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The selling of Sartre: existentialism and public opinion, 1944–7

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Abstract:

Most contemporary commentators, and subsequent critics, have been quick to identify a 'Sartre phenomenon', by which a writer and philosopher who was relatively unknown before the Second World War, and even during the Occupation, became a major public figure at the Liberation. The phenomenon was not due merely to a considerable gift for self-promotion, nor to an astute marketing campaign by Sartre's publisher, Gallimard, but also to other factors. Building on work by critics and historians such as Ingrid Galster, this article analyses the rise to public prominence of Sartre immediately after the Second World War in the light of three major factors: generation, the cult of the Resistance and publishing. The Liberation saw the rise of a new generation of young cultural consumers anxious to shake off the past and adopt new cultural leaders. In this context, Sartre occupied a privileged position in having cultural prestige without being identified with the previous generation. The same is true of Sartre's perceived position within the Resistance, the dominant cultural and intellectual power-brokers in the post Liberation period: benefiting from the prestige of the literary Resistance, he was nevertheless not closely identified with any one Resistance faction. Thus, as the 'Hussards' pointed out at the time, Sartre's post-Liberation popularity owed much to a careful cultivation of the vogue for Résistantialisme. Finally, as Jean Galtier-Boissière records in his diaries, the Sartre phenomenon was part of a wider jockeying for position in the Parisian publishing world, in which most major publishers were anxious to regain their respectability after the Occupation.

Keywords: GALTIER-BOISSIERE; GENERATION; HUSSARDS; JEAN-PAUL SARTRE; LIBERATION; PUBLISHING; RESISTANTIALISME

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.3167/147335306780579732

Publication date: March 1, 2006

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