Sartre, Jean-Paul (1905–80)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-DD062-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved March 05, 2024, from

4. Literary works

The 1940s were the period of Sartre’s most prolific literary production. From La Nausée (Nausea) (1938) which explores the relationship of contingency and necessity in life and art through the experiences of Roquentin, Sartre moves on in the war years to a contemporary trilogy Les Chemins de la liberté (The Roads to Freedom) (1945–9). The trilogy (or unfinished quadrology?) portrays the lives of a varied group of Parisian intellectuals at the outbreak of war, and in particular the ways in which they hide their freedom from themselves while convincing themselves that it is their ultimate goal. Mathieu, a university academic, is the main focus for such ambivalence as he tries to find money for an abortion for his long-term mistress Marcelle.

Sartre also wrote several very successful plays in this period – Les Mouches (The Flies) (1943b), a wartime allegory of resistance to German occupation, which uses the Orestean myth to explore the power of human liberty in the face of oppression. Huis Clos (In Camera) (1944) shows the deadly consequences of conflictual human relations and self-deception in a hell comprising three characters doomed to remain together for ever in a Second Empire drawing room. Les Mains Sales (Dirty Hands, or Crime Passionel) (1948) debates the issues of realism and idealism, means and ends, truth, lies and political commitment in Illyria, an imaginary Communist country in Eastern Europe. This finely balanced and complex play received an unexpectedly positive response from the bourgeois press who interpreted it, against Sartre’s intentions, as predominantly anti-communist. In consequence Sartre felt obliged to ban its production for about ten years.

Citing this article:
Howells, Christina. Literary works. Sartre, Jean-Paul (1905–80), 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-DD062-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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