Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Among the earliest of Sartre’s extant writings, begun and tentatively completed as early as 1936, Nausea first took shape in Sartre’s mind under the working title “Melancholia,” inspired by Albrecht Dürer’s engraving Melencolia I, which depicts a disrupted and disturbed “thinker.” Art, either as product or as process, looms large throughout the work, casting into the foreground Antoine Roquentin’s growing sense of superfluity in a hostile, or at least indifferent, universe.
Invited on an archaeological expedition to Cambodia, the trained historian Roquentin, a former archaeology teacher, undergoes a kind of reverse “conversion” upon viewing a Khmer statuette displayed to him as enticement to make the trip. Suddenly confronted with the immortality or “solidity” of art, Roquentin instantly feels himself “fluid” and “viscous” by contrast. Refusing his colleague’s offer, Roquentin decides to seek immortality of his own through completion of a scholarly project begun some years earlier. His subject is the life and career of the Marquis de Rollebon, a minor figure in the French Revolution, whose papers his descendants have willed to the public library at Bouville, a port city closely modeled upon Le Havre. Spending much of his time in the public library of Bouville, the remainder in cafés and restaurants, Roquentin becomes increasingly, disgustingly aware of his own weight upon the earth’s surface, of his “existence” as object in a world threateningly filled with other “existing” objects both living and inanimate. (Significantly, the term...
(The entire section is 657 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
After traveling through Central Europe, North Africa, and Asia, a thirty-year-old Frenchman named Antoine Roquentin settles down in the seaport town of Bouville to finish his historical research on the Marquis de Rollebon, an eighteenth century figure in European politics whose home had been at Bouville. For three years, Roquentin searches the archives of the Bouville library reconstructing the nobleman’s life. All Roquentin’s energies are concentrated on his task; he knows few people in Bouville except by sight, and he lives more in the imaginary world he is re-creating than in the actual world.
In the third year of his residence in Bouville, during the winter of 1932, Roquentin begins to have a series of disturbing psychological experiences that he terms “the nausea.” He feels there is something new about commonplace articles, and even his hands seem to take on new aspects, to have an existence all their own. It is then that Roquentin’s loneliness becomes a terrible thing to him, for there is no one to whom he can speak of his experiences. His only acquaintances are Ogier P., whom Roquentin has nicknamed The Self-Taught Man because he was instructing himself by reading all the books in the library, and a woman named Françoise, who operates a café called the Rendezvous des Cheminots. Françoise, who had become fond of Roquentin, is the outlet for his physical sexuality, but their acquaintance had not gone beyond that. In his loneliness, Roquentin begins to think of Anny, an English girl who had traveled with him some years before and whom he had loved; he had not heard from her in more than three years. The nausea comes increasingly often to plague Roquentin; it passes from objects into his body through his hands, and the only way he can describe it is that it seems like a sweetish sickness.
One evening, shortly after the nausea first appears, Roquentin goes to the café, only to find that Françoise is gone for a time. He sits down to listen to music on a battered old phonograph and, for the first time, the nausea creeps upon him in a place with bright lights and many people; even more horrible, it seems as if the sickness is outside himself, in other objects.
Strangely enough, as the days pass, The Self-Taught Man makes an effort to be friendly with Roquentin. Learning that Roquentin had traveled extensively, The Self-Taught Man asks to see some of the photographs he had collected and to hear some of his adventures. He even goes to Roquentin’s rooms one evening for that specific purpose. These friendly overtures are not entirely...
(The entire section is 1056 words.)