WITNESS TO MY LIFE
The Letters of Jean-Paul Sartre to Simone de Beauvoir, 1926-1939
Only three months after Simone de Beauvoir's Letters to Sartre appeared in English, we now have a fine translation of the other side of this rightfully legendary correspondence. These letters were edited by the elderly Beauvoir and published in France in 1983. They offer an intimate side of Sartre as he reports on his life and thought to Beauvoir during their first 13 passionate years. And sharpening the picture of their relationship are a number of letters to other women. In 1929, then-student Sartre writes to Simone Jolivet that he has the "ambition to create" and also an "enthusiasm" for certain works that drives him to write. In 22 pages dispatched in 1936 from Naples, the tourist Sartre encircles the reader in that decaying city of "epidemics and fascism," where "chance is master." The incendiary intensity of the Sartre/Beauvoir relationship rises from the almost daily love letters of 1939, when to Beauvoir (mostly in Paris) Sartre writes from a meteorological unit in Alsace about the "phantom war." He hears distant gunfire, and Hitler speaking over a neighboring radio. He discusses the war and the moral and philosophical preoccupations he is putting into The Age of Reason and his journals. "Each consciousness encompasses within itself the infinite to the extent that it transcends itself," he writes on Oct. 11, 1939. Love letters to Louise Vedrine (summer 1939) and frank accounts to Beauvoir of his liaisons make the young women in their circle seem like sounding boards for physical and emotional experience. And Sartre is convincing in his claim to Beauvoir that "everything I think or feel or write is for you....Even my novel and my journal, which other people will eventually sec, are first for you, and only through you for others." Extraordinary in so many ways, Sartre's 1924-39 letters illuminate his evolving thought and his groundbreaking relationship with Beauvoir--perhaps at its finest in their exchange of written words.