‘The world seemed to me as fresh and new as it had been in the first ages, and this moment sufficed to itself. I was there, and I was looking at the tiled roofs at our feet, bathed in the moonlight, looking at them for no reason, looking at them for the pleasure of seeing them. There was a piercing charm in this lack of involvement. “That’s the great thing about writing”, I said. “Pictures lose their shape; their colours fade. But words you carry away with you”.
‘The Age of Discretion’ in The Woman Destroyed by Simone de Beauvoir, Pg.82
Simone de Beauvoir’s collection of three stories in The Woman Destroyed focuses on women who, having passed their youth, are experiencing unexpected crises. Written in three very distinct styles, The Woman Destroyed captures the moment when these women’s lives begin to crumble. Everything they thought they knew suddenly becomes alien to them as they fight to stay afloat in a world that no longer appreciates or is hostile to them.
The first story, ‘The Age of Discretion’, is narrated by an older, married woman who seemingly has everything she could ever wish for. She has a successful career under her belt, a husband who is equally successful, an adoring son, a comfortable home and loving friends. However, in the opening of this story we realise that with age comes great consequences for a woman, in particular. Having been the centre of her husband and son’s life, the narrator is slowly realising her fragile hold on what was once reality.
‘As far as I was concerned life was gradually going to take back everything it had given me: it had already begun to do so’.
‘The Age of Discretion’ in The Woman Destroyed by Simone de Beauvoir, Pg.74
Her husband is regretful about the decisions he didn’t make due to the premature conception of their child, whilst her son is married to a woman who is slowly replacing her. He no longer listens to his mother’s advice, rather seeking that of his wife’s views, who is completely at odds with her. Furthermore, the narrator’s latest research did not receive good criticism, making her evaluate her existent career. Overall, there is a keen sense of loss and despair as this woman is being forced to adapt to a change she has no control over.
‘No compromise no act: that proper little woman was me all right. I’m clean I’m straight I don’t join in any act: that makes them mad they hate being seen through they want you to believe the stuff they hand out or at least to pretend too’.
‘The Monologue’ in The Woman Destroyed by Simone de Beauvoir, Pg.92
In ‘The Monologue’, de Beauvoir’s style changes to that of the bitter – often incoherent – ramblings of a rich woman living alone on New Year’s Eve. It seems that all the constrictions of propriety that have been placed on her from a young age come bursting out in an angry, unrelenting narrative that unleashes her anger at the situation she finds herself in and the people she blames for this. In her forties and alone, the narrator’s stream-of-consciousness takes a dark turn as we uncover, or rather come near to, a terrible truth. Although it was hard to understand fully what was happening in ‘The Monologue’, the shift in narrative style was extremely striking. De Beauvoir is a master of changing and manipulating her writing to adapt to different narrative voices and in The Woman Destroyed she does this seamlessly.
‘Idiotic vanity. All women think they are different; they all think there are some things that will never happen to them; and they are all wrong’.
‘The Woman Destroyed’ in The Woman Destroyed by Simone de Beauvoir, Pg.136
Of course, the most heart-wrenching story was the final, title piece – ‘The Woman Destoyed’. Written in the form of a diary, Monique recounts the day-by-day decline of her marriage. After being told by her husband of twenty years that he has been having an affair with a younger woman, Monique’s world is literally shattered. During the time Simone de Beauvoir was writing, women were much more dependent on their husbands. Monique had built her life around this man and has nothing to to call her own, which she only realises just as everything she has known is threatened by the news of his affair. Although the narrative can get somewhat whiney, Simone de Beauvoir is writing a truthful and raw account of something that would have been far more devastating in a time where women were unable to financially support themselves, particularly a middle-aged woman who didn’t have the benefit of youth on her side.
‘Maurice has murdered all the words by which I might try to justify it: he has repudiated the standards by which I measured others and myself; I had never dreamed of challenging them – that is to say of challenging myself’.
‘The Woman Destroyed’ in The Woman Destroyed by Simone de Beauvoir, Pg.25
It was tough to read at times, witnessing a grown woman try and talk herself into accepting her husband’s behaviour as ‘normal’ and ‘expected’. It was equally as tough witnessing the truthfulness in de Beauvoir’s writing. Although The Woman Destroyed is a work of fiction, de Beauvoir strikes to the heart of human existence. She writes of universal, human fears – such as ageing, loss and despair – in such an intimate and personal way. I couldn’t help but be affected by her writing and The Woman Destroyed will stay with me for a long time. I am already itching to reread it.