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The Second Sex: Relationship Matters…

Simone Lucie Ernestine Marie Bertrand de Beauvoir (January 9, 1908 – April 14, 1986)… the name is more than well-known as a Feminist Theorist. Her publication, The Second Sex (1949), had helped the French Existentialist, Political Activist and Social Theorist achieve a worldwide fame. Lessons on Feminism can be easily started with this book… sans this book, the lessons of Feminism seem to be seldom complete. It seems that till now, most of the attempts to understand Beauvoir have only been from a theoretical angle. We have repeatedly quoted from her works at different levels in classrooms, seminars and discussions, which, at times, seemingly put to shape the idea that Simone de Beauvoir was tenably the most popular advertisement of 20th Century Feminism.

Simone de Beauvoir

There are, in fact, different characters that exist, within one person. Often, an idea about a person is formed from her/his outer self… or through the person’s Political or Social Life, people try to comprehend the person’s Philosophy and Beliefs, too! That is probably the case with Beauvoir, and that is precisely why it is important to read her letters to Jean-Paul Sartre (June 21, 1905 – April 15, 1980). Those letters of pure love and sufferings intimately related to somewhat controlled emotional outbursts, which might help readers explore a different Beauvoir!

During the Lockdown, a lesser known book authored by Beauvoir was being read, where the author and her sister Poupette experienced the death of their beloved mother Françoise Brasseur from close. She had initially been admitted to a hospital for a minor surgery, and she was diagnosed with cancer during the process! The two sisters did not disclose it to their mother. They had taken very good care of their mother during those days in 1963. Later, Beauvoir shared this memory with the readers through her publication: A Very Easy Death!

In this novel, the French Philosopher narrated various aspects of a relationship, as well, with doubt and dissension! The story in discussion is all about a lady, who wanted to enjoy the taste of life. However, she was severely repressed. In a likewise manner, she wanted to keep her two daughters bound in the shackles of oppression!

Earlier, Beauvoir had penned a book, titled Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter (1958), on her relationship with her mother. The book had triggered quite a bit of misunderstandings between the daughter and mother! In A Very Easy Death, she shared the same experience with readers, but in a rather soft manner. Perhaps, in this publication, she made an attempt to understand her mother during her final days. In this book, it may even be seen that she talked about mother’s Cruel Unkindness!

Beauvoir received many letters from her sister, Poupette. Those were very intimate, and of course personal in nature, as the sender expressed her frustrations during adolescent period with her elder sister, seeking her advice. Beauvoir tried her best to resolve Poupette’s problems. However, their mother got a hand at those letters of Beauvoir, and went through them, before handing them over to Poupette. Françoise told her younger daughter that she would never allow Beauvoir to influence her! All these came to Beauvoir’s mind when she was with her mother at the hospital! It seems that the mother, too, tried to realise the real character of her daughter, who had already become famous. She had given birth to her. However, she failed to read her mind. Lying on bed at the hospital, Françoise reportedly said to Beauvoir: “I know you don’t consider me intelligent; but still, you get your vitality from me. The idea makes me happy.” To this, her daughter had replied: “You frighten me, you do.

Poupette or Henriette-Hélène de Beauvoir

In A Very Easy Death, Beauvoir made a serious attempt to scrutinise and demystify the perception of motherhood and her relationship with her mother. While writing about her mother who was staring at a painful, but inevitable death, the author repeatedly questions her faith, education, knowledge and intellectual consciousness. Beauvoir remembered that her mother, once, sent a letter to a nun, in which she had written that she would certainly like to go to heaven, but with her daughters! Beauvoir, who was known to speak out even painfully, yet true statements, overlooked this particular one from her mother’s. Towards the end, she struck a sympathetic tone towards her mother, stating: “I had grown very fond of this dying woman.” Indeed, it is an honest appraisal of the process of death, the lack of romanticism is refreshing and finality of death is described with empathy.

Françoise with her daughters

At the end of the memoir, the devastated and exhausted daughter stressed: “There is no such thing as a natural death: nothing that happens to a man is ever natural, since his presence calls the world into question. All men must die: but for every man his death is an accident and, even if he knows it and consents to it, an unjustifiable violation.” Here, she is yet again found as an undisputed Feminist, and again, with a bit of not-so-familiar self…

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