Synopses & Reviews
This witty autobiography captures the rich and varied life of a renowned French author and pioneering feminist, through the obstacles and movements in twentieth-century France.
Born in 1920 in Paris, Benoite Groult obtained the right to vote only when she was twenty-five years old. She married four times, bore three children, underwent several illegal abortions, became a writer after she turned forty, and a feminist in her fifties. Groult chronicles her experiences and her intellectual developments through successive phases—as an obedient child, an awkward and bookish adolescent, and a submissive wife—until finally becoming a liberated novelist.
Here, she recounts the childhood trips she spent with her family, Paris during the occupation, her marriages, motherhood, and her continuous fight for women’s rights. At ninety-one years old, she concludes that she has been, and still is, a happy woman—lucky to have captured her freedoms, one by one, paying for them, delighting in them, and loving them. Sexy, chatty, and full of shrewd insight, My Escape covers her years of struggle and success—as a daughter, lover, writer, wife, mother, and reluctant socialite—and draws a portrait of the role of French women in the twentieth century.
"Groult, a proud, sassy feminist, is well known in France for among other ouvres her then-racy novel Salt on Our Skin and her widely-read Ainsi soit-elle, which alerted many French readers for the first time to the practice of female genital mutilation. Whether one is familiar or not with Groult's work, this book is delightful for its frequently beautiful prose, and appealing for how it deals with controversial subjects (abortion, female subjugation, sexism in language). Intimate memories of the author's childhood skiing with her father, wonder-gawking at her mother and adulthood are fraught with struggle and questioning, as are her loves and love affairs. Misgivings about daughter-, mother-, grandmother-, and wife-hood decorate Groult's story, to which she adds interviews as well as analyses of women's treatment both in literature and in society at large. She endears herself to readers through profound insights and a generous sense of humor; her honest and occasionally bawdy style is a major plus. Though the book is not always seamless in its construction, it is clear that what Groult remembers and contemplates matters deeply to her. In that sense this book embodies what an autobiography should be: a careful selection of memories, anecdotes, and observations that gives the feeling of having conversed with a wonderful and memorable person. (Oct.)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"Young people today can't imagine what women went through during the twentieth century," explains Benoîte Groult in My Escape
, her confessional autobiography. Born in 1920 in Paris, she obtained the right to vote only when she was twenty-five years old, married four times, bore three children, underwent many clandestine abortions, became a writer after she turned forty, and a feminist in her fifties.
Groult chronicles her growth through successive phases--as an obedient little girl, a troubled adolescent, a submissive wife--until finally becoming a liberated novelist. Here she recounts her choices, her friendships, her marriages, motherhood, and her fights for women's rights. At ninety-one years old, she concludes that she has been, and still is, a happy woman--lucky to have conquered her freedoms, one by one, paying for them, delighting in them, and loving them. Sexy, chatty, and full of shrewd insight, My Escape covers her years of struggle and success--as a daughter, lover, writer, wife, mother, and reluctant socialite--and draws a portrait of the role of French women in the twentieth century.
About the Author
was born in Paris in 1920. She is a renowned and best-selling French novelist, essayist, and a founder of modern feminism. She has been a member of the jury of the Prix Femina since 1982, and in 2010 was promoted to the rank of Commandeur de la Légion d’honneur. Her autobiography My Escape
is an international best seller, selling hundreds of thousands of copies in Holland and more than a million
copies in Germany.
Nichole Gleisner received her PhD in French literature from Duke University in 2011.
She has published on the poet Guillaume Apollinaire, and this is her first translation for Other Press. She currently lives and works in New Haven, Connecticut.
Reading Group Guide
1. The author has chosen to tell her life story by way of different writing styles. Some chapters provide biographical vignettes, others are in a question-and-answer format. Why do you think Groult decided not to follow a more standard, linear trajectory? Did you get a different sense of the author in the interview than you did in the other chapters?
2. In Chapter 1, “Rosie Groult,” the author describes her family home as one “where matriarchy happily ruled” (p. 28). What does she mean by this? How was her parents’ marriage unusual for its time?
3. In Chapter 4, “A Wonderful Mother,” Groult discusses desperate her attempt to carry on the family by conceiving a child with her deceased husband’s brother. Did this decision shock you? To what degree was her decision motivated by her dire living situation: the daily scarcities during the Nazi occupation, the growing numbers of war dead, the rumors of deported neighbors and unimaginable atrocities in Germany?
4. Groult devotes pages to describing the different passions she has pursued in life, such as gardening and fishing. How have these activities influenced her as a writer? Do you have any lifelong passions or pursuits that define you or that enrich your profession?
5. Fishing was one hobby that Groult credits with keeping her marriage afloat. “All of these boats had woven between us the links that became the moorings, constituting an outpost of our married life for the rest of our days” (p. 341). Do you agree that having a shared hobby is important for maintaining a healthy marriage? Why?
6. Groult identifies as a feminist. Yet she has made choices that some feminists would disagree with: multiple marriages, plastic surgery for aesthetic reasons, among others. Do you think these choices make her more or less of a feminist? What does being a feminist mean today? Does this definition vary depending on where a person lives (France versus the United States, for instance)?
7. In Chapter 8, “Feminist at last!” Groult discusses her work with the French government to promote feminine versions of career terms. She notes, “[Language]’s not just a simple tool for communicating, but it reflects our prejudices and mirrors our relationships and our unconscious desires. How women talk, how people talk to women, all play an essential role in the image they project and what they make of themselves” (p. 216). Do you agree with this statement? Even though the English language doesn’t have gendered nouns, there are still equivalents to this problem. For instance, when referring to nurses, feminine pronouns are typically used, whereas doctors are referred to most often using masculine pronouns. Are these gendered notions changing or not?
8. In Chapter 9, “Paul’s Fan Club,” Groult describes taking care of her granddaughters while her daughters are away on vacation. At one point, she discusses coming to terms with evolving ideas of parenthood. “I can well remember a time when Flora and I brushed our teeth and put our clothes on a chair, without wearing anyone out! But Dr. Spock put an end to these ways” (p. 259). In light of the popularity of parenting books that praise the French style of child-rearing, what do you make of Groult’s take on contemporary parenting in France? How does it differ from parenting in the U.S.? How is it the same?
9. In Chapter 11, “Dick and Jane, septuagenarians, go fishing,” Groult muses, “Aging…means losing the beauty of your movements” (p. 327). What other meditations on getting older ring true for you?
10. 10) Notions of escape can have both positive and negative associations. In your view, what connotations does this book’s title have? How and where does Groult escape? In your own life, have there been instances of near misses or pleasurable abandon?