Sartre, Jean-Paul (-Charles-Aymard)

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SARTRE, Jean-Paul (-Charles-Aymard)

Nationality: French. Born: Paris, 21 June 1905. Education: Lycée Montaigne and Lycée Henri-IV, Paris; École Normale Supérieure, Paris, agrégation in philosophy 1929. Military Service: Meteorological Corps, 1929-31; French Army, 1939-40: prisoner of war in Germany, 1940-41; resistance movement, 1941-44. Family: Began lifelong relationship with the writer Simone de Beauvoir in 1929; one adopted daughter. Career: Professor, Lycée du Havre, 1931-32, and 1934-36, Lycée de Laon, 1936-37, Lycée Pasteur, Paris, 1937-39, and Lycée Condorcet, Paris, 1941-44; traveled and lectured extensively during the 1950s and 1960s; member of Bertrand Russell's International War Crimes Tribunal, 1966. Founding editor, with de Beauvoir, Les Temps Modernes, beginning 1945; editor, La Cause du Peuple, beginning 1970, Tout, 1970-74, Révolution, 1971-74, and Libération, 1973-74; founder, with Maurice Clavel, Liberation news service, 1971. Awards: French Institute Research grant, 1933; Roman populiste prize, 1940, for Le Mur; New York Drama Critics Circle award, 1947, for No Exit; Grand Novel prize, 1950, for La Nausée; Omegna prize (Italy), 1960; Nobel prize for literature, 1964 (refused). Honorary doctorate: Hebrew University, Jerusalem, 1976. French Legion d'honneur, 1945 (refused). Member: American Academy of Arts and Sciences (foreign member). Died: 15 April 1980.



Oeuvres romanesques, edited by Michel Contat and Michel Rybalka. 1981.


La Nausée. 1938; as The Diary of Antoine Roquentin, 1949; as

Nausea, 1949. Les Chemins de la liberté [Paths of Freedom]: L'Âge de raison. 1945; as The Age of Reason, 1947.

Le Sursis. 1945; as The Reprieve, 1947.

La Mort dans l'âme. 1949; as Iron in the Soul, 1950; as Troubled Sleep, 1951.

Short Stories

Le Mur. 1939; as The Wall and Other Stories, 1949; as Intimacy and Other Stories, 1949.


Bariona; ou, Le Fils du tonnerre (produced 1940). 1962; as Bariona; or, The Son of Thunder, in The Writings 2, 1974.

Les Mouches (produced Paris, 1943). 1943; translated as The Flies and published with In Camera, 1946.

Huis clos (produced Paris, 1944). 1945; translated as In Camera and published with The Flies, 1946; as No Exit, with The Flies, 1947.

Morts sans sépulture (produced Paris, 1946). 1946; as Men without Shadows, in Three Plays (UK), 1949; as The Victors, in Three Plays (US), 1949.

La Putain respectueuse (produced Paris, 1946). 1946; as The Respectable Prostitute, in Three Plays (UK), 1949; as The Respectful Prostitute , in Three Plays (US), 1949.

Les Jeux sont faits (screenplay). 1947; as The Chips Are Down, 1948.

Les Mains sales (produced Paris, 1948). 1948; as Crime Passionnel, in Three Plays (UK), 1949; as Dirty Hands, in Three Plays (US), 1949.

L'Engrenage (screenplay). 1948; as In the Mesh, 1954.

Three Plays (UK; includes Men without Shadows; The Respectable Prostitute; Crime Passionnel ). 1949.

Three Plays (US; includes The Victors; The Respectful Prostitute; Dirty Hands ). 1949.

Le Diable et le bon Dieu (produced Paris, 1951). 1951; as Lucifer and the Lord, 1953; as The Devil and the Good Lord, in The Devil and the Good Lord and Two Other Plays , 1960.

Kean, adaptation of the play by Dumas (produced Paris, 1953). 1954; translated as Kean, 1954; as Kean, or Disorder and Genius, 1990.

Nekrassov (produced Paris, 1955). 1956; translated as Nekrassov, 1956.

Les Séquestrés d'Altona (produced Paris, 1959). 1960; as Loser Wins, 1960; as The Condemned of Altona, 1960.

Les Troyennes, adaptation of a play by Euripides (produced Paris, 1965). 1965; as The Trojan Women, 1967.

Le Scénario Freud (screenplay). 1984; as The Freud Scenario, 1985.


Les Jeux sont faits, 1947; L'Engrenage, 1948; Les Sorciéres de Salem [Witches of Salem], 1957.


L'Imagination. 1936; as Imagination: A Psychological Critique, 1962.

Esquisse d'une théorie des émotions. 1939; as The Emotions: Outline of a Theory, 1948; as Sketch for a Theory of the Emotions, 1962.

L'Imaginaire: Psychologie phénoménologique de l'imagina tion. 1940; as Psychology of the Imagination, 1949.

L'Être et le néant: Essai d'ontologie phénoménologique. 1943; as Being and Nothingness, 1956.

