Jean-Paul Sartre Biography

Biography (History of the World: The 20th Century)

Article abstract: A powerhouse of intellectual energy, French existentialist Sartre poured out novels, plays, screenplays, biographies, criticism, political essays, and philosophy. Journalist, teacher, and perennial activist, he served in the first rank of worldwide liberal causes.

Early Life

Jean-Paul Sartre was the only child of Anne-Marie Schweitzer and Jean-Baptiste Sartre. Jean-Baptiste had been a promising naval officer, active in several engagements in China, where he contracted the enterocolitis that killed him in September, 1906. The young widow and her son, then fifteen months old, returned to her parents’ home. Charles Schweitzer, Anne-Marie’s father, an overbearing intellectual, undertook the education of the precocious boy, who was soon reading voraciously and writing imitations of adventure comic books. Anne-Marie kept her son in long, golden curls. When the curls were finally cut, he recognized himself as ugly, with one eye turned out and blinded by an early illness. This ugliness and his small adult stature (five feet, two inches) fueled his self-consciousness. Formal schooling was intermittent until he was enrolled in the Lycée Henri-Quatre in 1915. After a rocky start, he was academically successful and began making friends.

In 1917, Anne-Marie remarried and moved with her son and new husband to La Rochelle. The move was unhappy for Sartre, who returned to Paris in the fall of 1920 as a boarding student. Thus began a happy period of his life. He renewed and deepened his school friendships and in 1924 entered the rigorous École Normale Supérieure. He shared an interest in philosophy with several classmates and spent hours in reading and discussion, and in the fun of movies, music, jokes, and girl-watching. Sartre loved the regimented life of all-male schools with their camaraderie and emphasis on intellectual achievement. He read widely, preferring Plato or René Descartes to his living professors. He also began to develop his own philosophical attitudes.

Probably his stubborn originality lay behind his failure at the agrégation in 1928. Since this competitive exam was the sole entry into the national system of secondary schools and universities, failure made a would-be academic unemployable. Sartre began a year of concentrated preparation for a retake. Early in that year, he met Simone de Beauvoir, a brilliant philosophy student also preparing for the agrégation. Although Sartre’s romantic life was already crowded, de Beauvoir soon took the central position. They became partners, each the other’s first reader and critic. They openly shared all experiences, and, although each had other lovers, they never broke with each other. They took the agrégation in July, 1929; Sartre took first place, de Beauvoir second.

In November, 1929, Sartre was called up for military service. Trained as a meteorologist, he spent his spare time in reading and writing. Both Sartre and de Beauvoir felt driven to put everything on paper, but neither had published when he was demobilized in February, 1931. Both accepted teaching jobs, and Sartre’s unconventional style made him a favorite with students. He spent 1933-1934 in Berlin, studying the works of Martin Heidegger and the phenomenology of Edmund Husserl. Sartre finally gave up teaching for professional writing in 1945.

Life’s Work

In the years before World War II, Sartre settled into a lifelong pattern of regular hours of work, often at café tables and while traveling. Very prolific, he was unconcerned with the fate of his manuscripts, losing some and leaving several works unfinished. In the years 1937-1939, he published philosophical essays on imagination, ego, and emotions. Simultaneously, he published the novel La Nausée (1938; Nausea, 1949) and a collection of short stories, Le Mur (1939; The Wall and Other Stories, 1948). These writings were well received, in spite or because of their pessimistic view of absurd human life. Albert Camus, later a close friend, was an early, enthusiastic reviewer.

Sartre was called into active service as a meteorologist on September 2, 1939, the day after German troops invaded Poland. His military duties were minimal, and he spent most of his time writing letters, a journal, and the first draft of a novel, L’Âge de raison (1945; The Age of Reason, 1947), first of the planned tetralogy, Les Chemins de la liberté (1945-1949; The Roads to Freedom, 1947-1950). Equally important was his philosophical work L’Être et le néant (1943; Being and Nothingness, 1956), begun in the same period. In June, 1940, he was captured and sent to a German prison camp. Paradoxically, Sartre felt liberated as a prisoner. He enjoyed the solidarity of inmates against their jailers. He discussed theology and philosophy with the priests who served the camp and wrote his first play, Bariona: Ou, Le Fils de tonnere (1962;...

