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3 - Sartre and Beauvoir: A Very Gentle Occupation?

from Section B - Writing the War: Sartre, Beauvoir, Camus

Colin Davis
Affiliation:
Royal Holloway, University of London
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Summary

Que signifie au juste le mot guerre? Il y a un mois, quand il a été imprimé en grosses lettres dans les journaux, c’était une horreur informe, quelque chose de confus, mais de plein. Maintenant, ce n'est nulle part, ni rien. Je me sens détendue et vague, j'attends, je ne sais pas quoi.

(Beauvoir, La Force d’âge, p. 461, quoting a journal entry written on 3 October 1939)

‘Jamais nous n'avons été plus libres que sous l'occupation allemande’ (Situations, III, p. 11). This was Sartre's provocative summary of the Occupation shortly after the liberation of Paris in August 1944. If we do not progress any further into the article of which it is the first sentence, ‘La République du silence’, we might suspect that for Sartre and his friends, and by extension perhaps for French people in general, the Occupation was not so bad after all. Indeed, with a degree of provocation to match Sartre's, the historian and novelist Gilbert Joseph has argued that Sartre and Beauvoir had, as the title of his book (to which the title of this chapter refers) puts it, une si douce occupation. According to Joseph, Sartre and Beauvoir's Resistance activities never got beyond talk, and they were careful not to put themselves in real danger. They spent the Occupation pursuing their literary careers and sexual conquests, cementing their intellectual credentials and enjoying a high time. If some of their wartime writings (such as Sartre's play Les Mouches and Beauvoir's novel Le Sang des autres) and some of their post-war statements implied support for and maybe even active participation in the Resistance, this was all part of their self-serving self-mythologization. Joseph reports that on one occasion he asked the historian of the Resistance, Henri Noguères, why his monumental five-volume Histoire de la Résistance en France never mentions Sartre, only to be told bluntly: ‘Parce que Sartre n'a jamais été un résistant’ (Une si douce occupation, p. 366). In a subsequent letter, Noguères underscored his earlier statement: ‘Je maintiens qu'en une vingtaine d'années consacrées à des recherches et des travaux sur l'histoire de la Résistance en France, je n'ai jamais rencontré Sartre ou Beauvoir’ (quoted in Une si douce occupation, p. 366).

Type
Chapter
Information
Traces of War
Interpreting Ethics and Trauma in Twentieth-Century French Writing
, pp. 49 - 64
Publisher: Liverpool University Press
Print publication year: 2017

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