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Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter by Simone de…

Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter (original 1958; edition 1963)

by Simone de Beauvoir (Author), James Kirkup (Translator)

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1,390145,468 (3.92)21
Title:Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter
Authors:Simone de Beauvoir (Author)
Other authors:James Kirkup (Translator)
Info:Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1963. Penguin ID: 2030.
Collections:Your library, To read, Acquired in 2012
Tags:1958, 20th century, biography, autobiography, memoir, twentieth century, unread

Work details

Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter by Simone de Beauvoir (1958)

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    The Diary Of Anais Nin, Volume 3 (1939-1944) by Anaïs Nin (JuliaMaria)
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    Mémoires d'un jeune homme dérangé by Frédéric Beigbeder (JuliaMaria)
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    A Disgraceful Affair by Bianca Lamblin (JuliaMaria)
    JuliaMaria: Der Titel der Memoiren von Bianca Lamblin ist diesem ersten Band der Memoiren von Simone de Beauvoir entlehnt. Man muss die Memoiren von Lamblin nicht unbedingt lesen, aber es gibt einen Eindruck der Beziehung von Simone de Beauvoir und Jean-Paul Sartre.
  4. 00
    The Diary Of Anais Nin, Volume 4 (1944-1947) by Anaïs Nin (JuliaMaria)
    JuliaMaria: Simone de Beauvoir und Anais Nin, zwei faszinierende sehr unterschiedliche Frauen derselben Generation, und wie sie ihre Leben für sich und uns aufbereiten. Die eine über eine detaillierte mehrere Bände umfassende Autobiographie, die andere über tägliche Tagebucheinträge, die viele viele Bände füllen.… (more)

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Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter is the first volume of Simone de Beauvoir’s autobiography, and covers her life from early childhood until her days as a student at the Sorbonne. I wanted to read this book because I’m interested in existentialism, enjoy autobiographies and was quite intrigued by de Beauvoir herself. Although I’ve read a couple of existentialist novels, I was quite curious to read about the movement from a woman’s perspective. De Beauvoir’s memoir completely lived up to my expectations – she is an unusual and fascinating character, and it helped that the book also contained a few ingredients I usually like reading about (Paris, the 1920s and 30s, university life).

One aspect of the story she tells is her rebellion against her family in her late teens. She was born into a middle-class family; her mother was a strict Catholic, while her father, to whom Simone was devoted, was a conservative lawyer, a sceptic and an impressive amateur actor. The two influences seem to have created a kind of internal conversation that repeated itself during her life: ‘My father’s individualism and pagan ethical standards were in complete contrast to the rigidly moral conventionalism of my mother’s teaching. This imbalance, which made my life a kind of endless disputation, is the main reason why I became an intellectual’. Simone was herself very pious as a child and thought of becoming a nun but later completely lost her faith. I think you can see the same intensity and tendency to extremism (in a positive sense) in her attempts to find ‘the Truth’ as a philosophy student.

While reading this book, I was struck by how restricted the life of young girls was during the early twentieth century. Although Simone was encouraged by her parents in all her intellectual pursuits, her social life and that of her friends was limited. For example, when she was a student, she had to lie to her mother in order to manage an evening at the ballet with a friend. Her mother even opened her post and read it until she was 19. I don’t think this was unusual for the time, as the lives of Simone’s friends, like Zaza (her best friend, who plays a large role in this book), seem to have been just the same. The expectation that they’d behave in the narrow way acceptable to bourgeois society and then make a respectable marriage seems to have been very oppressive. I think it’s difficult enough nowadays (when there’s supposedly more freedom) to disregard certain social expectations, but this environment makes de Beauvoir’s decisions to break away from these conventions and risk her parents’ disapproval even more courageous.

However, in her later student days, she experienced (through her own determined efforts) a greater degree of freedom. This life seems to have been much more fulfilling: going to the theatre, cinema and jazz bars, expanding her horizons through studying, and making friends with a whole crowd of intellectual men and women. I was quite envious of the way de Beauvoir and her friends were able to discuss life, their opinions and their feelings in such an articulate manner, writing long, passionate letters and constantly challenging one another’s ideas about life. Although she loved the city nightlife, she seems to have had an ambivalent attitude towards ‘debauchery’, sometimes dismissive of friends whom she saw as merely drunken aesthetes and nihilists (typical insults in 1920s Paris). She herself was a very serious person, which leads me on to another thing I enjoyed about this book: the fact that it takes seriously a young woman’s feelings, opinions and interest in philosophy, in pursuing the truth about life. Although de Beauvoir often takes a slightly ironic tone (which I also liked) when describing her younger self, I appreciated the fact that she wasn’t too critical. It’s a book that seems to illustrate the belief that an individual’s inner life and experiences are interesting and worthy of analysis.

