Simone de Beauvoir (1908–1986), a preeminent figure of the feminist movement, wrote Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter as the first of four autobiographical books. Published in 1958, Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter revisits and examines the events of her life up to age twenty-one. This work provides a great deal...
Simone de Beauvoir (1908–1986), a preeminent figure of the feminist movement, wrote Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter as the first of four autobiographical books. Published in 1958, Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter revisits and examines the events of her life up to age twenty-one. This work provides a great deal of insight into the societal attitudes prevalent at the place and time where de Beauvoir grew up and reveals how her resistance to these norms shaped the person she would become. The title Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter is meant to be ironic, as de Beauvoir followed a path diametrically opposed to that of a typical “dutiful daughter” of her time.
Born to a bourgeois (middle-class) Parisian family, de Beauvoir was raised by a devout Catholic mother (Francoise Brasseur de Beauvoir) and an atheist father (Georges Betrand de Beauvoir). Her father was a legal secretary who valued his daughter’s intellect at a time when a woman’s highest (and only) ambition in life was expected to be that of becoming a wife and mother. Even as a youngster, de Beauvoir questioned the double standards she witnessed in her society. She did not accept the fact that men were allowed to vote while women were not, and that men could have lovers but women could not. In fact, women in France were not given the right to vote until 1944. de Beauvoir came to understand that, as a child, she had absorbed the myths created by men to support a system that they dominated—and she would go on to live her life in a way that rebelled against these biased values.
Although very religious in her early years (she considered becoming a nun), de Beauvoir lost faith in both Catholicism and in her mother’s outlook at the age of fifteen. She discovered that her father’s atheism and intellectual values better resonated with the person she was becoming. Both of her parents, however, influenced the eventual path of her life and career. In Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter, de Beauvoir writes that her father’s “individualism” and her mother’s “rigidly moral conventionalism” created a kind of unbalance that made her life an “endless disputation and the primary reason why I became an intellectual.”
In the early years covered in this work, de Beauvoir begins to break the rules of convention through her devotion to her studies and her admission to the Sorbonne, the venerable University of Paris. As the only woman in many of her classes, she earned a degree in philosophy and began her career as a teacher, writer, existentialist, social activist, and major contributor to the feminist movement.