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- Publisher: PENGUIN CLASSICS
- Format: Paperback | 160 pages
- Dimensions: 128mm x 196mm x 12mm | 140g
- Publication date: 27 July 2000
- Publication City/Country: London
- ISBN 10: 0141183462
- ISBN 13: 9780141183466
- Sales rank: 137,162
After his father's early death Jean-Paul Sartre was brought up at his grandfather's home in a world even then eighty years out of date. In "Words", Sartre recalls growing up within the confines of French provincialism in the period before the First World War, an illusion-ridden childhood made bearable by his lively imagination and passion for reading and writing. A brilliant work of self-analysis, "Words" provides an essential background to the philosophy of one of the profoundest thinkers of the twentieth century.
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Philosopher, novelist, playwright and polemicist, Jean-Paul Sartre is thought to have been the central figure in post-war European culture and political thinking. His most well-known works, all of which are published by Penguin, include THE AGE OF REASON, NAUSEA and IRON IN THE SOUL.
Can it be that this the most beautifully written, the most perfectly proportioned of anything Sartre has done will turn out to be his most beloved, or at any rate, most popular work? The phenomenal French sales suggest just that. If so, how ironic! Sartre's reputation was built to a large degree on an iconoclastic opposition to his country's aesthetic tradition, on a campaign for literature in the thick of things. To be sure, an existential choice is presented, surprisingly paralleling that of Saint Genet and even the Baudelaire study, but unlike them the temper or tone is no longer engaged. Rather it's a blend of philosophical romanticism (echoes of Rimbaud's Les Poetes de sept ans) and of classical craftsmanship like Montaigne. The work- superficially a childhood remembrance ending in Sartre's eleventh year when his mother remarries- moves on many levels: as a purging of the past (he grew up a "nobody's son," an "object" without a father in a bourgeois never-never land); as a salvation hunt (he discovers the family library, a temple where words become substitutions for the sacramental, a "project" to replace his worn-out Christianity); lastly, and perhaps most importantly, as a fiction consciously imposed over fact (he recreates himself: a little ugly darling in a "movie," a hero accepting his "bastardy," his role to outwit circumstance). Thus both self-indictment and self-transcendence, the very apotheosis of a writer spitting in the face of "fate" or of its illusions. What a severe and subtle work, what self-exposure! And yet... isn't there a certain theatricality here, a superbly analytical temperament, not a cry, not a real confrontation? That a master wrote Les Mots is unquestionable, that he wrote from the heart is not. (Kirkus Reviews)
Jean-Paul Sartre's famous autobiography of his first ten years has been widely compared to Rousseau's Confessions. Written when he was fifty-nine years old, The Words is a masterpiece of self-analysis. Sartre the philosopher, novelist and playwright brings to his own childhood the same rigor of honesty and insight he applied so brilliantly to other authors. Born into a gentle, book-loving family and raised by a widowed mother and doting grandparents, he had a childhood which might be described as one long love affair with the printed word. Ultimately, this book explores and evaluates the whole use of books and language in human experience.