Frank, no-nonsense reflections by the French novelist about her gradual road to feminism through World War II, three husbands and the embrace of the writing life.
Describing herself as docile and untalented as a child, Groult became a “timorous teenager” by 1939. She writes that it took the next 20 years for her to awaken the “deep sleep of [her] intelligence” and sexuality. In these warm, outspoken reflections on her coming-of-age and maturity, Groult blames the deep-seated misogyny of the time for her early feelings of insignificance: the patriarchal Catholic schools, the lack of strong female role models, the pressure on young women to find husbands, the lack of meaningful careers and derision generally held for women with education. Like her literary model, Simone de Beauvoir, Groult was bookish and conflicted continually by the tension to achieve as well as be attractive to men. Confined to occupied Paris with her family, she writes unreservedly about French anti-Semitism (“The Jews had their own fate which didn’t concern me”), her brief first marriage to a dying consumptive poet and her sexual enlightenment thanks to a newly liberated Paris full of American soldiers. Her marriage to the dashing journalist Georges de Caunes opened doors as a radio journalist during a frightening time when she had to seek abortions every few months. A new marriage and the women’s movement spurred her breakthrough best-seller Ainsi soit-elle in 1975, inspired by stories of female circumcision. A question-and-answer format with journalist and biographer Josyane Savigneau marks the later chapters.
A cleareyed memoir by a writer resolved to claim her “place on the battlefield of feminism.”