Presentation & DQs : Translation of Simone de Beauvoir’s “The Second Sex”

Toril Moi

“While We Wait: The English Translation of The Second Sex”

  • Margret Simon’s critique of the translation by H.M. Parshley
  • NEED for new translation
    • Increase in reading of Beauvoir and feminist theory
  • The Second Sex, almost 1000 pages long
    • English translation have omissions and mistakes on every page


Knopf – hardback

Vintage – paperback

(both of Random House)

= knew of the problems since the early 1980’s… “The Second Sex” was published in 1949, first translated in 1953 by Parshley

Essay by Elizabeth Fallaize

The Translation

  • Damaging to Beauvoir’s intellectual reputation
  • Difficult to discover what Beauvoir actually thought about important feminist issues

Cuts and Omissions

  • Parshley wanted to omit the equivalent of 145 pages from the original two volume 972 pg French edition — 15% of the text
  • “translated and edited by Parshley”
    • “edited” missing in 1953 edition

History of Women

  • cut 78 women’s names and eradicated just about every reference to socialist feminism
  • Middle Ages section left with a 1/3 of the original length
  • Cut descriptions of women’s oppression and anger, while keeping intact references to men’s feelings
    • #1


  • 35 pages, ½ of chapter on “The Married Woman” was cut by P.
  • removes quotations from French sources while occasionally expanding B’s references to American culture
  • eliminates her copious literary references
  • !!!!! comes across as B’s opinion rather than a well-supported analysis of a specific historical and cultural situation




  • cuts Virginia Woolf, no mention of her
  • not ideologically innocent

Moi on Eleven pages of Housework

  • seven quotations of different people
  • none are in translation

Beauvoir discusses Hegel’s analysis of marriage

            **Parshley’s translation is a summary of a quotation from Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit.

  • Which covers over half a page is B’s text
  • B did not write this, neither did Hegel
    • #2


#3 Existentialist vocabulary

  • Authentique
    • Carried out in good faith, not trying to deny freedom and responsibilities
    • “inauthentic”
  • The text analyzes the way in which sexist society tells women to be “inauthentic”
  • Translating that word as “genuine” “real” “true” turns her “questions about women’s freedom into moralizing sentimentality” (IN TEXT)


Four points on page 1014

  1. Beauvoir’s existence, Parshley’s essence
    1. “existence precedes essence”
      1. women are made, not born
      2. “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.”
  1. Subjectivity
    1. Sujet
      1. Sometimes “subject”
      2. Theory goes out the window
  1. Hiding Hegel
    1. Unaware of references to Hegel
    2. “poser” – ordinary French verb
      1. B uses it where she speaks of the subject (either a person or a group)
        1. “positing itself”
          1. Hegel’s development of the self-conscious subjectivity in the master-slave dialectic
        2. Never translates “poser” philosophically
          1. “regards”
          2. “assumes”
  • “stand face to face with”
  1. “readily volunteer to become”
  1. Alienation alienated
    1. aliénation – used in terms of Lacan and Hegel
    2. as “projection”
      1. footnote to Lacan
        1. question her understanding of Lacan

Traduced by translation

  • First example of transgender people


Letter to the Publishers

  • Responses from Knopf and Vintage
    • Answers 3 months later saying…
    • Parshley never translated French… his hermeneutic motion “” (1030-1031)
    • Beauvoir’s thoughts on book “”
      • Her thoughts after reading Simons’ essay (1032)

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