Second Sex--thoughts?

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Second Sex--thoughts?

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Jun 21, 2010, 7:15 pm

I had recently added The Second Sex (Simone de Beauvoir) to my TBR list, but today I read an article about the problems with the translations available in English for this book. Apparently the original translation (from the 1950s) is terrible--the translator changed the meanings of many words and sentences and discarded chunks throughout the book (15%). There is a recent translation, but apparently it is full of its own problems (although I can't remember the details on that one). It sounds like there are only two translations available.

It's obvious to me that it would be best to read it in French. I can read cereal box French as well as any other Canadian, but I'm in no way ready to read philosophy in French. ;-)

Has anyone read the book in both languages? Is the English translation a waste of time?

Jun 21, 2010, 8:27 pm

Wow, I didn't know that about the translations! That's infuriating, that a book of such importance can be so badly served by publishers.

Sadly, je ne sais pas any French words other than those I just typed (ok, maybe I know a couple more), so I'm no help. I'm really interested in hearing the answer, tho.

Edited: Jun 22, 2010, 4:08 am

Toril Moi wrote a good article on the translation issue of the more recent translation:

She has issues with the earlier translation as well, but on the whole it seems preferable. I wouldn't write the English translation off as a waste of time, but yes, ideally you should read it in French. At the moment I'm reading Moi's book Sex, Gender and the Body, where she presents an in-depth analysis of de Beauvoir's theory that 'one is not born but becomes a woman' as well as the use of the terms 'sex' and 'gender' (a distinction that doesn't exist in French). She also covers some of the translation problems relevant to her discussion - for example the use of a term for female animals (which is used as a derogatory term for women) and for which no suitable English translation exists.

Aug 22, 2013, 10:52 am

I've been intending a (re)read of The Second Sex since its 50th Anniversary in 1999 . . . Finally started it today using the new (2011) translation by Constance Borde and Sheila Malovany-Chevallier. Wondering if anyone wants to join me in a group read?

Edited: Aug 25, 2013, 3:38 am

I was not aware that it was in French, otherwise I would probably have gotten that version. Either way, I really liked the first chapters but I was put off by her Freudian approach. Freudian psychoanalysis theory is a form of rape and incest apologetics, and I'm not particularly eager to analyze feminism from its standpoint. Instead I would recommend The Creation of Patriarchy by Gerda Lerner.

Edited: Aug 25, 2013, 12:57 pm

My understanding is that the old Parshley translation of The Second Sex was rather dreadful and didn't capture the depth of de Beauvoir's philosophy, but unfortunately, the Parshley is the only version most Americans know . . .

I'll still be reading The Second Sex, if anyone is interested in reading and discussing what is considered to be a much better translation . . . and is still a feminist classic . . . and so far still seems very relevant today, despite being written in 1949.

Those interested in learning more about the new translation (and why you might want to read it) might start here:

Aug 25, 2013, 3:23 pm

I'd be interested, but I'm going on vacation in a couple weeks and, welllll, don't feel like dragging this with me. But, I don't have time to read it before.

My book is a French edition so we could compare notes. Perhaps I could catch up after I come back.

Aug 26, 2013, 4:43 pm

It will take me a while to get through it . . . and I just discovered the Author Theme Reads group will be reading her in October-December (as part of their year-long French Authors theme). . . so yes, let's check back again when you get back!!

Mar 29, 2016, 6:38 am

A few of us were discussing a group read of this book over in another thread:

If anyone else is interested, shall we make a date to start reading May 1st? That gives us all time to clear the decks with other ongoing reading material and to get the right edition. It sounds like the latest 2011 translation is the best one to work from. (I'm pretty sure my edition predates that but I'll have to take a look once I'm back home next week.)

Re. the discussion, if people have suggestions on how best to approach the book, they are very welcome.

Mar 30, 2016, 8:01 pm

>9 jennybhatt: I'll start typing up my notes/flagged portions from what I've read so far (the first 200+ pages). It's such a long book I think it might be helpful to have a separate thread for each major section (or chapter?). I can see if any general questions emerge as I type up my notes and then post those if it might be useful.


jennybhatt, should we start a whole new thread for the 2016 read? or just keep tacking on to this one?

Mar 30, 2016, 11:32 pm

>10 LucindaLibri:: Hmm. It may be worth doing separate threads for each section, I agree.

So, two questions for all who will be joining the group read in May:

1) We could keep this as the main general thread and post links to the individual section reading threads as they are created. Would that work?

2) And, if we all agree to reading by section, we might want to allow a time gap between each section thread going up? Would a 2-week gap between each section work?

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