(The entire section is 2062 words.)

Jean-Paul Sartre Biography (Critical Guide to Censorship and Literature)

0111206432-Sartre.jpgJean-Paul Sartre in 1964. (Library of Congress) Published by Salem Press, Inc.

A leading figure in French culture after World War II, Sartre exerted an enormous influence on the intellectual life of his times through his development of the philosophical theory of existentialism, the study of the fundamental features of human existence. In his major work Being and Nothingness (1943), Sartre claimed that to be human was to be unconditionally free. Whatever meaning there is to be found in existence, he argued, stems from one’s own choices and actions, for which one is solely responsible, rather than from existing sources of meaning, such as God’s plan for human life. In literary works from the same time period, Sartre dramatized his philosophical ideas through characters such as Antoine Roquentin, the antibourgeois, perpetually alienated, hyperconscious “existentialist hero” of his 1938 novel Nausea.

A lecture that Sartre gave on existentialism and humanism in a café in 1945 brought his philosophy to popular attention. In it he identified himself as a representative of “atheistic existentialism,” and reaffirmed that the only hope human beings had lay in their own hands. As Sartre’s fame grew, and increasing controversy materialized around his views, existentialism attracted the attention of the Church of France, which proclaimed its evils in sermons to parishioners. In October, 1948, Sartre’s writings became the object of censorship by the Roman Catholic church when papal authority ordered all of...

(The entire section is 484 words.)

Jean-Paul Sartre Biography (Survey of World Philosophers)

Article abstract: A powerhouse of intellectual energy, French existentialist Sartre poured out novels, plays, screenplays, biographies, criticism, political essays, and philosophy. Journalist, teacher, and perennial activist, he served in the first rank of worldwide liberal causes.

Early Life

Jean-Paul Sartre was the only child of Anne-Marie Schweitzer and Jean-Baptiste Sartre. Jean-Baptiste had been a promising naval officer, active in several engagements in China, where he contracted the enterocolitis that killed him in September, 1906. The young widow and her son, then fifteen months old, returned to her parents’ home. Charles Schweitzer, Anne-Marie’s father, an overbearing intellectual, undertook the education of the precocious boy, who was soon reading voraciously and writing imitations of adventure comic books. Anne-Marie kept her son in long, golden curls. When the curls were finally cut, he recognized himself as ugly, with one eye turned out and blinded by an early illness. This ugliness and his small adult stature (five feet, two inches) fueled his self-consciousness. Formal schooling was intermittent until he was enrolled in the Lycée Henri-Quatre in 1915. After a rocky start, he was academically successful and began making friends.

In 1917, Anne-Marie remarried and moved with her son and new husband to La Rochelle. The move was unhappy for Sartre, who returned to Paris in the fall of 1920 as a boarding student. Thus began a happy period of his life. He renewed and deepened his school friendships and in 1924 entered the rigorous École Normale Supérieure. He shared an interest in philosophy with several classmates and spent hours in reading and discussion, and in the fun of movies, music, jokes, and girl watching. Sartre loved the regimented life of all-male schools with their camaraderie and emphasis on intellectual achievement. He read widely, preferring the Greek philosopher Plato or the French philosopher René Descartes to his living professors. He also began to develop his own philosophical attitudes.

Probably his stubborn originality lay behind his failure at the agrégation in 1928. Because this competitive exam offered the sole entry into teaching in the national system of secondary schools and universities, failure made a would-be academic unemployable. Sartre began a year of concentrated preparation for a retake. Early that year, he met Simone de Beauvoir, a brilliant philosophy student also preparing for the agrégation. Although Sartre’s romantic life was already crowded, de Beauvoir soon took the central position. They became partners, each the other’s first reader and critic. They openly shared all experiences, and although both had other lovers, they never broke with each other. They took the agrégation in July, 1929; Sartre took first place, de Beauvoir second.

