"The Woman Destroyed" by Simone de Beauvoir

Summary

Simone de Beauvoir at Home in Paris
Jacques Pavlovsky / Contributor / Getty Images

Simone de Beauvoir published her short story, "The Woman Destroyed," in 1967. Like much existentialist literature, it is written in the first person, the story consisting of a series of diary entries written by Monique, a middle-aged woman whose husband is a hard-working doctor and whose two grown up daughters no longer live at home.

At the beginning of the story she has just seen her husband off on a flight to Rome where he has a conference.

 She plans a leisurely drive home and relishes the prospect of being free to do whatever she wants, unconstrained by any family obligations. "I want to live for myself a little," she says, after all this time."  However, as soon as she hears hat Colette, one of her daughters has the flu, she cuts her vacation short so she can be by her bedside.  This is the first indication that after spending so many years devoted to others she will find her new found freedom difficult to enjoy.

Back home, she finds her apartment terribly empty, and instead of relishing her freedom she just feels lonely.  A day or so later she finds out that Maurice, her husband, has been having an affair with Noellie, a woman he works with.  She is devastated.

During the following months, her situation grows worse. Her husband tells her he'll be spending more time with Noellie in future, and it is with Noellie that he goes to the cinema or the theater.

 She goes through various moods–form anger and bitterness to self-recrimination to despair.  Her pain consumes her: “The whole of my past life has collapsed behind me, as the land does in those earthquakes where the ground consumes and destroys itself.”  

Maurice grows increasingly irritated with her.

 Where he had once admired the way she devoted herself to others, he now sees her dependence on others as rather pathetic. As she slides into depression, he urges her to see a psychiatrist. She does start seeing one, and on his advice she starts keeping a diary and takes on a day job, but neither measure seems to help much.

Maurice eventually moves out completely. The final entry records how she comes back to the apartment after dinner at her daughter's. The place is dark and empty. She sits at the table and notices the closed door to Maurice's study and to the bedroom they had shared. Behind the doors is a lonely future, of which she is very afraid.

The story offers a powerful depiction of someone struggling with a certain time of life. It also examines the psychological response of someone who feels betrayed. Most of all, though, it captures the emptiness that confronts Monique when she no longer has her family as a reason for not doing more with her life.

See also:

Simone de Beauvoir (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

Major texts of Existentialism