‘Men don’t read books’?
6 May 2010
The Library at 90
19 May 2010

The Second Sex, a second time


Today’s guest bloggers, Constance Borde and Sheila Malovany-Chevallier, will present their new translation of Simone de Beauvoir’s masterwork, The Second Sex, at the Library on 19 May, 2010 at 19h30.

The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir, the seminal study of woman that continues to resonate and inspire, has just come out in its first complete translation in English. Le Deuxième Sexe was published in November 1949, by Les Editions Gallimard. Simone de Beauvoir once said in her youth that literature had the quality of assuring her an immortality that would make up for lost eternity.  Indeed, if ever a work would assure immortality, The Second Sex – first translated into English in 1953 – would be that work.  

The sublime and daunting task of re-translating this great work fell to us. We have both been living for over 40 years in Paris, teaching literature and American civilization in French universities and writing English grammar and other books for French speakers. We saw the rise of the feminist movement in France recalling for us our 60’s college-years feminism blossoming into a full-grown social movement. Certainly one of Simone de Beauvoir’s many attractions for us was her interest in the USA just at the time of writing The Second Sex. She was fascinated by American women and racial issues: She met and became friends with Richard Wright, Nelson Algren, and was reading Myrdal’s book on America, An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy (1944). The Second Sex is full of references to America and American women and men. She saw in action what it meant to be the Other, came face to face with the master-slave relationship and other fundamental issues from probing into American society. Her gaze on American culture and the way she extracted ideas from it for The Second Sex, coupled with our own experience and knowledge of the two cultures and languages, informed our approach to the translation. Simone de Beauvoir’s masterwork weaves together history, philosophy, economics, biology, and a host of other disciplines. 

This book is not about the past. Today, more than ever, The Second Sex is relevant and essential reading.

Constance Borde and Sheila Malovany-Chevallier

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