“Penser le monde” became “to think the world” and not the more conventional “think of the world”.

Constance Borde and Sheila Malovany-Chevallier have published a new English translation of Simone de Beauvoir’s famed The Second Sex sixty years after its initial publication.

They explain for Books and Ideas how they set out to restore Beauvoir’s existentialist, but also very personal approach to the history of the Western notion of “woman”.

One such choice was not to modernize the language Beauvoir used and had access to in 1949, and this decision entailed important consequences.

It precluded, in particular, the use of the word “gender,” as applied today. We often used etymological dictionaries to assure that words we used were in use in 1949 and have the same meaning today as then.

But we were very much aware of the major problems Parshley confronted in transposing Beauvoir’s personal, often philosophical style and voice into English, especially with a publisher who, for example, wanted “esoteric words” like “alterity” taken out of the American edition.

Our goal in this article is to show that, in translation, choice is the operative word, at every step, for every word.Beauvoir respected French grammar: “le masculin l’emporte sur le feminine” (the masculine takes precedence over the feminine); so did we.Here is another example: “Dans les toutes premières années, elle se résigne sans trop de peine à ce sort.L’enfant se meut sur le plan du jeu et du rêve, il joue à être, il joue à faire…”, which in English became “In her early years she resigns herself to this lot without much difficulty.Many translators from French ponder the question as to how to translate this specific tense use, but again, we followed the author’s lead, switching from present to past when Beauvoir did, and it makes sense.