I would recommend this book to readers who enjoy explorations of a person’s emotional and intellectual life, and in-depth descriptions of their relationships with other people. I do like all of the above, but there were a few moments when the book’s events progressed slightly too slowly for me, or I found it somewhat repetitive (for example, in the neverending ups-and-downs of some of de Beauvoir’s relationships). It doesn’t have a fast-moving plot, that’s for sure. However, I’d then move on to a more interesting episode and would become absorbed again, so this is only a minor criticism.

Something I think I particularly like about Simone de Beauvoir is that she sees philosophy as being vitally important and not merely abstract theories unrelated to people’s lives; as a student, she did not wish for the conventional academic and ultra-cerebral life, which she saw as dry and dull. I liked this sentence: ‘In my view, it was not enough just to think or just to live; I gave my complete allegiance only to those who “thought their lives out”.’ ( )
  papercat | Jun 27, 2017 |
An intensely detailed but insightful memoir of Simone de Beauvoir's childhood, from birth to the are of 21, in which she explore the formation of her ideas about life, love, and her future vocation. For my complete review, please see Whispering Gums at: http://whisperinggums.com/2014/08/28/simone-de-beauvoir-memoirs-of-a-dutiful-dau... ( )
  minerva2607 | Aug 28, 2014 |
Well written discourses on growing up are amazing. The clarity with which the author described her years from infancy to childhood and beyond was astonishing; it was as if the babies in Mary Poppins had retained the eloquent speech which they used to discourse with birds and other nonhuman entities. It made for some serious misunderstandings on my part at the beginning though, as I was originally very annoyed with Simone at the beginning of her life. Her tantrums and her taking of her blessed life for granted were very frustrating, at least until I realized that the way she was conveying her emotions and thought processes made her seem much older than she actually was. It was easier to forgive her then, and actually made the reasons behind her outbursts as a child fascinating instead of insufferable. Once my annoyances with her cleared up, her life was one of the more intellectually stimulating biographies that I have had the pleasure of reading, to the extent that I will have to find more works by the deep thinkers of the period. I'm especially looking forward to reading Jean-Paul Sartre; the way she describes him makes me wish I had met him, and if given the chance I would gladly give my right arm in order to do so. Many of the people she interacted with were interesting, but what shone clearest through her time with them is how it was normal for her to quickly fall in with them, discourse for a while, and then fall out just as quickly. This resonated deeply with my own experiences with others, along with the fact that she had multiple periods of stagnancy that overwhelmed her body and soul. To want for everything, yet be limited to a repeating daily life barred on all sides by both physical walls and ignorant people! There is no greater torture than this. Reading this book doesn't help my own dissatisfaction with my short term goal of settling down to a career, but it was satisfying in my long term goal of figuring out exactly what my existence is supposed to consist of. I think there's a little too much personal reflection in here. Darn. Going back to the book, it was a heady mix of descriptive elegance and intellectual stimulation in a never ending journey of self-discovery, and Simone honed the process of its creation down to a science. Not sure if I'll ever look into any of the books that she devoured in the course of the novel, but as said previously, I definitely need to read Sartre. Someone who was described as always thinking definitely deserves some attention. ( )
  Korrick | Mar 29, 2013 |
The short of it: From the opening pages I fell head over heels for Memoires d'une jeune fille rangée (translated into English as Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter but more literally "Memoirs of a well-behaved girl"), the first of four volumes in de Beauvoir's autobiography. It's been a long time since I connected with a book at such a level of visceral sympathy—since I had the feeling "Yes! That's what it's like for me too!," since I felt such a sense of loss upon turning a final page. So there may be a certain lack of critical distance in this post: I'm declaring myself right up front to be a newly-converted de Beauvoir fangirl, and my only dilemma now is whether to break my book-buying ban and order the second volume (La force de l'age) right this second, or whether to hold out for a gift-giving holiday or upcoming trip to France.

And the long: For me, one of the greatest pleasures of Memoires d'une jeune fille rangée is simply watching de Beauvoir's brain apply its lifelong training in philosophy and semiotics to the examination of her own early life. Beginning with birth and ending with the completion of her secondary schooling, some of the most interesting passages in this book map to what are often the "boring bits" of biography and autobiography: de Beauvoir's early childhood. She is such a keen observer, and obviously so well-accustomed to dissecting the way humans perceive and process the world, that hers becomes an early-childhood story unlike any I've ever read before—and it's especially exciting to read about her development in this regard if the reader has some slight familiarity with her existentialist feminism later in life, since she does a complete about-face on many issues. She writes, for example, about her early assumption (age five or so) that language and other signs sprang organically—necessarily and without human intervention—from the things they signify, so that the word "vache" (cow) was somehow a necessary and organic component of the animal itself. In this mindset she could understand letters as objects (an "a," for example) but not as building blocks representing sounds that make up words. In this passage, she recalls the "click" in her brain when she finally, although in a limited way, grasped the concept of a sign:

[J]e contemplais l'image d'une vache, et les deux lettres, c, h, qui se prononçaient ch. J'ai compris soudain qu'elles ne possedaient pas un nom à la manière des objets, mais qu'elles représentaient un son: j'ai compris ce que c'est un signe. J'eus vite fait d'apprendre à lire. Cependant ma pensée s'arrêta en chemin. Je voyais dans l'image graphique l'exacte doublure du son qui lui correspondait: ils émanaient ensemble de la chose qu'ils exprimaient si bien que leur relation ne comportait aucun arbitraire.

