Jean-Paul Sartre 1905–1980
French critic, philosopher, playwright, novelist, editor, and journalist.
Sartre is regarded as one of the most influential contributors to world literature since World War II. As with all of his work, the core of Sartre's literary criticism is existentialist: the philosophical concept of a godless, meaningless world in which individuals merely exist until they become "engaged," or choose a course of action in order to live as free, responsible beings.
Sartre's numerous literary and political essays appeared in a ten-volume anthology entitled Situations. The literary essays chronicle the development of Sartre's critical mind and are considered by many critics as outlines for his studies of Baudelaire, Genet, and Flaubert. Sartre's books on these authors examine the writers through the social conditions under which they wrote and the changes they underwent as a result of historical events. This method is described in part in Qu'estce que la litterature? (What Is Literature?). In this work, Sartre denied the necessity of critical analysis of a writer's style and language. For Sartre, style was important only as a means to eloquently state the writer's theme. Sartre commended the "engaged" author, the author who has made the decision to raise social consciousness through writing. In Qu'est-ce que la litterature?, Sartre wrote: "[The] function of the writer is to act in such a way that nobody can be ignorant of the world and that nobody may say that he is innocent of what it's all about." Sartre's later critical works, particularly L'idiot de la famille (The Family Idiot), his study of Flaubert, combine a Marxist viewpoint with his existentialist beliefs.
(See also CLC, Vols. 1, 4, 7, 9, 13, 18 and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 9-12, rev. ed., Vols. 97-100 [obituary].)