“He (Herbaud) insisted that our society only respects married women. I didn’t care twopence about being respected….One day in the Luxembourg Gardens I caught sight of Nizan and his wife who were pushing a perambulator, it was my ardent hope that my own future would have no place for that sort of thing.”
In her “Memoirs Of A Dutiful Daughter”, Simone de Beauvoir beautifully paints a poignant picture of her experiences, her struggles and triumphs as a young girl and then woman in the stifling Victorian society she was born in. The traditional cultural values strongly persisted and there was a huge influence of the Church. Marriages were arranged with girls having to pay dowries to their grooms.
Simone was encouraged to choose a career over marriage by her father George because he had lost his fortune due to the War and could not arrange dowry for her. It was decided that Simone and his sister will work for a living. Because of this, he looked upon them as proofs of his failure and he resented them for that.
Simone de Beauvoir
Simone took to her books with a frenzy. She studied long and hard, while other girls her age were getting ready to get married.
“I was pushing forward and developing all this time, whereas they (her school friends), in order to adapt themselves to their role of marriageable young girls, were beginning to grow dull and stupid. From the outset, I was being separated from them by the diverse paths our future was taking.”
Simone had a cousin Jacques who hailed from the well to do Laguillon family. They got along well together as children and grown ups. They shared books and a distaste for the confinements of their bourgeois surroundings. Seeing their comradeship, her parents hoped that Jacques will marry Simone, and it would be done without a dowry. They prodded her on.
Simone’s life at that time was becoming harder by the day. Refusing to accept the world at face value, her curiosity for the truth and inability to fit into the polite society by acting fatuously like a “good girl” had threatened her parents and society and she faced incessant hostility from them.
Fed up with the constant reproaches from family and friends, Simone considered the way out – marriage to Jacques.
It would not be so bad, she told herself since they got along well together and he would let her be and not be a hindrance to her and her life.
“Though thoroughly detesting the sameness of bourgeois life, I still felt a nostalgia (for happy my childhood when I was loved by my family)….I would read side by side with Jacques…his mother and sister would lavish their affection upon me and my parents would be kinder to me: I should become once more a person universally loved and I would take my place again in that society from which I had felt exiled forever.”
However, despite the temptation of taking an exit route, a possibility of facing no more hostility from the ones she was surrounded with, she could not reconcile herself with the idea of marriage.
“Yet I found that the idea of marrying him revolted me. I had been toying with the idea all summer, but now when I contemplated the possibility of this marriage which my parents so ardently desired, I wanted to run away. I no longer regarded it as a way out but as a blind alley. For several days I lived in terror.”
She tried to convince herself, listed pros and cons and thought about it for days.
“On the day when he mentioned marriage, I made a long inventory of the things that separated us: ‘He is content to enjoy beautiful things, he accepts luxury and easy living; he likes being happy. But I want my life to be an all consuming passion. I need to act, to give freely of myself, to bring plans to fruition: I needed an object in life, I want to overcome difficulties and succeed in writing a book. I’m not made for a life of luxury. I could never be satisfied with the things that satisfied him.’”.
She could not turn her face away from the truth that marriage will mean a mutilation of who she was and wanted to be.
“There would be no question of us storming the heights together: if I became Madame Laguillon I would be dedicated to ‘home life’. Perhaps that would not be absolutely incomparable with my personal aspirations? I distrusted all compromises and that one in particular seemed to me to be dangerously suspect. If I were to share Jacques’ existence I would find it hard to hold my own against him, for I already found his nihilism contagious. I tried to challenge his authority by having recourse to my own passions and wishes: I often succeeded. But in moments of discouragement I was inclined to think he was right. Once under his influence and in order to gratify his desires wouldn’t I let myself be driven to sacrifice everything I thought worthwhile? I rebelled at the thought of such personal mutilation.”.
She was scared that she might give in to marrying him and the thought revolted her.
“At moments I was able to persuade myself that I could live alongside Jacques without mutilating myself; and then terror would seize me again….I was afraid that my affection for him would trap me into becoming his wife and I savagely rejected the sort of life that awaited the future Madame Laiguillon.”.
Even the idea of a grand wedding, which girls were and still are encouraged to dream of, repelled her.
“[Pradelle] had just come from a wedding, and we had a bit of an argument: he thought these ceremonies had a certain charm, whereas I thought this public exhibition of a public affair sickening.”
She did not want Jacques, or anyone else to stop her from living her life according to her truth.
“In imaginary dialogues with Jacques I would challenge his ‘What’s the use?’ I had only one life to live, I wanted it to be a success, nobody would stop me, not even he.”
Her fear scared her further. She felt because of how she is, she was doomed to never find love and live to the end of her days in loneliness.
“[Pradelle] did not share my horror of family life….He had accepted bourgeois society with an open heart; I could no more accommodate myself to his sunny optimism than I could to Jacques’ nihilism. Besides, they were both, though for different reasons, a bit scared of me. ‘Do men marry women like me?’ I used to wonder with a tinge of melancholy, for in those days I made no distinction between love and marriage….What was cutting me off from other people was a certain violence of temperament which only I seemed to possess. This set-to with Pradelle strengthened in me the conviction that I was destined to a life of solitude.
The future frightened me. I should never love anyone,…I should not know the joys of a family hearth; I should spend my days in a small provincial room which I would leave only in order to give my lessons: what a barren existence!”
After months of swaying between thoughts, fears, hopes and possibilities, she decided not to compromise.
“In any case, I decided that if I wanted to wanted to live my own life, write and be happy, I could perfectly well without Jacques.”
Her words form a sub subterranean river of hope which water and nourish a soul parched by the lack of truth and cloaked in bad faith.
‘One’s integrity is no greater than the number of compromises one makes with oneself’ – Jean Sarment.