[I was looking at a picture of a cow [vache], and the two letters, c and h, that together were pronounced "ch." I understood suddenly that they had no name in the sense that objects do, but that they represented a sound: I understood what a sign is. It then took me very little time to learn to read. However, my ideas stopped there. I saw in the picture the exact double of the sound corresponding to it: they emanated together from the thing they expressed, so well that the relation between them involved nothing arbitrary.

One of the many threads running through the book traces de Beauvoir's evolving understanding of signs: where they come from, how they work, and the inescapable gap (despite her early naïvete) between the thing itself and the sign humans have invented to indicate it. There comes a period in her teenage years when language, the necessity of interpreting language, becomes her enemy for just this reason: when we express our thoughts, feelings, and intentions, there is always a chasm between the thing itself—our interior landscape—and our expression of it; often this chasm is only widened when our words are interpreted by another person.

Despite this semiotic difficulty, however, de Beauvoir herself does an impeccable job of articulating her own interior landscapes at different times in her life, not only as personal experiences, but as ontological states capable of dissection by her as an adult. Another thread that is first woven into the narrative very early is the dread inherent in the realization that we change with time, that our present incarnation is different than the person we will be in the future, and in ways currently dismaying or frightening to us. That these changes may cease to dismay or frighten us in the future, before or after they happen to us, doesn't change the dread our current selves feel at being left behind, replaced:

Je regardais le fauteuil de maman et je pensais: "Je ne pourrai plus m'asseoir sur ses genoux." Soudain l'avenir existait: il me changerait en une autre qui dirait moi et ne serait plus moi. J'ai pressenti tous les sevrages, les reniements, les abandons et la succession de mes morts.

[I looked at maman's chair and I thought: "I won't be able to sit on her lap anymore." Suddnely the future existed: it would change me into someone else who would say "me" and would no longer be me. I sensed all the weanings, the renunciations, the abandonments and the whole progression of my deaths.

This was one of those jolts of recognition for me: I have a memory very like this, of being at the zoo with my mother and grandmother when I was three or four years old, and overhearing them talk about how unpleasant "teenagers" were. Mom and Grandma probably didn't actually say this, but I got the impression from their conversation that teenagers hate their parents. And it suddenly dawned on me that one day I would be a teenager: would I hate my parents as well? But I didn't want to hate them; I loved and depended upon my parents. Where would this monstrous teenage-me come from, and how would it eat away at the love I currently felt toward my family? I remember an awful feeling of dread, and of impotence: I didn't want to become this future self I foresaw, but presumably I could do nothing to stop it: "I"—the "me" looking at the polar bears—would be consumed in teenage-ness and no longer care about "my" (toddler-age) preferences. Of course the truth was more complicated—I never stopped loving my parents, needless to say—but in a way, my three-year-old self was right: by the time I was a teenager I DID act snotty and unpleasant to them a lot of the time, and I no longer wished (luckily) to regress into the trusting dependence of toddler-hood. I had become a stranger, and no longer wanted to go back; the only way was forward.

De Beauvoir's delineation of this process is fascinating, and she returns to it several times throughout this volume: the dread that precedes a change, and the ontological break that enables us to be in a completely different emotional space after the change, so that our former dread is no longer relevant. Raised devoutly Catholic, for example, she realizes sometime in her early teens that she no longer believes in God. At some point before this realization, she thinks to herself that to lose one's faith would be the most horrible thing she can imagine happening to a person; yet when she herself realizes that it has happened to her, it makes no immediate change in her life; she feels little distress. She had thought that her morality and assumptions about the universe would immediately and drastically be torn asunder, but in fact she retains the tenants of her bourgeois Christian upbringing long after she has stopped believing in God, and only very gradually (years, decades later) comes to reexamine the aspects of that upbringing that no longer make sense to her. By the time she is questioning these assumptions, other things (literature, philosophy, human relationships) have taken the spiritually fulfilling place that religion once held in her life:

La littérature prit dans mon existence la place qu'y avait occupée la religion: elle l'envahit tout entière, et la transfigura. Les livres que j'aimais devinrent une Bible où je puisais des conseils et des secours; j'en copiai de longs extraits; j'appris par coeur de nouveaux cantiques et de nouvelles litanies, des psaumes, des proverbes, des prophéties et je sanctifiai toutes les cironstances de ma vie en me recitant ces textes sacrés. [...] entre moi et les âmes soeurs qui existaient quelque part, hors d'atteinte, ils créaient une sorte de communion; au lieu de vivre ma petite histoire particulière, je participais à une grande épopée spirituelle.

