Jean-Paul Sartre was arguably the most celebrated and written-about intellectual of the twentieth century. He was also one of the most divisive: twenty-five years after his death, his name still provokes revulsion and admiration in equal measure. But who really knew him? From early on, Sartre cultivated publicity and transparency as paradoxical shields of his privacy. Through an impressive range of biographical writings, interviews and films, and through the chronicling skills of his life-long companion Simone de Beauvoir, he effectively wrote his life as he was living it. The problem consistently encountered by biographers has been to break free from the authority of Sartre's insistent self-interpretation. In his concise bio-critical study, Andrew Leak offers general readers and more specialised students alike a way of understanding the seeming enigmas and contradictions in Sartre's very public, and occasionally hazardous commitments.
Beneath the images of a famous life - from pre-war apoliticism to support of the 1970s leftists, through erratic support for the French communists and unswerving support for all anti-colonial struggles - there runs a single unbroken thread: a quasi-neurotic attachment to the act of writing itself. This study attempts to follow that thread, as it examines Sartre's life through critical moments in his life and works.
Andrew Leak is Head of the French Department, University College London, Editor of Sartre Studies International, and author of The Perverted Consciousness: Sexuality and Sartre (1989), and Roland Barthes: Mythologies (1994).