Thursday, November 11, 2021

The Second Sex

The Second SexThe Second Sex 
by Simone de Beauvoir
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book was first published in France in 1948 and is viewed as "confirming Simone de Beauvoir's stature as one of the most significant thinkers of the twentieth century." (according to the jacket copy).

I read the 732-page English translation published in 1952 by H. M. Parshley which apparently left out a huge amount of the original book. 

The introduction (in the Vintage Edition) gives an overview of the books publication history and how it was received. Quoted from that introduction I think this is an excellent summary:
"British scholar Terry Keefe ... called it 'one of the most important and far-reaching books on women ever published,' but [he] also noted that 'this highly ambitious project leaves a good deal to be desired, for the book cannot be said to be very carefully composed, or even, on the whole, particularly well-written ... while almost every section contains some fertile ideas and valuable insights, argument of the highest quality is rarely sustained for long." (p. xiii)
I was struck by a few things as I read this:
1- it was written in a world VERY different from the one I live in
2- de Beauvoir often writes about women as if they are a species separate from herself
3- women have had a raw deal all around from the very beginning

The book ends with a call to arms:
"What is certain is that hitherto woman's possibilities have been suppressed and lost to humanity, and that it is high time she be permitted to take her chances in her own interest and in the interest of all." (p. 715)
Overall I wouldn't recommend this book, it is tremendously dated and a bit of a narrative mess. It is, however, an important foundation of feminist thought and as I have owned it since I was in college I am glad I finally read it. 

This book is from my Classics Club list and it counts towards the Back to the Classics Challenge as a classic in translation.

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