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  • Diary of a Philosophy Student: Volume 2, 1928-29 by Simone de Beauvoir
  • Helga Lenart-Cheng
Beauvoir, Simone de. Diary of a Philosophy Student: Volume 2, 1928-29. Eds. Barbara Klaw, Sylvie le Bon de Beauvoir and Margaret A. Simons. Trans. Marybeth Timmermann. University of Illinois Press, 2019. Pp [ix]-xii; 374. ISBN 978-0-252-04254-6. $48.00 (cloth). $19.95 (ebook).

This book is the second volume of the annotated English translation of the French transcription of Beauvoir's 1926-1930 diary. The French version of that manuscript appeared in 2008 under the title Cahiers de Jeunesse, and the first volume of the English translation, entitled Diary of a Philosophy Student: Volume 1, 1926-27, was published in 2006. This second volume is fully annotated, including the translator's and Sylvie le Bon de Beauvoir's detailed notes and an index, which makes it an invaluable resource for Beauvoir scholars. The translation reads easily, and the diary is completed by a foreword to the Beauvoir Series by Sylvie Le Bon de Beauvoir, an introduction by Margaret A. Simons, as well as an article by Barbara Klaw "On Reading Beauvoir's Early Writings, 1926-1930, as a Philosophy of Self-Help."

The volume covers the period of September 27, 1928-September 12, 1929––a "tremendous year" (288) during which Beauvoir prepares her agrégation, writes a diplôme on Leibniz, reads extensively, hangs out with friends and meets Sartre. Many of the diary's pages are addressed to Jacques Champigneulles, Beauvoir's cousin and sweetheart, whom she calls "my brother, my companion, my refuge, my life…" (36). Over the course of the year, the circle of "brothers" is gradually enlarged and the presence of Champigneulles diminishes. Beauvoir entertains and is entertained by a carrousel of colorful acquaintances, classmates, professors, friends and family members. Merleau-Ponty, Gandillac, Nizan, Maheu are all powerful presences, as are her sister Poupette and her friends Stépha, Zaza, Josée. She is charmed by her girlfriends' "chit-chat, songs and laughter" (99), as much as she is drawn to the intellectual camaraderie of her fellow male students. If this division between female and male friends seems annoying, blame it on Beauvoir who tries so hard to fit in that she turns competitive: "To feel that I am also a woman and more fully in bloom than any other woman present! To feel that I have graceful gestures and a lively girl's face; and yet to be in the midst of these men, a man whom they treat with the same seriousness, the same straightforwardness and barely a precious nuance of deference, let's say rather of a charmed astonishment to find me so similar to them underneath my silk dress" (111).

The "fraternal" connections she feels (178) are much more interesting when she frames them in philosophical terms as a question of independence. Worried about being too easily influenced by others (155), she duels with many authors, considering them all potential "adversaries" (57). For others, individualism is about having a name and respect in society, she clarifies, for her it's about leaning "religiously towards this god who is named 'me,' a demanding god" (221). Self-reflection, including diary-writing, becomes then a form of self-control. "Full of pride, a will to tell, and an intoxication of being" (158), Beauvoir is constantly checking to make sure that she does not make too many concessions. Which is why her fateful encounter with Sartre in July 1929 is such an event in the diary as well. "That's when everything started" (248), writes Beauvoir in what is likely a retrospective comment. As Simons also notes in her introduction, what makes this diary so intriguing are the gaps between the diary entries and Beauvoir's own later version of the same events in her Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter (1958). Compared to that later, toned-down version, this early diary shows Beauvoir sparring harder, with more conviction and less false humility. In these pages, she [End Page 151] affirms her vocation as a writer and philosopher with confidence, and she also outlines many of her later themes and concerns. Simons promises...