Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter by Simone de Beauvoir

At the cusp of adulthood I became gripped by Jean-Paul Sartre and his theories of being. The idea that man is nothing else but that which he makes of himself’ liberated me. It is my foundation. After reading all of Sartre, inevitably I was lead to Simone de Beauvoir and Witness to My Life: The Letters of Jean-Paul Sartre to Simone de Beauvoir 1926-1939 and Adieux: A Farewell to Sartre. Both are stunning and inevitably as much about Simone de Beauvoir as Sartre.

Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter is the first volume of de Beauvoir’s memoirs. At the age of fifty, de Beauvoir chronicles her early life from her birth to her student days at the Sorbonne. As she noted in her student diary, ‘I want life, the whole of life. I feel an avid curiosity; I desperately want to burn myself away, more brightly than any other person, and no matter with what kind of flame.’ This passion illuminates every page of this brilliant book. The perspicacity which de Beauvoir brings to the recollection of her childhood loss of faith and complicated relationships is breathtaking and insightful.

The sentiment that remains on reluctantly reading the final pages is regret that I did not know Simone de Beauvoir in person. The closest I can get is to continue reading the memoirs. Curiously, the other three volumes are no longer published by Penguin, though the next in sequence The Prime of Life is the most widely read in France.

In reading any autobiography I am always very curious about what its subject reads. Simone de Beauvoir was an avid reader, commenting, “Literature took the place in my life that had once been occupied by religion: it absorbed me entirely, and transfigured my life.” In these memoirs, de Beauvoir recalls her reading. The book that she mentions most frequently, with love, is Alain-Fournier’s Le Grand Meaulnes, considered one of France’s literary masterpieces.

5 thoughts on “Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter by Simone de Beauvoir

  1. >Sounds like a wonderful read and I know what you mean about the regret of not getting to meet the person. After spending a year researching Ginsberg and going to San Fran and New York, seeing where he lived and played, going to his archives at Stanford and reading his letters and journals etc. etc. It was so sad that I would never meet him.I too fell for Sartre in my teens and read all of the Roads to Freedom trilogy while in high school and then moved onto his books of philosophy. But I have not read much de Beauvoir, I must remedy this. Thank you for this post. Sartre and de Beauvoir are the quintessential intellectual couple.

  2. >I cannot recommend these memoirs highly enough. To follow on I am reading de Beauvoir's diaries written during her time at the Sorbonne, the period covered in the last quarter of Dutiful Daughter. They are a fascinating contrast.

  3. >The sentiment that remains on reluctantly reading the final pages is regret that I did not know Simone de Beauvoir in person.Yes. I completely relate to this, and am so glad you loved this and that the English translation is good. I have the next volume on my shelves and plan to read it before going to France this May. Also agree that de Beauvoir put several other books on my mental TBR, including Alain-Fournier. Still have to check out the letter collections you mention, as well!

  4. >Emily, I am currently enjoying de Beauvoir's 'Diary of a Philosophy Student'. It covers the period of the last quarter of 'Memoirs.' She quoted freely from the diary in the 'Memoirs', but reading the raw diaries of the time provides a rich contrast to her interpretation fifty years after the period.

  5. Pingback: A Year in Reading: 2011 « Time's Flow Stemmed

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