Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter – Simone de Beauvoir

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It’s memoir time again- and today, we’re talking about Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter by Simone de Beauvoir. I read this in a brief streak of existentialism inspired by what I still consider one of the more memorable character from The House of the Spirits (review), as well as my newly found enthusiasm for feminism. Plus finding it for really cheap on a fleamarket…

So what is this book? Simone de Beauvoir, one of the 20th century’s most fascinating female intellectuals, a French feminist thinker and writer and longtime companion of Jean-Paul Sartre, writing about her upbringing, childhood and adolescence up to meeting Sartre.

This is a piece of history, showing you a part of French society that is very much product of the early 20th century – a weird mix of money, intellectualism and an insistence on an unwritten bourgeois rulebook that borders the pathetic.

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In the midst of it all you have de Beauvoir, growing into quite a different attitude, a radically modern worldview, refusing to become the woman she’s expected to be.
She also reads a lot. One of my problems when reading this book actually were the bits of her meticulously documenting her reading, although I usually love that in memoirs – just because I knew almost none of the books referenced.

The world de Beauvoir is writing in is so weird, and only in her talking about books did I really become aware of the closed-off absolute Frenchness she grows up in. I find it really hard to describe, but as a child of the European Union I was really surprised by the smallness of the young Simone’s universe. Which is never something that bothers me in British books from the same time…

This was literally the only book originally written in French I read this year, and reviewing it now reminds me that I need to get a move on with French literature next year… also, memoir wasn’t really a genre I ever considered before this year, and this is one of the one’s that really makes me think that they’re a medium even more thought-provoking than fiction when done well.

This one certainly feeds your brain in gluttonous proportions, and in the best way possible. There’s philosophy and feminism and literature and, reading it now, also history to turn over in your head, and there’s an incredibly intelligent, interesting woman just seamlessly wrapping it up in her life story. Only the first twenty years, mind.

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