Simone de Beauvoir, Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter, 1958
By the time Simone de Beauvoir released the first volume of her autobiography Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter in 1958, she was already a household name in France and a global icon for the emerging feminist movement. The Second Sex had been published in French in 1949, translated into English in 1953, and was a world-wide best-seller. Banned by the Vatican, it either scandalised or liberated readers, depending on their perspective, education, gender, and multiple other factors. Whatever their stance, almost everyone formed their own opinion about what kind of woman de Beauvoir must be to have written The Second Sex.
Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter is de Beauvoir’s first – and arguably most successful – attempt to bring 'Simone' into the official narrative and thereby counterbalance the personal attacks that portrayed her as a bitter, cynical, 'unwomanly' woman. This autobiographical venture rewrites public opinion as de Beauvoir constructs her own identity, tracing those developmental years from her birth in 1908 until 1929, when family, religion, education, and friendships exercised their foundational influences on the young – yet already intellectually oriented – mind of the author.
In this masterclass, we will explore Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter as a source of forensic fascination for those who want to know how de Beauvoir reached the peak of her powers and wrote The Second Sex in just over a year at the age of 38. In parallel, we will observe a detailed portrait of society and class, work and play, music, literature, and philosophy in Paris in the early 20th century, as seen through the eyes of one of the greatest writers of her generation. In the end, we will understand more clearly the dynamic interplay between the formative years and the celebrated status of Simone de Beauvoir as a public intellectual.
Professor Jacqueline Dutton
Jacqueline Dutton is Professor of French Studies and Head of the new Arts Discovery subject for all commencing Bachelor of Arts students. Jackie has published widely on French and Francophone culture and identity, ranging from a monograph in French on the representations of utopia in the work of 2008 Nobel Prize Laureate JMG Le Clézio, Le Chercheur d’or et d’ailleurs: L’Utopie de JMG Le Clézio in 2003, to a co-edited book on Wine, Terroir and Utopia: Making New Worlds in 2020. She is currently working on a cultural history of wine in Bordeaux, Burgundy, and Champagne, and is developing a project on cultural specificities in French, Japanese and Indigenous Australian speculative narratives.