The Roads to Freedom begins in June, 1938, with the first volume The Age of Reason. As the novel opens, Mathieu Delarue is visiting his longtime mistress, Marcelle Duffet. Because their affair has been going on for seven years, Mathieu has tired of Marcelle, but he continues to see her regularly, four times each week. Tonight, however, the routine changes, for Marcelle tells her lover that she is carrying his child. Without asking about her feelings and wishes, Mathieu immediately declares, “Well, I suppose one gets rid of it, eh?”
Because Mathieu wants Marcelle’s abortion to be as safe as possible, he consults Sarah Gomez, who had ended a pregnancy some years earlier. Sarah gives him the address of a reliable but expensive doctor who will be leaving Paris for the United States in a few days. Mathieu must therefore quickly find four thousand francs. He goes first to his friend Daniel Sereno, who claims that he does not have that much money (though in fact, he has ten thousand francs in his wallet). Mathieu next turns to his brother but is again rebuffed. Jacques, too, has the money, but he disapproves of his brother’s bohemian life. If Mathieu will marry Marcelle, his brother will give him ten thousand francs, but Jacques refuses to pay for an abortion.
Boris Serguine, Mathieu’s student and admirer, is more sympathetic. Though he lacks such a sum himself, he knows that his mistress, Lola Montero, keeps seven thousand francs in her room. To his surprise, though, when he asks her for five thousand francs, she refuses him. The ensuing argument so distresses her that she takes an overdose of cocaine. Boris wakes up the next morning to find her cold and pale; thinking that she is dead, he flees the apartment.
Shortly afterward, he meets Mathieu and begs him to return to Lola’s room and remove some letters, lest Boris be implicated in Lola’s death. Mathieu agrees, and, at the same time that he takes the incriminating packet, he considers stealing the money which he needs. While he hesitates, Lola revives. He still has the key to her trunk, though, and later that day, with more resolution, he does take five thousand francs.
When he presents the money to Marcelle, however, she throws the notes in his face. She wants to keep the child, and Daniel, who for some time has been visiting her, has maliciously encouraged her belief that Mathieu will marry her. Rather than agree to an abortion and continuing her affair with Mathieu, she will marry Daniel, little suspecting that he is a homosexual who is taking her to humiliate both Mathieu and himself.
Mathieu returns to his apartment and finds Ivich waiting for him. He has lusted after her, but she has always remained aloof. Now that she has failed her examination at the lycee and must leave Paris for her native Laon, she is willing to give herself to Mathieu. Yet he cannot commit himself to her any more than he could to Marcelle. He tells her, “I mustn’t touch you.” As she prepares to depart, Lola enters, looking for Boris, whom she accuses of robbing her. Mathieu explains what has happened, and Daniel appears with the bank notes that Marcelle had refused. At the novel’s end Mathieu is en-tangled with neither Marcelle nor Ivich, but, as he realizes, he remains “no freer than before.”
When The Reprieve opens, three months have elapsed. In late September, 1938, Europe holds its breath while Neville Chamberlain, Edouard Daladier, and Adolf Hitler decide whether war will break out over the question of the Sudeten Germans in Czechoslovakia. As Jean-Paul Sartre observes of this novel, “All the characters in The Age of Reason ...reappear..., only this time as lost people thwarted by a crowd of other people.” In the partial mobilization that precedes the agreement at Munich, Mathieu is called up to serve. Boris, expecting war, enlists, and his sister returns to Paris from Laon to sleep with her boyfriend. Daniel and Marcelle have married and have left Paris to live at Peyrehorade....
(The entire section is 1,149 words.)