In November, 1929, Sartre was called up for military service. Trained as a meteorologist, he spent his spare time reading and writing. Both Sartre and de Beauvoir felt driven to put everything on paper, but neither had published when he was demobilized in February, 1931. Both accepted teaching jobs, and Sartre’s unconventional style made him a favorite with students. He spent 1933-1934 in Berlin, studying the works of philosopher Martin Heidegger and the phenomenology of Edmund Husserl. Sartre finally gave up teaching for professional writing in 1945.

Life’s Work

In the years before World War II, Sartre settled into a lifelong pattern of regular hours of work, often at café tables and while traveling. Very prolific, he was unconcerned with the fate of his manuscripts, losing some and leaving several works unfinished. In 1937-1939, he published philosophical essays on imagination, ego, and emotions. Simultaneously, he published the novel La Nausée (1938; Nausea, 1949) and a collection of short stories, Le Mur (1939; The Wall and Other Stories, 1948). These writings were well received, in spite or because of their pessimistic view of absurd human life. The writer Albert Camus, later a close friend, was an early, enthusiastic reviewer.

Sartre was called into active service as a meteorologist on September 2, 1939, the day after German troops invaded Poland. His military duties were minimal, and he spent most of his time writing letters, a journal, and the first draft of a novel, L’Âge de raison (1945; The Age of Reason, 1947), first of the planned tetralogy, Les Chemins de la liberté (1945-1949; The Roads to Freedom, 1947-1950). Equally important was his philosophical work Being and Nothingness, begun in the same period. In June, 1940, he was captured and sent to a German prison camp. Paradoxically, Sartre felt liberated as a prisoner. He enjoyed the solidarity of inmates against their jailers. He discussed theology and philosophy with the priests who served the camp and wrote his first play, Bariona: Ou, Le Fils de tonnere (1962; Bariona: Or, The Son of Thunder, 1970), a Christmas story published much later that camouflaged a call to resistance against foreign invasion. When he escaped in March, 1941, he returned to occupied Paris and resumed teaching.

Sartre and de Beauvoir were active...

(The entire section is 2184 words.)

Jean-Paul Sartre Biography (Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

A much younger first cousin, on his mother’s side, of the physician, humanitarian, and musician Albert Schweitzer, Jean-Paul Sartre was born June 21, 1905, in Paris, losing his father to disease not long thereafter. Reared in a household filled with female relatives as well as with books, Sartre soon turned to reading and eventually to writing in order to assert his masculinity. Somewhat frail of health, with increasingly impaired vision, Sartre distinguished himself as a student; upon graduation from the prestigious Lycée Henri IV in Paris, he easily won admission to the even more elitist École Normale Supérieure, where he continued to work at creative writing in his spare time. In retrospect, he may have found too much time...

(The entire section is 506 words.)

Jean-Paul Sartre Biography (Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Closely related on his mother’s side to the Alsatian thinker and physician Albert Schweitzer, Jean-Paul Sartre was born in Paris on June 21, 1905. As he would later recall in The Words, Sartre grew up alongside his young, widowed mother in a household dominated largely by women who spoiled him, eventually provoking a virile reaction in his mature thought and prose style. After completing his secondary studies at the highly esteemed Lycée Henri IV, Sartre went on to the even more prestigious École Normale Supérieure as a student of philosophy. Failing in his initial attempt to gain the coveted, competitive agrégation, or secondary teaching credential, Sartre took the examination again in 1929 and was...

(The entire section is 502 words.)

