Andrew Grimes Griffin has challenged me to a new game: 10 Books in 10 Days, with an explanation of how the book affected your life, thought, or work. I’ll skip the work bit as that would be just too much work. Do join in if you’d like: it would be lovely to see the web full of discussions of books.
Today my choice is Simone de Beauvoir’s The Prime of Life, the second volume of her memoirs which began with Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter: from my late teens to well into my forties I was, I wouldn’t say obsessed, but I was a constant reader of de Beauvoir’s work and I’ve read pretty much all of it, from The Second Sex to The Mandarins, to the posthumous journals, letters to Sartre etc. What I kept returning to was her memoirs: They seem to offer a gay Hispanic allophone a model for inventing a life in many dimensions: intellectual – she was always reading and seeing and commenting avidly on it all; romantically (it was all discussed; what is love? what are the parameters of an open relationship, why not marry? – it was all thought through and shaped) morally (and this in reference not only to friendships and relationships but a kind of ethics for living), politically (how to behave under occupation), her relationship with her work (she put in the hours, beavered away like a good ‘Castor’) her participation in the intellectual and artistic life of the period (or not), her quest to be free, to act responsibly, to do good. What I found enthralling and inspiring was this conscious shaping of a life and a world, one which felt out of control and alien to me, but which she offered a model of willing, differently shaping, changing. Of all the diaries, The Prime of Life, which covers her early relationship with Sartre, all of the thirties, and ends with the Liberation, was the one that I returned to over and over again for many years, largely because I was in my twenties and thirties as well when I first read and re-read it. Aside from the pleasures it gave of its own, it also introduced me to French intellectual life between the wars and after, which has remained a lifelong interest.