Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter – Simone de Beauvoir

I’ve been meaning to read this book for ages but somehow never quite got round to it until the end of last year.  It has taken me about 5 weeks to read it, which is an unusually long time for me, because I didn’t find it relaxing evening reading.  I found myself reading part of it and then putting it down and picking up something a bit easier for the rest of the evening.

It isn’t a difficult book and nor does it cover any difficult subject matter.  I think two things made it difficult to digest in larger chunks; partly de Beauvoir’s view of herself in her early life and partly the adolescent angst of her late teenage/early 20s.

De Beauvoir’s view of herself as a child is as someone special.  Her father encouraged this through his interest in her intellect and her mother through her interest in Simone’s piety.  I think all children whose parents take an interest in them feel like this.  Parents should be there to make you feel special and in this respect I feel de Beauvoir is making a big “look at me and how odd I was as a child” fuss about nothing.  I found the early part of the book about her childhood dull.  This is possibly because I expected a childhood out of the ordinary.  Perhaps also because Le Grand Meaulnes is one of her favourite books at this time and I detest it!

Once de Beauvoir reached college age however the book became more interesting.  This is about a person who is challenging herself intellectually and pushing against the boundaries imposed on her by convention and her family. I enjoyed finding out about the Sorbonne and the eclectic mix of friends she made there.  What makes this section more difficult to read is that the translator challenges my vocabulary.  I think I have a pretty good grasp of the English language and I understood most of the now arcaic words but I had to reach for my dictionary  a couple of times!  It is probably good for me to stretch myself a bit but not something I particularly want to do at 9.30 on an evening after a busy day at work.

To summarise, I’m pleased I finally got round to reading this book although I suspect it may be a few years before I read another of Simone de Beauvoir’s works.  I generally find Jean-Paul Sartre more digestible.

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