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Critical Discussions Sartre: A Life, by Annie Cohen-Solai; translated by Anna Cancogni; xiii & 591 pp. New York: Pantheon Books, 1987, $24.95. Jean-Paul Sartre: Hated Conscience ofHis Century. Volume One: Protestant or Protestor? byJohn Gerassi ; ix & 213 pp. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989, $19.95. Discussed by Patrick Henry Only a sudden and short-lived awareness that the moral conscience of their century had been taken from them can account for the fact that, under a leaden gray sky on April 19, 1980, fifty thousand Frenchmen followed Jean-Paul Sartre's coffin for two miles to a Montparnasse cemetery. True, even as late as January 1980, his voice had still been heard—when, on the radio program "Expliquezvous ," he expressed his opposition to the internal exile of the dissident physicist Andrei Sakharov and launched an appeal for the boycott of the Olympic Games to be held that year in Moscow—but it was a feeble voice and a fading one that could no longer command much attention. It had been, in effect, sixteen years since Sartre refused the Nobel Prize and twenty since de Gaulle made him untouchable with his famous quip: "You do not imprison Voltaire." Slowly over these last two decades, however, he had lost touch; new thinkers captured the imagination of the French intelligentsia. If he was still interested in his times, his times were no longer terribly interested in him. As early as February 1969, when he rose to speak at the Mutualité to protest the expulsion ofthirty117 118Philosophy and Literature four university students, he found the following message on the lectern: "Sartre ... be brief." Needless to say, it cut him to the quick. He could only conclude that he had become, as Annie Cohen-Solai termed it in die original French version of her biography, "un has-been." IfSartre was a has-been at the time ofhis death, a postmortem decade has done nothing to remedy the situation. There was, for example, no interest in a major biography of him in France after his death. When several French publishers turned down his suggestion for a Sartre biography , André Schiffrin of Pantheon Books underwrote one himself with an eventual English translation and the American market in mind. He commissioned Ms. Cohen-Solai, the author of a highly acclaimed biography ofSartre's friend, Paul Nizan. The future Sartre biographer herself admitted that the author of Nausea had experienced an abrupt fall from grace in France and that publishers' lack of interest stemmed from at least two slighdy contradictory beliefs—"that Sartre the public figure was dépassé and that intellectuals were not yet ready to come to grips with Sartre the flawed and controversial political thinker."1 Cohen-Solai was, however, ready to tackle Sartre and her well-informed 591-page biography relates in moving fashion the seventy-fiveyear life ofthe philosopher-dramatist-novelist-political thinker. Dividing her text into four major parts—Toward Genius 1905-1939, The Metamorphosis of War 1939-1945, The Sartre Years 1945-1956, A Man Waking Up 1956-1980—she narrates the author's winding roads to freedom from origin to apogee to decline and death. Her first section is rich in biographical discoveries. Particularly in its first three parts, Cohen-Solai unearths original material on the author's father, Jean-Baptiste Sartre, who died when his son was fifteen months old, and on the Schweitzer side of the family. "The Sorrows of AnneMarie " and "The Private Bestiary of a Child-King" cover the same decade (1907-17) that the author analyzes in his autobiography, Words, and, on some key issues, certainly give a different reading of these formative years. Whereas in the autobiography, for example, it was the maternal grandfather, Charles Schweitzer, who pushed the child to write, excited his immoderate ambitions, and lured him to the paths of immortality, here others are equally responsible: Mme Picard, Uncle Emile, grandmother Schweitzer, and his mother, Anne-Marie "who, ecstatic, read, reread, and copied her son's texts for all her acquaint- Patrick Henry119 anees" (p. 34). Often in these pages, the reader is expected to concur with Anne-Marie who, after having read Words, remarked to her son that he had...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 117-141
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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