QUIET MOMENTS IN A WAR
The Letters of Jean-Paul Sartre to Simone de Beauvoir, 1940-1963
A sequel to Witness to My Life (1992), which collected Sartre's letters to Simone de Beauvoir from 1926 to 1939. Most of those collected here were written in 1940, when Sartre was in the military and then in prison camp. Sartre writes, sometimes twice a day, mostly about waiting: for letters (his constant complaint), information, money, leave, action--and books, noting the absurdity of a soldier requesting Shakespeare in the battle zone: "It reeks of espionage." Many letters concern his feelings, his flirtations, and his affair with ``Tania''--a classy "slut" Sartre offers to marry even though it's "Beaver" (his pet name for Beauvoir) whom, in spite of her predilection for women, he considers his soulmate. Ten years into his creative relationship with Beauvoir, Sartre admits to being "disgusted" with himself--for his promiscuity and "obscene" sexuality--and solicits her advice. But however she inspires him, he addresses her in the common language of an adolescent crush, always in the diminutive, "little" this and "little" that, even "little paragon." It's in this period of discipline, confinement, and boredom, however, that Sartre produces his greatest works-- Being and Nothingness, No Exit, and The Age of Reason--philosophy, fiction, and drama dedicated to the absurdity of life, as well as to the necessity for freedom and for making choices. The letters slow down when Sartre returns to Occupied Paris and reunites with Beauvoir, and they stop in 1963 because, as Beauvoir explains in a footnote, after that year, in order to communicate with each other, the two always used the telephone. Without Beauvoir's responses, the letters reveal the trivial and commonplace preoccupations of even the most heroic of intellects in the most trying of times.