Form and Content
The first volume of Simone de Beauvoir’s autobiography, Memoires d’une jeune fille rangee (1958; Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter, 1959), traces her successful revolt against French Catholicism and bourgeois idealism. Significantly, this second installment begins with this observation: “The most intoxicating aspect of my return to Paris in September, 1929, was the freedom I now possessed.” The Prime of Life describes how de Beauvoir guarded and used that freedom for the succeeding fifteen years.
Her life during this period, like the historical events that impinge upon her despite her best efforts to escape their effects, divides into two parts, and so does the book. The first, and longer, section treats her experiences during the 1930’s, as she establishes her relationship with Jean-Paul Sartre and gropes her way toward becoming a writer. For her this is a decade of splendid isolation and introspection, brought to a jarring end by the invasion of Poland and the outbreak of World War II.
Quoting diary entries to help portray the years between 1939 and the liberation of Paris in 1944, de Beauvoir in the second part traces her growing realization that the personal freedom she treasures must not be pursued, indeed cannot be maintained, without concern for others. During the war years she matures into the engaged intellectual that she remained until her death. As she becomes more conscious of the relevance of world...
(The entire section is 535 words.)