The new translation of The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir.
Translators: Constance Borde and Sheila Malovany-Chevallier.
Simone de Beauvoir published her wonderful book, The Second Sex, in 1949. It was translated into English some four years later, by H.M. Parshley, but his American publisher, Alfred Knopf, insisted that as much as 20% of the original text be deleted from it.
As a very young woman I struggled with this translation in the 1970s, unaware that so much of the original text was missing. So it was with much excitement late last year that I learned there was a much better translation than this first one, now available through the London publisher, Vintage Books.
Meeting the translators at the University of Queensland in November 2011, was a treat, too. They were charming and funny and wise; two Americans living in Paris who took three years to restore de Beauvoir’s masterpiece to what she had originally said, but in English.
The Second Sex is the most important guidebook to and through the feminist movement, for it is its seminal work. It prompts our disadvantaged gender to question that which we have been conditioned to take for granted: the conventions and cliches and stereotypes that have bound us, blinded us, and disempowered us in this still-predominantly patriarchal world. It is a book that provokes us to question the condition of Woman: it reaches out to us, tantalising us, teaching us to think beyond the too readily apparent, warning us not to follow the pat, dotted line to “easy” answers.
There has been some criticism of this new translation, but by academics who are claiming that de Beauvoir was a philosopher, first and foremost, and that the book should be framed as a philosophical treatise. But The Second Sex is much more than this: it is a cry from the heart, an attempt to better the condition of the female of the human species. For me, this translation is closer to achieving this, for it is accessible to anyone who can read English. It is never a daunting, rarified tome, full of indigestible jargon and suitable only for postgraduate consumption, it is available to almost everybody. That is why I bought several copies for young female relatives as well as one for myself. Vintage is selling this masterpiece for not much more than eleven or twelve dollars in Australia, offering 821 pages of lucid prose about the history of the condition of women, plus the stages of a woman’s life from childhood through to old age. It explodes many of the myths of female sexuality, and also has a delightful introduction, written by Sheila Rowbotham.
This book is one to which all women should have access, for the betterment of the human condition, for the betterment of the planet.