The Age of Reason (Penguin Modern Classics)

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The Age of Reason (Penguin Modern Classics)

The Age of Reason (Penguin Modern Classics)

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I’m tempted to describe it as a melodrama, but this does it a disservice as all of the events which occur feel so real. Those who have solemnly decided to become fathers, and feel progenitively inclined when they look at their wives’ bodies – do they understand any more than I do? The individual’s duty is to do what he wants to do, to think whatever he likes, to be accountable to no one but himself, to challenge every idea and every person. I’ll be taking a detailed look at this trilogy over the coming months and, of course, be warned ahead are numerous spoilers.

Mathieu is trying to raise money money for the abortion of a woman with whom he has been living for seven years, and at the same time he is obsessed with a desire for personal freedom. This is opposed to the embarrassing situation he finds himself at the start of the story; his initial foray into securing an abortion ends in dismal humiliation. Yesterday morning… when you had the impertinence to touch me… I said to myself—that’s the way a married man behaves.The freedom part may be right (I disagree) but the immensely negative emotional interpretation Sartre gives it is entirely his own (and his own problem). It’s at this point he makes a bizarre, seemingly deadly mistake during a taxi ride to the latest museum exhibition. A policeman accuses the drunk of begging, but Delarue defends him based on the lie they were having a proper conversation. The novel, set in the bohemian Paris in 1938, focuses on three days in the life of philosophy teacher Mathieu who is seeking money to pay for an abortion for his girlfriend, Marcelle.

The continual alien cadence of the sentences helps to ease the entrance, facilitates acceptance, of what is at the end of the day, a very very alien worldview. Slowly Mathieu realises the cheap abortionists he had been considering (400 Francs) risk seriously injuring Marcelle; Sarah knows a high class abortionist, a Jewish refugee from Nazi Austria, but he charges 4,000 Frances – where on earth can Mathieu get that kind of money? However, the catch is that while we may define ourselves, in many cases we are the only people who understand and respond to that definition because everybody else perceives reality differently, and in perceiving reality differently, we respond to reality differently. Whereas Delarue offers Ivich’s brother Boris fatherly advice and encouragement, Ivich and Mathieu are something of a misfit.

The most schematic part of the book is the character of Brunet, who is an almost comical stereotype of the Strong, Conscientious Communist. Sartre mistakes movement -- Mathieu is almost constantly on the go -- for real action, and there's just not enough depth to his characters, in the way they are presented. The Age of Reason is the first of the trilogy, a third-person narrative set in Paris in 1938 which focuses on two days in the life of Mathieu Delarue (French for ‘of the street’).

Other times it simply never happens, and the person simply ends up drifting around the world living in some sort of dream, never actually defining themselves, and never having a purpose or a point. Now thirty-four, Mathieu still leads a rather aimless life, and the novel, which covers only a few days, follows him on his peregrinations -- though, for once, he does have something to focus on and is actually goal-oriented: he's knocked up his longtime mistress, Marcelle, and desperately wants to raise the funds to pay for a not-quite-back-alley abortion. However, despite the tone being set in this first chapter, the abortion element of the story doesn’t dominate proceedings as Delarue finds himself increasingly drawn into, particularly, the lives of young Boris and Ivich. He’s introduced in chapter 7 and it’s quickly established he’s a Machiavellian sort blessed with exceptional good looks. If you hate summer, loathe being touched, are so morbidly self-conscious that other people looking at you hurts you, if you are revolted by your bodily functions and oppressed by a feeling of futility and pointlessness, ‘burdened by events to come’ and prey to ‘an intolerable anguish’ (p.

He has a sickly lover, Marcelle, who has just announced she’s pregnant and so Mathieu immediately decides she must have an abortion. The Marcelle situation resolves itself in a manner that largely absolves Mathieu from any sort of responsibility (though that resolution comes with one big surprise, as one of the characters makes another revelation that upends things quite a bit, too -- and suggests that maybe Marcelle's best interests are not best served by this particular outcome). He’s an inquisitive sort who is sure of his professor’s ability to reveal the truth about existence.

My dear old chap, look yourself in the face: you are thirty-four years old, you are getting slightly bald – not so bald as I am, I admit – your youth has gone, and the bohemian life doesn’t suit you at all. He explains that being a member has given him a sense of purpose and brotherhood with other members all round the world. If you do not want to do that because you are too ethical, you do not need to tell people that you do not want to do that, but rather let your ethical nature come out based upon your actions, and not upon the statements you make about what you do not want to do. Economic slavery is a term that probably does not relate to this, but it is defining our freedom based upon the amount of money that we have. He is forlorn because he is devoid of God and thus only himself responsible for his actions (as well as inactions, inaction also being an action).This sense of duty is in stealing a book, although he wonders if he’s offended Sereno with his rejection. Not that the subsequent books lack this, but the Reprieve’s focus on simultaneity and Iron in the Soul’s immersion into total war ensure the Age of Reason maintains a humane and innocent edge as it is set prior to the world’s descent into madness. Subsequent novels in the Road to Freedom have little to do with this theme, but what Sartre did is lay bare the concerns of his central characters whilst World War II loomed casually on the horizon. Regretting her scream, and feeling somewhat world-weary, the duo part ways as Ivich continues to wallow in depression about her impending exam results.

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