[Literature took, in my life, the place that had formerly been occupied by religion: it overran everything, and transfigured it. The books I loved became a Bible from which I took advice and comfort; I copied long extracts from them; I learned by heart new hymns and new litanies, psalms, proverbs, prophecies, and I sanctified all the circumstances of my life by reciting these sacred texts. [...] Between me and these sister souls there existed something, out of reach; they created a sort of communion; instead of living my trivial individual story, I was participating in a grand spiritual saga.]

Although I want to discuss so much more—young Simone's feeling of tragedy at the unconsciousness of inanimate objects; her attribution of her own negative capability to the difference in her parents' belief systems; her relationships with her sister and her best friend; her first meetings with Sartre—I'm already running long. I can't close this post, however, without mentioning the insight that Memoires d'une jeune fille rangée gives into de Beauvoir's feminism. Her father looms large in this history, as both the object of her childhood and adolescent idolatry, and as a conservative blow-hard who says things like "a wife is what her husband makes her; it's up to him to shape her personality," and bitterly regrets the fact that his loss of money means that his daughters will be earning their own livings, rather than marrying well into good society (never mind that they PREFER to earn their own livings; that's not the point). Her father's betrayal of her—he tells her she will have to educate herself and earn her living, then hates her for being a reminder of his own financial failure—was a formative event in de Beauvoir's life, and a source of real bitterness for her; I was impressed, however, at how impartial she manages to be toward her father himself, while coming to reject the set of values he held.

As with all other aspects of the book, her observations on gender relations are detailed and perceptive, and the roots of her feminism run through this volume, from her examination of the sexual double-standard that allowed her parents to entertain men who kept mistresses but not the mistresses themselves; to the assertion of her otherwise avant-garde philospher friends that they "can't respect an unmarried woman"; to the effects of having her reading censored (it was considered dangerous for unmarried women to read about sex). I can't resist including this passage, in which a ten-year-old Simone is reacting to her priest's story about a young female parishioner who reads "bad books," loses her faith in God, and subsequently commits suicide:

Ce que je comprenais le moins, c'est que la connaissance conduisît au désespoir. Le prédicateur n'avait pas dit que les mauvais livres peignaient la vie sous des couleurs fausses: en ce cas, il eût facilement balayé leurs mensonges; le drame de l'enfant qu'il avait échoué à sauver, c'est qu'elle avait découvert prématurément l'authentique visage de la réalité. De toute façon, me disais-je, un jour je la verrai moi aussi, face à face, et je n'en mourrai pas.

[What I understood least, was the idea that knowledge led to despair. The priest hadn't said that the bad books painted life in false colors: in that case, it would have been easy to brush aside their lies; the tragedy of the girl he had failed to save was that she had prematurely discovered the true face of reality. In any case, I said to myself, one day I'll see it too, face to face, and I won't die.]

This passage makes me feel like cheering. And de Beauvoir does not neglect to notice that men and boys were not considered so delicate as to kill themselves over premature exposure to a tawdry potboiler. Still, Mémoires d'une jeune fille rangée puts de Beauvoir's feminism in perspective: she may be most famous for The Second Sex, but she's primarily a humanist, interested in the modes of existence experienced by all humans, and by specific humans, regardless of gender.

I'll be honest: this is not the memoir for everyone. If you're not interested in philosophy and like a lot to "happen" in your books, it will probably seem hopelessly dry. De Beauvoir's adolescence involves all the arrogance and angst one might expect from a recently-secularized teen who went on to become a preeminent existentialist (hint: a lot). But even when she is recalling her most turbulent periods, the adult de Beauvoir maintains her incisive, perceptive, ever-so-faintly-amused voice. She doesn't take herself too seriously, but neither does she dismiss her experiences or manifest a false modesty. This balanced tone, combined with her stunning intelligence and existentialist insights, makes this volume easily one of my favorite reads of the year, if not of all time. ( )
4 vote emily_morine | Sep 19, 2010 |
very detailed story of her childhood. this childhood seems quite normal and all of sudden she's determined and knows everyone and smart. ( )
  mahallett | Jan 11, 2010 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Simone de Beauvoirprimary authorall editionscalculated
Fonzi, BrunoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kirkup, JamesTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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I was born at four o'clock in the morning on the 9th of January 1908 in a room fitted with white-enamelled furniture and over-looking the boulevard Raspail.
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