L'Existentialisme est un humanisme. 1946; as Existentialism, 1947; as Existentialism and Humanism, 1948.

Explication de "L'Étranger." 1946.

Réflexions sur la question juive. 1947; as Anti-Semite and Jew, 1948; as Portrait of an Anti-Semite, 1948.

Baudelaire. 1947; translated as Baudelaire, 1949.

Situations 1-10 (10 vols.). 1947-76; selections translated as What Is Literature?, 1949; Literary and Philosophical Essays, 1955; Situations, 1965; The Communists and Peace, 1965; The Ghost of Stalin, 1968 (as The Spectre of Stalin, 1969); Between Existentialism and Marxism, 1974; Life/Situations, 1977; Sartre in the Seventies, 1978.

Saint Genet, comédien et martyr. 1952; as Saint Genet, Actor and Martyr, 1963.

The Transcendence of the Ego: An Existentialist Theory of Consciousness. 1957.

Critique de la raison dialectique: Théorie des ensembles pratiques. 1960; as Critique of Dialectical Reason: Theory of Practical Ensembles, 1976.

On Cuba. 1961.

Les Mots (autobiography). 1963; as Words, 1964; as The Words, 1964.

Essays in Aesthetics, edited by Wade Baskin. 1963.

The Philosophy of Sartre, edited by Robert Denoon Cumming. 1966.

Of Human Freedom, edited by Baskin. 1967.

Essays in Existentialism, edited by Baskin. 1967.

On Genocide. 1968.

Les Commununistes ont peur de la révolution. 1969.

L'Idiot de la famille: Gustave Flaubert de 1821 á 1857 (3 vols.). 1971-72; as The Family Idiot: Gustave Flaubert 1821-1857, 1981-82.

Un Théâtre de situations, edited by Michel Contat and Michel Rybalka. 1973; as Sartre on Theatre, 1976.

Politics and Literature. 1973.

The Writings 2: Selected Prose, edited by Contat and Rybalka. 1974.

Cahiers pour un morale. 1983.

Les Carnets de la drôle de guerre: Novembre 1939-Mars 1940. 1983; as War Diaries: Notebooks from a Phony War: November 1939-March 1940, 1984; as The War Diaries of Jean-Paul Sartre: November 1939-March 1940, 1985.

Lettres au Castor et á quelques autres, edited by Simone de Beauvoir. 1983.

Mallarmé; or, The Poet of Nothingness. 1987.

Thoughtful Passions: Intimate Letters to Simone de Beauvoir. 1987.

Witness to My Life: The Letters of Sartre to Simone de Beauvoir 1926-1939, edited by de Beauvoir, 1993.

Quiet Moments in a War: The Letters of Jean-Paul Sartre to Simone de Beauvoir, 1940-1963. 1993.



The Writings 1: A Bibliographical Life by Michel Contat and Michel Rybalka, 1974; Sartre: A Bibliography of International Criticism by Robert Wilcocks, 1975; Sartre and His Critics: An International Bibliography 1938-1980 by François and Claire Lapointe, 1981.

Critical Studies:

Sartre, Romantic Rationalist by Iris Murdoch, 1953; Sartre: A Literary and Political Study, 1960, Sartre: A Biographical Introduction, 1971, and Sartre, 1992, all by Philip Thody; The Marxism of Jean-Paul Sartre by Wilfrid Desan, 1965; Jean-Paul Sartre by Henri Peyre, 1968; Jean-Paul Sartre by Arthur Coleman Danto, 1975; Critical Fictions: The Literary Criticism of Sartre by Joseph Halpern, 1976; Jean-Paul Sartre, Philosophy in the World by Ronald Aronson, 1980; The Existential Sociology of Jean-Paul Sartre by Gila J. Hayim, 1980; Jean-Paul Sartre: Contemporary Approaches to His Philosophy, edited by Hugh J. Silverman and Frederick A. Elliston, 1980; The Philosophy of Sartre, edited by Paul Arthur Schilpp, 1981; Jean-Paul Sartre by Catharine Savage Brosman, 1983; Sartre and His Predecessors: The Self and the Other by William Ralph Schroeder, 1984; Sartre and Marxist Existentialism: The Test Case of Collective Responsibility by Thomas R. Flynn, 1984; Sartre, Literature and Theory by Rhiannon Goldthorpe, 1984; Sartre, Life and Works by Kenneth and Margaret Thompson, 1984; Freedom As a Value: A Critique of the Ethical Theory of Jean-Paul Sartre by David Detmer, 1986; Sartre: An Investigation of Some Major Themes, edited by Simon Glynn, 1986; Critical Essays on Sartre, edited by Robert Wilcocks, 1988; In the Shadow of Sartre by Liliane Siegel, 1990; Vulgarity and Authenticity: Dimensions of Otherness in the World of Jean-Paul Sartre by Stuart Charmé, 1991; Jean-Paul Sartre, the Evolution of His Thought and Art by Harold W. Wardman, 1992; Understanding Sartre by Philip R. Wood, 1992; Jean-Paul Sartre and the Politics of Reason: A Theory of History by Andrew Dobson, 1993; Jean-Paul Sartre and Crime Passionnel by Clive Emsley, 1994; Sartre's Existentialism and Early Buddhism: A Comparative Study of Selflessness Theories by Phra Methithammaphon, 1995; Sartre and Evil: Guidelines for a Struggle by Hayim Gordon, 1995; Sartre for Beginners by Donald Palmer, 1995; The Bodily Nature of Consciousness: Sartre and Contemporary Philosophy of Mind by Kathleen Wider, 1997; Jean-Paul Sartre: Politics and Culture in Postwar France by Michael Scriven, 1999; Feminist Interpretations of Jean-Paul Sartre, edited by Julien S. Murphy, 1999; Jean-Paul Sartre, edited by Harold Bloom, 2001.

