Form and Content

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

From 1956 to 1958, Simone de Beauvoir composed the first of a series of autobiographical volumes that covered the course of her life. Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter dealt with her childhood and youth to the age of twenty-one; it was followed by La Force de l’age in 1960 (The Prime of Life, 1962), which dealt with her life from 1929 to 1944, La Force des choses in 1963 (Force of Circumstance, 1964), which brought her life up to the date of publication, and a final volume, a summary, Tout compte fait (1972; All Said and Done, 1974), which differed from the previous three in that it was organized thematically rather than chronologically. These autobiographical writings are among de Beauvoir’s finest achievements. Her reconstructions of her life, even after consultations with cautious friends, retain a “disarming candor” that has led some critics to describe her as a modern Montaigne. Like the sixteenth century philosopher, she is a writer whose ability to combine introspective analysis with philosophical consideration has enabled her to produce “a truthful account of a life that could, and should, help others” (as Konrad Bieber claims) to understand themselves as well as some of the dominant social and political movements of the twentieth century.

Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter reaches as much as fifty years back in time from the moment of its production. To compose the work, de Beauvoir was directed by a diary which she had begun as a young girl, fortified by a prodigious memory for detail which she combined with...

(The entire section is 658 words.)