With unsurprising spoiler
Censored in its day, the coming-of-age novella by France’s most significant 20th century feminist, Simone de Beauvoir, now has an introduction by the 21st century’s foremost feminist, Margaret Atwood.
Billed as a gripping tale ‘closely modelled on events of her own life’, this intimate novella about Sylvie and Andrée and their early-20th century conflict with their families, their religion and social convention, is de Beauvoir’s exploration of the lives of two inseparable young girls who approach their journeys into womanhood in very different ways.
Ten-year-old Sylvie is bored and intellectually alone, so when clever, irreverent Andrée arrives at her Catholic school, it changes her life. Sylvie tells us, “Nothing so interesting had ever happened to me. It suddenly seemed as if nothing had ever happened to me at all.” Together, they earn the nickname ‘The Inseparables’.
They talk about equality, justice, war and religion, they build a world of their own. But the pressures begin to mount as the girls grow into young women. Sylvie wants to find happiness, independence and pleasure, Andrée wants to be good. And so begins an increasing divergence in hers and Andrée’s lives. “While de Beauvoir broke free, Élisabeth never found a way out,” says publisher Vintage.
For a daughter, the predetermined path led straight to marriage or a conventSimone de Beauvoir, The Inseparables
At 14, Sylvie undergoes a seminal change that presages the intellectual freedom she begins to embrace: she suddenly feels ‘stunned’ to find she no longer believes in God.
Andrée, meanwhile, in wanting to be good as well as free, is occasionally recklessly close to self-harm, but begins to accede to the conventional ideas of what a woman should be and is permitted to do, reinforced by a controlling mother. And so begins Andrée’s parallel loss: self-sacrifice and descent into a very early death at just 21.
A sad story of an intense adolescent relationship turning into adult disappointment through the discovery of self and the inevitable losses that incurs.