact, Simone felt quite different from her other female friends. Although she envisioned marriage and children those things seemed far off to her and those things would be chosen by Simone. Not forced upon her. Simone’s female friends (Zsa Zsa and others) were studious and well-read but they didn’t see thought as their life’s passion. Simone studied with intense passion. She created schedules to fill her day with study. She thrived in intellectual discussions, longed to write a novel, and relished reading in the library. Naturally, she assumed that the other female students at the Sorbonne felt the same way.

She felt a near religious affinity for her studies as evidenced in the following quote:
Literature took the place in my life that had once been occupied by religion: it absorbed me entirely, and transfigured my life […] they created a created a kind of communion between myself and those twin souls which existed somewhere out of reach; instead of living out my small private existence, I was participating in a great spiritual epic. For months I kept myself going with books: they were the only reality within my reach. (Beauvoir 187)

Simone de Beauvoir was bewildered at the difference between her and the other students. Later, she found her niche with Jean-Paul Sartre’s group and flourished in this intellectual milieu. Unfortunately, Zsa Zsa had a brief and unhappy life. At the end of Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter de Beauvoir explains that she felt that Zsa Zsa’s life was an unhappy sacrifice so that Simone might have her freedom.

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