Sunday, 20 December 2009

The Second Sex - Simone de Beauvoir

There is an interesting article in this week's Times about a new translation of The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir, by Constance Borde and Sheila Malovany-Chevallier, and published by Jonathan Cape. The exisiting translation by H.M.Parshley, a biologist, came out in 1954. Parshley was the author of a scientific book on human reproduction, and was selected by the publisher Knopf because they believed The Second Sex was a French version of The Kinsey Report. He was, therefore, ill equipped to translate many of the passages and as a consequence misunderstood or omitted altogether many key parts. Nonetheless, his translation was enormously influential in the development of feminist thinking in English speaking countries. The campaign for a superior translation has been ongoing for a number of years, and the result is now about to be published.

The original French version (Le deuxieme sexe) is a very attractive set in two volumes, published by Editions Gallimard in Paris in 1949, bound in stamped cloth. The edition is numbered out of 2050 copies; Vol I is subtitled: Les Faits et Les Mythes and vol. two : L'Experience Vecue. Many years ago I was able to pick up the two volumes very cheaply from separate dealers, reconstructing a set. However, for such an influential book it remains surprisingly affordable even today.

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