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Getting to Know the Playwright: Jean-Paul Sartre

To start off the new year, the Boston College Theatre Department will be presenting Jean-Paul Sartre's No Exit, directed by Kylie Fletcher '18 in the Bonn Studio January 25-28th. In order to truly understand this existentialist play, it is key to understand the playwright, Jean-Paul Sartre. Luckily, we've got you covered! Learn all things Jean-Paul Sartre right here.

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Early Life

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Jean-Paul Sartre was born in Paris, France June 21, 1905 and died in Paris April 15, 1980. His father passed at a young age and therefore Sartre grew up under the parental supervision of his maternal grandfather and mother in Paris. As a young adult he attended the École Normale Supérieure in France, where he received a degree in Philosophy in 1929. While at school, Sartre met his life-long partner Simone de Beauvoir.

Professor of Philosophy

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Following graduation Jean-Paul Sartre began a career as a Professor of Philosophy. In 1931, Sartre began teaching at the lycée in Le Havre (lycées are secondary school paid for by the French government). He took a short sabbatical from teaching in 1932 when he was given the opportunity to study philosophers Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger in Berlin, Germany. However, he quickly resumed to Le Havre before he moved to Laon. In 1937, Sartre returned to Paris to teach at the Lycée Pasteur until he was drafted to serve in World War II.

World War II and Imprisonment

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In 1939, Sartre was drafted by the French Army to serve as a meteorologist during World War II. He was capture by the Germans in 1940 and held as a prisoner of war for nine months before being released with civilian status. Sartre was released due to poor health, specifically for exotropia (a form of eye-misalignment) which he had since he was a child. While imprisoned Jean-Paul Sartre wrote his first play Barionà, fils du tonnerr and read Martin Heidegger's Being and Time which largely influence his later works.

Early Publications

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Jean-Paul Sartre's first novel, La Nausée (Nausea), was published in 1938 and Sartre got his first break as an author. The novel expressed many philosophical themes that he explored and further developed in the latter part of his career. His studies of philosopher Edmund Husserl heavily influenced his writing throughout the late 30's. It wasn't until 1943 that his publication, L’Être et le néant (Being and Nothingness), truly established Sartre as an independent and brilliant philosopher. The publication placed human consciousness in opposition to physical being (Britannica).

Transition from Novels to Plays

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As his career blossomed, Sartre wrote to examine the human condition. In 1945, he began to write a four-volume novel, titled Les Chemins de la liberté, which was meant to argue his belief that freedom implied social responsibility (Britannica). However, during the process of writing the novel he realized that writing plays could be a more influential way of communicating his findings on the human condition. While he had explored play-writing in his earlier career, this realization marked a new era where Sartre deeply committed to writing thoughtful, philosophical plays.

Jean-Paul Sartre: The Playwright

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By 1959, Sartre written an impressive collection of plays including his most famous piece, Huis-clos (No Exit). No Exit, the existentialist play, is the embodiment of Sartre's seemingly pessimistic pieces in it's exploration of how three people can exist when trapped in one room in hell together. Within it, is Sartre's most famous and studied quotation, "L'enfer, c'est les autres" or "Hell is other people". As a novelist and playwright Sartre built a collection that far exceeded expectations. As a result, he was award the 1964 Nobel Prize in Literature but refused it as not to lose his integrity as a writer.

Sartre's Career Close

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After 30 years of writing immensely influential philosophical novels, short-stories, articles and plays, Sartre focused his attention towards writing a four-volume study called Flaubert, which focused on the life of Gustave Flaubert. After completing three of the four ginormous volumes, Sartre's productivity began to slow. In the last decade of his life, he worked sporadically but eventually he became blind and lost his health. In April 1980, a lung tumor took his life. 50,000 people showed up for his funeral procession.

The Lasting Legacy

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Over the course of his incredible career, Jean-Paul Sartre became one of France's most influential philosophers and authors of the 20th century. Today, his legacy is defined by literary collection, as well as, his contributions to the philosophy of existentialism. His play No Exit has been translated to numerous languages and produced world-wide.

So there you have it folks! Jean-Paul Sartre is a philosophical genius and literary legend. All the more reason to see his most famous piece No Exit in the Bonn Studio Theatre January 25-28th! Tickets are on sale now at the Robsham box office or online at bc.edu/tickets.

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