* * *

Known as the father of French existentialism, Jean-Paul Sartre is not generally considered a writer of Holocaust literature. Indeed, only one of his numerous stories, novels, plays, essays, and treatises—The Condemned of Altona —deals explicitly with the cataclysm. But the legacy of World War II, the Nazi Occupation of France, and the Holocaust itself had dramatic impacts on Sartre's thought and led to a refocusing of his artistic ambitions.

Prior to World War II Sartre viewed writing as an apolitical discipline. As he explained in his literary autobiography The Words, he was initially focused only on the aesthetics of his works. While the insights that subsequently coalesced into his philosophical system were apparent in early works such as the novella La Nausée (1938) and the short story collection Le Mur (1939), Sartre did not connect these themes to a call for political action—as he did in almost all his postwar writings. The events of World War II and the Holocaust marked a crucial turning point.

Sartre was called up for military service in 1939 and was captured by the German forces in 1940. He spent nine months as a prisoner of war in a German stalag, an experience that marked both his character and his subsequent writing by confronting him with his own historicity. As Sartre told his lifelong companion Simone de Beauvoir in 1944, he no longer saw his writing as separate from the social and political circumstances in which he existed. This realization led to a shift in his artistic goals; no longer content with crafting simply an aesthetic tour de force, Sartre henceforth strove to change the way his readers thought, felt, saw the world, and acted in it.

It was also during the Nazi Occupation of France that Sartre wrote his great philosophical treatise Being and Nothingness. Dense and technical, the work presented Sartre's "phenomenological ontology"—an exploration of the nature of being. Sartre believed that freedom was the primary characteristic of an individual's consciousness. Living in a world devoid of extrinsic verities, each individual is ultimately responsible for her own choices and actions. Sartre viewed this freedom as a curse as much as a blessing: in his famous phrase, "man [wa]s condemned to be free." Yet rather than simply bemoan the inherent absurdity of life, Sartre argued, each individual had a duty to engage in social and political action. Sartre further developed this existentialist vision in his plays and novels of the early postwar period, many of which were set against the backdrop of World War II. In The Flies, for example, Sartre reworked the Greek myth of Orestes and Electra and denounced Nazism through Orestes's slaying of the tyrant Clytemnestra. Sartre's well-known play No Exit explored the adverse consequences that occur when one lives only for and through others, abjuring one's own obligation to act freely. Another work of this period, The Victors, focused on French resistance soldiers captured by the Vichy militia. Although the soldiers were facing death, Sartre believed that they were still free—free to choose the moment they "broke" under the torture—and remained morally responsible for those choices.

Sartre's belief in the absolute freedom of human consciousness was tempered somewhat during the 1950s, as he nuanced his views to consider the possibility that a person's social and cultural conditioning could limit the universe of possible choices before her. This shift informs Sartre's only work directly addressing the Holocaust, The Condemned of Altona, and is also explored more fully in his second major work of philosophy, Critique of Dialectical Reason, in which Sartre sought to harmonize existentialism with Marxism. The Condemned of Altona centers on a German family living in the aftermath of the Nazis' defeat. The play thematically treads familiar ground for Sartre, dealing with questions of freedom, responsibility, and choice. The family's youngest son, Frantz, is a Nazi war criminal, the notorious "Butcher of Smolensk." Abetted by his family, Frantz descends into madness to escape the reality of his past actions and of his country's defeat. The Condemned of Altona problematizes Frantz's ability to be free by exploring the role that his familial and cultural upbringing played in leading to his barbaric actions. Ultimately, however, Sartre concludes that Frantz did indeed choose to participate wholeheartedly in the slaughter of the Holocaust and bears responsibility for that choice.

Like most of Sartre's other postwar work, The Condemned of Altona uses political events as a lens through which to examine the core components of individual consciousness. By the time he completed The Condemned of Altona, however, Sartre was beginning to lose faith in his art's ability to be an instrument of change for his readers. Nevertheless, Sartre continued to espouse the view that one's choices are freely made and that each individual is accountable for the decisions—and indecisions—that she makes.

—Rebecca Stanfel

See the essay on The Condemned of Altona.