UBC Theses and Dissertations
Simone de Beauvoir et la question de l’autobiographie Macdonald, Nancy Jean
This thesis discusses the problems of the autobiographical form as encountered by Simone de Beauvoir in her four-volume life story, Memoires d'une jeune fille rangee, La Force de l'age, La Force des choses and Tout compte fait. Although largely a chronological account of personal anecdotes in an historical frame, Simone de Beauvoir's writing displays diverse ongoing struggles: how to relate her "true" past while maintaining a perspective on future outcomes; how to create a thematically unified work by extracting meaningful incidences from distant memories; in sum, how to represent the true self through the written word which is by its static nature insufficient. Simone de Beauvoir laments the unidimensional aspect of language being in opposition with the three-dimensional quality of time and space: "comment donner aux heures leur triple dimension" (Preface TCF). Nonetheless, fully aware of the problematic aspects of the autobiographical "genre", Simone de Beauvoir chooses a traditional mode of relating her past--her story, year by year—claiming that the reader should not consider her autobiography a "work of art". This thesis considers how the author chose to organize her past experiences following a chronological linear format. It looks at the structures of episodes, transitions between them, and consistency of tone or point of view. Where possible, attention is given to thematic development which creates unity in her work. Throughout, light is shed upon the relationship of the writer with her text, in an attempt to discover an evolution, if any, in Simone de Beauvoir's attitude towards writing and towards herself. The main aspect studied in Memoires d'une jeune fille rangee is the discrepancy between time of narration and the time recounted, or the relationship between the present self and a reality frozen in the past. Simone de Beauvoir attempts to recreate old events, to resuscitate the young child. One notes that the selection of detail is determined by a future already "lived"; the future of a novelist, philosopher and existentialist- Unifying themes such as the discovery of a vocation of writing and the guest for independence, are evident. However, the author tends to hide the adult voice instead of accepting it as the only true voice of her past. The underlying dilemma for Simone de Beauvoir is creating a "novelesque" unity which contradicts the inherent disunity of real life: she imposes order on her life story yet hopes its chronology will reflect the more random character of life and the passage of time. La Force de l'age is organized around historical and political events of pre-war France and the Occupation. Simone de Beauvoir's story becomes an historical document, in direct contrast with her personal account. Moreover, other personalities such as J.P. Sartre become major figures in her book, and there is a resulting ambivalence in point of view. An obsession with "others" and with exterior events poses the problem of the true and appropriate "subject" of autobiography. La Force des choses lends itself to a comparison with two other works of Simone de Beauvoir--Les Mandarins (novel) and L'Amerique au jour Te jour (travel journal)—because of their autobiographical content covering approximately the same period. This study shows that fiction and truth are very fluid terms; the author becomes a divided writer, paradoxically revealing more about herself in a novel. The manipulation of reality in fiction is in fact the most revealing view of the true character of the author. The last volume of Simone de Beauvoir's autobiography, Tout compte fait, is a series of topical essays replacing a merely chronological style. The underlying theme of death (and sometimes failure) pieces together what appear to be disjointed episodes. This spirit of finality adds a degree of internal unity to this last instalment of Simone de Beauvoir's autobiography. This thesis touches upon other methods of autobiography, such as the self-analysis by J.P Sartre in Les Mots and the humorous mocking of the form by Gertrude Stein in The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. Comparisons between these and the work of Simone de Beauvoir emphasize the problems she has in creating a unified (and artistic) written view of her life. Given the ambiguous definitions of autobiography, memoirs and self-portraits, one is inclined to reject a generic categorization of these forms. We do however expect of a writer and novelist such as Simone de Beauvoir, a degree of creativity and at the very least intelligibility. This thesis attempts to discover the quality of her autobiography, yet does not hesitate to uncover its inconsistencies and weaknesses. With the great ambition to "serve" and to "say all" in this long work, Simone de Beauvoir has perhaps not quite succeeded in portraying through the written word the power of her deeds.