Die Wörter

by Jean-Paul Sartre

Other authorsHans Mayer (Translator)
Paperback, 1964



Call number

CI 6204 W843



Reinbek b. Hamburg: Rowohlt, Unkorrigiertes Übersetzung-Manuskript, 1964


Jean-Paul Sartre was arguably the best-known and most influential French writer of his time. As a philosopher, as a novelist, as a playwright, as the author of filmscripts, as the editor of Les Temps Modernes, as a man who was never afraid to commit himself to the moral and political as well as the literary life of his own times, he was unique. Not since Voltaire has Western civilization produced so humane, manifold, and boldly "engaged" a man of letters. At 59, he undertook his autobiography, bringing to his own childhood the same rigor of honesty and insight which he had applied so brilliantly in earlier books to Baudelaire and Jean Genet. "Directed to the heart as well as to the intellect," the result is like nothing else in the Sartre canon, or in France, where The Words has been accorded a place beside that other masterpiece of self-analysis, Rousseau's Confessions.--Adapted from publisher description.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member kidzdoc
Jean-Paul Sartre's autobiography was published in English in 1964, the year that he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, and it focuses on his early childhood and the influences that led to his decision to become a writer.

Sartre's father died when he was an infant; as a result he and his
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mother Anne-Marie moved back into her parents' house on the edge of Paris. As an only child, the young Jean-Paul was nurtured and sheltered by his mother and his grandparents, and his greatest influence as a child was his grandfather Charles Schweitzer, a professor of German literature and nephew of the Nobel laureate Albert Schweitzer. Sartre's initial years were spent in near complete isolation from other children, and he began to read voraciously at an early age, with his greatest influences being the adventure stories that his mother and grandmother gave to him, to the chagrin of his grandfather. He began to play act stories that he created based on his reading, and soon he began to write stories about these adventures. In his later childhood his grandfather's teaching and reading became more influential, and he supported his wife and daughter in encouraging Sartre to pursue a career as a writer.

The autobiography is divided into two long chapters, Reading and Writing. The first chapter is by far the most interesting, as Sartre introduces us to his family and the joys of his young childhood. However, the last half of the book was far too long, with an overemphasis and overanalysis of his early writing and its influences, with only minimal attention given to his outside life, his family and the few friends that he made.

Despite a promising beginning I found [The Words] to be a disappointing and somewhat unenjoyable read, due to its lack of balance and Sartre's choppy and disjointed narrative.
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LibraryThing member girlsgonechild
For readers and writers, Sartre's autobiography takes one through the words that made him, inspired him, he made, he inspired with. Gorgeous, moving and a little bit sad. A must read for Sartre fans and writer/readers in general.
LibraryThing member mwhel
Excessively bookish people seem not to have lives of their own. Sartre's autobiography recounts a life with few close friends or external events that had much impact on his development. He was raised on literature and other people's lives and thoughts. He progressed into a writer who wrote at such
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a high level of abstraction that it is difficult to judge his character. He is a master of juxtaposition, contradiction and the oxymoron and so it is hard to pin him down on any single issue. Joseph Heller must have been influenced by him. From this autobiography I get the impression that Sartre lived in the original realm of virtual reality; literature.
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LibraryThing member hbergander
About the boyhood of a genius and about which books influence the making of this genius.
LibraryThing member jwhenderson
The Words, Jean-Paul Sartre's famous autobiography of his first ten years, has been 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
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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.

Sartre writes about his very early life. He writes about things that as an adult you aren't even conscious of anymore. How reading a book about horses and armies can bring those things to life. Sartre talks about his grandfather, his mother, his absent father. He is pretty dispassionate about them. The main thing about the book is Sartre's ability for clear observation and honesty. Sartre describes his fatherless childhood, a period during which playmates and rambles were happily exchanged for his grandfather’s library, where “I found my religion”:

I disported myself in a tiny sanctuary, surrounded by ancient, heavy-set monuments which had seen me into the world, which would see me out of it, and whose permanence guaranteed me a future as calm as the past. …I was a daily witness of ceremonies whose meaning escaped me: my grandfather—who was usually so clumsy that my grandmother buttoned his gloves for him—handled those cultural objects with the dexterity of an officiant…. At times, I would draw near to observe those boxes which slit open like oysters, and I would see the nudity of their inner organs, pale, fusty leaves, slightly bloated, covered with black veinlets, which drank ink and smelled of mushrooms.

Sartre’s reading and writing nurtured “the idealism which it took me thirty years to shake off.” Inside the sixth-floor library, “I would take real birds from their nests, would chase real butterflies that alighted on real flowers”; compared to the bookish archetypes, “the monkeys in the zoo were less monkey, the men in the Luxembourg Gardens were less man.” In the last pages of The Words, Sartre begins to describe the exchange of the idealism for the brand of Existentialism which made him famous. “I’ve given up the office but not the frock,” writes the sixty-year-old: “I still write. What else can I do?”
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LibraryThing member jonfaith
Faith, even when profound, is never entire.

There is considerable audacity in a project of this nature. The famed philosopher/playwright/novelist creates a memoir fifty plus years into the past, a poking about in a small child's mind. I hazard to say there's a some fancy in these pages. Much as
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Sartre notes throughout most of his childhood he was acting, I assume the great thinker feels compelled to craft something of stature to merit his adult achievement. I will be honest: I don't remember much of my early life. One or two images of leaving Michigan ages 3-4. There are a few flutters after that. My adoptive mother telling everyone I was reading at age two. Was I? I have always had books and much like Sartre I feel indebted. Also, just like the author I had flowing curly locks, a surprise I guess after being bald for 14 months. The stories bifurcate there as Sartre benefited from his grandfather's library and I read comics and books from the local public library. Both of us constructed constant narratives where we were the heroes. He was encouraged to write. I was given a typewriter and I filled notebooks in junior high when I should have been learning geometry.

The second section Writing isn't as magical as the first Reading. He broaches his burgeoning narrative structures, slowly evolving in a stumbling gait --and how everything was ultimately enriched by attending school. That period of his life so deserved a further extensive treatment, if only his adolescent friendship with Paul Nizan. Outside of his widowed mother and tacit grandmother, women do not feature large in this vision. His partial blindness, his diminutive stature, his less than ideal looks all reflect upon this but without explicit comment.
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LibraryThing member ivanfranko
I wish I could recall my first ten years like J-P could. All very cerebral, but a hundred years on, these recollections have little or no interest. Even J-P reveals he's a little bored with life and writing at the time he put this fragment of autobiography together. You are far better off reading
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his novels.
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LibraryThing member JRobinW
I LOVE this book for Sartre's honestY, wit, and his willingness to share the flaws and joys of learning to write in one's own voice.


Original language


Original publication date

1964 (English: Frechtman)
1964-12-09 (Español ∙ Losada ∙ Buenos Aires)
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