A couple of years ago I lived with my sister. At the time, she had a book club with some friends, and the little group included my fiancée. One of the nights, the book club was held at my sister’s place, and for whatever reason my fiancée wasn’t there. So, I was in my room and could vaguely hear the other girls discussing the book they had read – it may have been The Lovely Bones, but I don’t really remember.
At any rate, the conversation turned away from the book itself, and began to range more widely, touching on various expected themes – life, partners, children, hobbies, work. The usual. And then the girls started to discuss feminism. They all professed to be feminists, but after a while they began to admit that they didn’t really have a good definition of what it meant to be a feminist, and what they were “allowed” to do.
After a while, I went into the lounge room and handed around a book I have, but hadn’t yet read – Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex. I spoke about what (very) little I knew about it and the writer, and then left them to it. I believe one of my sister’s friends took the book that night, and may still have it.
All this is by way of introducing The Woman Destroyed, which is a work of fiction by de Beauvoir. I bought it on a whim one day, entirely because I knew of The Second Sex, and because I was familiar enough with Jean-Paul Sartre’s work.
Today I read the book. It is split into three parts, each of which utilise a different literary method for exploring the way in which a woman is capable of being “destroyed” – be it intellectually, romantically, sexually, or her sense of self. In some instances, the destruction comes from within, and in others, it is from outside. That is, the first part concerns itself with a woman who is slipping intellectually, who has wasted three years of her life writing a book which, she later learns, she has really written before, and better – she has come to the terminal point of her intellectual career well before she is ready or wishes to. The third part shows how one woman is annihilated by the casual disregard with which she is treated by her husband when he begins to have an affair. And so on.
The women in these books moan their fate, of course, but they also take ownership of what they perceive to be fairly their share of what has occurred. In each part, this is obviously a greater or lesser share of the ‘destruction’, but the point here is that de Beauvoir was concerned with a woman’s sense of autonomy both in areas she had control over, and in those she did not. How you behave when things are bad, or out of your control, is indicative of your character, and a woman has as much a prerogative as a man to behave according to the moral and ethical structure they have amassed for themselves.
And, really, overall now I wish I still had The Second Sex, and I was very impressed with what I read, and I would like to read more. Instead, because I am quite sure I do not have any other books by de Beauvoir, I suppose I will read something by Sartre…
The Books, Read page contains a list of all of the books I have read over the years.