Excerpted from My Escape by Benoite Groult. Copyright © 2012 by Benoite Groult. Excerpted by permission of Other Press, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
"Now finally the last first generation feminist book."—Kate Millett, author of Sexual Politics
"Frank, no-nonsense reflections by the French novelist about her gradual road to feminism through World War II, three husbands and the embrace of the writing life...A cleareyed memoir by a writer resolved to claim her 'place on the battlefield of feminism.'"—Kirkus
"[Groult] endears herself to readers through profound insights and a generous sense of humor; her honest and occasionally bawdy style is a major plus....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."—Publishers Weekly
"My Escape is written in a way that reveals the author's voice, the author's mind. It is written in a style that is intelligent and thoughtful, warm and humorous, both thought provoking and touching...My Escape is utterly accessible and reveals a woman who has lived a life that stretches beyond the world of Academia...a gem of a book, written by a woman who is an example to all of us...she is real, working tirelessly for the cause of Feminism whilst living and loving, doubting and struggling. She is a woman of passion and commitment and a woman I would love to meet."—Seattle Pi
"Her feminism is the feminism of every woman...She does not approach feminism from a dry academic position, but from the vibrant stance of a woman who has lived life to the full and who has fought for equal rights whilst being a mother, a wife, a grandmother and a professional writer."—BC Books
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?