Short Stories as Examples

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Author: Philip Thody
Editor: Anna J. Sheets
Date: 1999
From: Short Story Criticism(Vol. 32. )
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 8,370 words

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[(essay date 1960) Here, Thody provides a general overview of each of the short stories collected in The Wall, focusing on how they serve as illustrations of "Sartre's favourite philosophical ideas."]

Before the publication of The Diary of Antoine Roquentin in June 1938, Sartre had already been introduced to the French literary world by the appearance of two of his short stories in review form. In July 1937 the Nouvelle Revue Française published 'Le Mur' ('The Wall') and in January 1938 Mesures published 'La Chambre' ('The Room'). According to Marc Beigbeder [in L'Homme Sartre] this was arranged by Sartre's publisher, Gaston Gallimard, in order to see what chance there was of a favourable reception for The Diary of Antoine Roquentin. He was, apparently, surprised at the success which Sartre's first novel secured. It was well received by several of the leading critics--including Edmond Jaloux in the conservative Nouvelles Littéraires--and has remained one of Sartre's most successful works. It has been reprinted in the popular Édition Pourpre series, and in 1950 was included in the list of the twelve best novels of the half-century, chosen by a jury of well-known French literary figures. In England it has been less well-received--the Times Literary Supplement [March 23, 1949] said it was 'pretentious'--and at the moment of writing it is out of print in the English edition. While this may be due to the difficulty of translating Sartre's prose into English of comparable force, it is also due to English impatience with near-heroes of the Roquentin type and to a general lack of sympathy for their problems. The English translation of Sartre's short stories, published in French in 1939 under the title of Le Mur and translated as Intimacy, is, however, still in print and has clearly been more popular than The Diary of Antoine Roquentin. It is quite natural that this should be so, since these stories have plenty of human interest in addition to a rather lubricious character which should endear them to less intellectual readers. After all, Punch [July 12, 1949] did describe them as 'leaving Lady Chatterley's Lover asleep at the post', which one would have expected to be a guarantee of good sales. They are also, like The Diary of Antoine Roquentin, published in a popular paper-backed edition in France.

There are five stories in the volume, each of which illustrates one of Sartre's favourite philosophical ideas. The title story, 'The Wall', refutes Heidegger's idea that man can live towards his own death and thus humanize it. The second, 'The Room', illustrates the impossibility for the sane mind to enter deliberately into the world of madness. The third, 'Herostratus', explores the extreme confines of anti-humanism; the fourth, 'Intimité' ('Intimacy'), is a study of the idea of bad faith; and the fifth, 'L'Enfance d'un Chef' ('The Childhood of a Leader'), exposes the way in which the human mind can escape from the feeling of its own superfluousness into the comforting world of Rights. Although different...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1420025617