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(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

After varied experiences throughout the world, the 30-year-old Roquentin has spent the past three years in Bouville, a dull, provincial French town. He is there to use its library, which houses the papers of an obscure 18th century figure, the Marquis de Rollebon. Roquentin intends to write Rollebon’s biography and thereby find some justification for his own existence.

Roquentin’s austere, solitary routines are relieved only by encounters with the Self-Taught Man, a fellow scholar who fatuously believes he is accomplishing something by devouring everything in the library in alphabetical order, and Anny, a former lover. In the four years since they last met, Anny has become bitterly disillusioned, and she cruelly mocks the love that Roquentin believes they once shared.

Roquentin also loses faith in his biographical project, convinced now that another human being cannot justify his miserable existence. Utterly distraught, he is about to abandon Bouville, when, sitting in a cafe, he hears a recording of the jazz song “Some of These Days.” He is entranced by the music’s ability to transcend the contingencies of space and time.

Roquentin vows to create a work of art that will similarly triumph over the pettiness of his life by immortalizing it. He will write a novel, and Sartre’s book concludes with the possibility that it is a self-begetting novel, a narrative that recounts its own genesis. But the diary remains a fragment, and an editor’s note indicates that it was discovered among Roquentin’s papers. Perhaps its author is indeed dead and never succeeded in writing his novel.

Sartre’s disturbing and droll novel concludes with the wryly ambiguous “Tomorrow it will rain in Bouville"--a buoyant promise of purification, or a fatalistic recognition that the VILLE DE BOUE (city of mud) that is the human condition will only become murkier.


Barnes, Hazel E. The Literature of Possibility: A Study in Humanistic Existentialism. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1959. A philosophical and psychological examination of Sartre’s literary output, written by one of his leading translators. Refutes the charge of antihumanism that has been made against Sartre’s work.

Danto, Arthur C. Jean-Paul Sartre. New York: Viking Press, 1975. The first chapter, “Absurdity: Or, Language and Existence,” examines Nausea at length and discusses Sartre’s views...

(The entire section is 551 words.)