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NORDSCI Conference proceedings 2019, Book 1



Prof. Dr. Velga Vevere


Feminist autobiography is a genre with long-standing literary and philosophical tradition, still some aspects, like, autobiography as “death writing” have come to scholarly attention as of relatively recent. The conceptual framework hinged on the concepts of “tanatography” (defined as an account of a person’s death) and “autotanatography” (defined as an account of one’s own death) makes it possible to take a fresh look into feminist writings from 19th and 20th centuries (Alice James and Simone de Beauvoir). Among the questions for the critical reflection we can mention the following ones: issues of memory and forgetting, of death of the significant other, of aging, of suicide, of literary death (ending the writing career path). Autothanatography is self-death-writing, instead of self-life-writing, even if death is an experience that cannot be had for oneself. The current article takes a look into the auto-death-writing of two women writers: Alice James (1848-1892) – a sister of William and Henry James and Simone de Beauvoir (1908-1986). Although both women’s lives are set almost a century apart and none of them define herself as a feminist writer, their memoirs are written from the vantage point of imminent death. In the first case (James’s) we can speak of her posthumously published diaries, especially their second part written after she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Whereas in the latter (Beauvoir’s) case the autothanatological vibe is felt throughout the whole series of her memoirs (“Memoirs of a dutiful daughter”, “The prime of life”, “Force of circumstance”, “A very easy death”), but especially in the oeuvre “All is said and done” – the writing in anticipation of one’s death. The aspect that is common to both writers is that their memoirs exhibit the strategy of recollection, of re-reading their life events anew in the wake of the end (physical and/or authorial).


autothanatography, biographical writings, Simone de Beauvoir, Alice James, feminism


NORDSCI Conference Proceedings 2019, Book 1, Conference Proceedings, ISSN 2603-4107, ISBN 978-619-7495-05-8, FEMINIST AUTOTHANATOGRAPHIES: ALICE JAMES AND SIMONE DE BEAUVOIR , 187-194 pp, DOI paper 10.32008/nordsci2019/b1/v2/34

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