23 February 2017

Simone de Beauvoir: Une mort très douce (1964)

Une mort très douce is Simone de Beauvoir's account of the last few months of the life of her mother, who is in hospital after a fall in her bathroom, occasioning the breaking of her femur. I remember Beauvoir's Mémoires d'une jeune fille rangée (1958), which I read many years ago and which I particularly remember for the strict nature in which Beauvoir was brought up, her reading habits being heavily vetted: later, on learning of Virginia Woolf having a completely free run of her father Leslie Stephen's library, I couldn't fail to think of the contrast.

But here is writing of a much later period in their lives, and although she occasionally dips into memories (such as of her father's infidelities) it is the present moment that holds precedence, and here her love for her mother and her concern for her welfare are of the utmost importance.

Terminal cancer is discovered and Beauvoir and her sister Poupette witness her dying moments. What also strikes here is Beauvoir's humanism, her anger with doctors who are forced needlessly, indeed inhumanely, to spin out a patient's misery when euthanasia would evidently have been a far better option for all concerned.

Very painful to read, but then it must have been very painful to write. However, if Sartre really did think this the best book Beauvoir had written, then I'm in absolute disagreement. Better, for instance, than Le Deuxième sexe – in it's original French form, of course, not Parshley's badly translated, heavily Anglicised, twenty-five per cent excised catastrophe? No.

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