Every Friday I will be recommending a work of fiction or non-fiction written by a woman who has influenced and shaped my intersectional feminist perspective, with special emphasis on women of colour, women in translation, LGBTQIA women and women of different religions.
‘As far as I was concerned life was gradually going to take back everything it had given me: it had already begun to do so’.
I first came to love Simone de Beauvoir through her fiction. Starting with The Blood of Others I found her much more accessible than the numerous attempts I had made on The Second Sex. Often writing about the female experience in post-war torn Paris, de Beauvoir’s novels tend to hinge on the fact that women hadn’t been given the right to vote yet so their whole existence relied heavily on their relationship to men, whether it be their fathers, brothers, husbands or sons. None more so than in the trio of short stories that make up The Woman Destroyed.
Focussing on women who, having passed their youth, are experiencing unexpected crises, The Woman Destroyed is written in three very distinct styles. ‘The Age of Discretion’ is narrated by an older woman who has a loving family and has had a successful career but as she ages she notices that her value steadily declines – a phenomenon that eludes men. ‘The Monologue’ then switches to a long, often incoherent, and incredibly angry ramble from a younger rich, but incredibly lonely, woman on New Year’s Eve. All of the constrictions of propriety that have been placed on her from a young age come bursting out in an angry, unrelenting narrative that unleashes her frustration at the situation she finds herself in and the people she blames for this. In her forties and alone, the narrator’s stream-of-consciousness takes a dark turn as we uncover, or rather come near to, a terrible truth. ‘The Woman Destroyed’, which was the most touching for me in its sincerity and honesty, is written in the form of a diary. Monica recounts the day-by-day decline of her marriage after being told by her husband of twenty years that he has been having an affair with a younger woman.
Simone de Beauvoir not only evokes sympathy for these three individuals but evokes rage at the unfairness of being born female. Double standards abound; injustices that are purely and exclusively female. Written so intimately, it seems as if we, the reader, are peering into these women’s lives without their knowing. At times difficult to read, The Woman Destroyed unearths some particularly female concerns about life, loss and ageing.
Simone de Beauvoir, most popularly known for her treatise on women’s oppression, The Second Sex, was a French writer, existential philosopher, political activist and social theorist. She wrote a number of books from short stories, novels and memoirs to essays and monographs.
I took some of this post from the review I wrote of ‘The Woman Destroyed’ on my old blog, Yasmine Rose Reads Books, though some of it has been changed and modified slightly.