Memoirs of A Dutiful Daughter

This is the book Rory is reading on the couch when Lorelai gets home from the fashion show.

Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter is a 1958 memoir by French author, existentialist philosopher, and feminist, Simone de Beauvoir, previously mentioned. It’s a beautifully-written, intimate portrait of her life growing up in a privileged, sheltered, upper middle class French family, rebelling as an adolescent against their conventions, and striking out on her own with intellectual ambition and a ceaselessly questioning, philosophical mind.

Rory often reads Lorelai’s books (they both have an interest in female biography and memoir), and this feels like one Lorelai would have been drawn to. She and de Beauvoir both had the same urge to escape a wealthy, claustrophobic background (Lorelai had Rory as part of her escape, while de Beauvoir had Sartre), and Lorelai spoke of always wishing she could use the word existentialist in a sentence.

The title of the memoir is ironic, but Rory really is a very dutiful daughter to Lorelai. Later on, she too will rebel against her mother.

Seneca

RORY: That’s because Stoicism was not about giving up things, of money and luxuries and stuff.
PROFESSOR: That’s right. By the time he was in his early forties, Seneca had earned enough money to acquire villas, farms, he ate well, he loved expensive furniture, but he didn’t consider that a non-philosophical way to live.

Seneca the Younger, born Lucius Annaeus Seneca, usually just known as Senca (c4BC-65AD) was a Roman Stoic philosopher, statesman, and playwright. A tutor and later adviser to the Emperor Nero, he was forced to take his own life for allegedly taking part in a conspiracy to assassinate Nero; Seneca was most likely innocent.

Senca was a prolific writer on Stoicism, a popular philosophy for upper-class Romans of his era. He wrote about the need to control the destructive emotions, to confront one’s own mortality, and be willing to practice poverty and use wealth wisely. His plays however, are all tragedies, and filled with intense emotions. Even while he was alive, Seneca was accused of hypocrisy because he was essentially a wealthy and powerful man advocating the simple life.

Highly popular in his day, Seneca’s enduring reputation is most likely because he was greatly admired by the early Christian church, which led to him becoming a favourite in the medieval era and during the Renaissance. Today he is seen as an important part of Western thought.

Note that Rory is very quick to grab onto the idea that wealth and luxury don’t preclude one from living an intelligent, rational, philosophically rich life.

Existentialists

[Lorelai is reading accomodation notices on a bulletin board]
STUDENT: You looking for a place to live?
LORELAI: Uhh, maybe.
STUDENT: Well there’s a lot of choices. Something for everybody.
LORELAI: Yeah, yeah. Unless you’re one of those existentialists who can’t really figure out what they want.

Existentialism is a philosophical tradition associated with 19th and 20th century European philosophers, valuing the individual, freedom, and personal authenticity. The existentialist attitude is often seen as one of confusion, disorientation and dread in the face of a meaningless or absurd world. Philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, earlier discussed, spoke of the “agony of decision”, hence Lorelai’s comment. She later says she always wanted to use the word existentialist in a sentence.

In real life, students would not be at Harvard University during mid-August, and already in their regular routines of classes and parties. The semester began in late August in 2001, and the first week would have been orientation activities.

Emma Goldman

LUKE: I hate malls … They underpay employees and overprice merchandise, they contribute to urban sprawl, they encourage materialism, and the parking’s a horror. You drive in, you pay a buck, and even if you’re only there for five …
LORELAI: Okay, Emma Goldman, I’ll tell you what. I’ll go for you.

Emma Goldman (1869-1940) was a Russian-born American anarchist, political activist, and writer. She played a pivotal role in the development of anarchist political philosophy in the early twentieth century, and was strongly influenced by Freidrich Nietzsche, among others. She believed that capitalism was incompatible with human liberty, and in her youth, sanctioned violence and even murder as a legitimate part of the revolutionary struggle.

Nietzsche and Dawson

LOUISE: Those who simply wait for information to find them, spend a lot of time sitting by the phone. Those who go out and find it themselves, have something to say when it rings.
RORY: Nietzsche?
LOUISE: Dawson.

Rory is referring to Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), a German philosopher whose work has been profoundly influential on Western philosophy. Since the 1960s his work has been a major focus in existentialism, postmodernism, art, literature, psychology, politics, and popular culture.

Louise is referring to Dawson Leery (James Van Der Beek), the central character on the teen drama series Dawson’s Creek, which aired on television between 1998 and 2003. I cannot verify if Louise’s quote is genuinely from the show, but it sounds like the sort of thing Dawson might have said.

This is a rather unsubtle example of how much more intellectual Rory is compared to Louise.

Jean-Paul Sartre

LORELAI: He [Jim Carrey] is funny but I didn’t mean funny, funny. I’m being philosophical.
SOOKIE: Oh. Very serious face. Jean-Paul Sartre.

Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980) was a French philosopher, writer, and critic. Highly influential, he was a leading figure in 20th century Marxism, existentialism, and phenomenology, and was famous as the lover of fellow philosopher Simone de Beauvoir. His best known work is Being and Nothingness (1943). He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1964, but declined to accept it.

 

Hemlock and Arsenic

MAX: (to waitress) Do you have any hemlock back there? Arsenic, something quick?

Both potentially deadly poisons. The plant hemlock was used to execute the philosopher Socrates after he was found guilty of impiety. Arsenic was once a popular choice as a murder weapon because it is odourless and not easily detected, until a test for it was devised in the 19th century.

“Chicken or the egg?”

LORELAI: You need three highlighters?
RORY: Yes … One dries up, one gets lost, I have one left.
LORELAI: You have really thought this out.
RORY: Yes, I have.
LORELAI: What came first – the chicken or the egg?

The chicken or the egg is an ancient dilemma, whereby it isn’t clear which event occurred first, since chickens lay eggs, but the first chicken would need to come from an egg. Philosophers grappled with the problem for centuries, beginning with the ancient Greeks.

Evolutionary science tells us that the egg came first. Hard shelled eggs first appeared 312 million years ago, while the ancestors of the modern chicken arose perhaps 8000 years ago. Even the first chicken egg would have come before the chicken – laid by a creature that wasn’t a chicken.

Lorelai is jokingly saying that since Rory is so smart, she must be able to solve this ancient riddle.