Jean-Paul Sartre Biography (Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Born in Paris in 1905, Jean-Paul Sartre grew up in a book-filled, if fatherless, household. Sartre was a brilliant student, and his secondary schooling at the time-honored Lycée Henri IV was followed by competitive admission to the École Normale Supérieure. Although he failed his first attempt at the likewise competitive agrégation, or teaching credential, before successfully retaking it in 1929, Sartre had opted early for a life of the mind and had written at least one novel (later destroyed for want of a publisher) while still in his teens. He had also made the acquaintance of Simone de Beauvoir, a fellow philosophy student who would remain his companion for life, even as both rejected as “inauthentic” the...

(The entire section is 386 words.)

Jean-Paul Sartre Biography (Critical Survey of Ethics and Literature)

At the heart of Sartrean ethics is the same basic premise that defines Sartre’s larger existentialist philosophy: that humanity makes itself. There is no created human nature and thus no prescribed grounds for behavior apart from what the individual chooses. This is not to say that ethics was peripheral to Sartre, or simply an afterthought. Even during the formative days of his philosophical career, before World War II, he emphasized the need for “authenticity” in human behavior, which is one of the cardinal tenets of his theory of morality.

His first novel, Nausea (1938), is the story of a young scholar seeking to learn more about an obscure historical figure, and his research leads him to face the...

(The entire section is 176 words.)

Jean-Paul Sartre Biography (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Close kin on his mother’s side to the Alsatian doctor and musician Albert Schweitzer, Jean-Paul Sartre (sahr-truh) was born on June 21, 1905, in Paris, France. He lost his father, Jean-Baptiste Sartre, to disease not long thereafter. His mother’s name was Anne-Marie. Somewhat frail of health himself, with bad eyesight that would only grow worse with the passage of time, Jean-Paul grew upin a household filled with women and books, deciding early in life to assert his masculinity through writing. Consistently rewarded for his scholastic diligence with honors and high grades, the young Sartre moved quickly from the prestigious Lycée Henri-Quatre to the highly selective École Normale Supérieure, intent upon a career in teaching...

(The entire section is 718 words.)

Jean-Paul Sartre Biography (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

As the primary exponent and expositor of existentialism, Jean-Paul Sartre drew considerable attention from worldwide media during the years following World War II. He consolidated his reputation with memorable essays and with well-crafted plays that brought his philosophical ideas to instant but durable life on the stage, permanently establishing such concepts as “authenticity” and its opposite, “bad faith,” in the common consciousness. His first novel, Nausea, discovered outside France only after his plays had reached a wide audience, had already influenced the development of the French novel and continues to command attention as a minor masterpiece of psychology and satire in prose fiction.

(The entire section is 103 words.)

Jean-Paul Sartre Biography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Philosopher, playwright, novelist, editor, and critic, Jean-Paul Sartre (sahr-truh) dominated European intellectual life for two decades following World War II. He was born in Paris on June 21, 1905, the son of a naval engineer, Jean-Baptiste, who died when the child was only fifteen months old. His mother, Anne-Marie, took the child with her to live with her parents, the Schweitzers, in Alsace, where, as later recounted in his autobiography The Words, the boy felt that he was the center of the universe. Yet his idyll was dispelled when, at the age of ten, he was sent to a Paris school and, a year later, his adored mother was remarried.

A brilliant and contentious student of philosophy, Sartre was...

(The entire section is 807 words.)

Jean-Paul Sartre Biography (Drama for Students)

Jean-Paul Sartre was born on June 21, 1905, in Paris, France. He was the only son of Jean-Baptist Sartre, a French naval officer, and his...

(The entire section is 492 words.)

Jean-Paul Sartre Biography (Short Stories for Students)

Jean-Paul Sartre was born in Paris in 1905. His father died when he was only a year old, and shortly afterward he and his mother went to live...

(The entire section is 433 words.)

Jean-Paul Sartre Biography (Novels for Students)

Jean-Paul Sartre was born June 21, 1905, in Paris, France. His father died when he was only one year old, after which he and his mother lived...

(The entire section is 501 words.)