Hard of History: Sartre


The telephone rings. Simone de Beauvoir rushes to answer; edging a table with her thigh and knocking a porcelain vase to the floor.

She knows it’s Jean-Paul. She’s been waiting for his call.

‘Allo?” the voice on the other end declares tinnily, “can you hear me?”

“Yes, yes, of course, my love,” she says. “How’s it going over there?

She was aware that Jean-Paul had been working all week at the Sorbonne with Camus and that they felt that they were on the brink of something extraordinary.

Oui, tres bien, merci. ‘Ave you got a pen, my love?” Jean says impatiently and she mumbles in the affirmative whilst scrabbling for un stylo.

“Write this down. It is the greatest summation of existential philosophy since the dawn of modern thought….‘allo?

Simone, are you there?”

“Yes, I’m here my love. Sorry the line is very bad, Jean, I can barely hear you.”

“No matter, Simone, just get this down, we haven’t got much time, it’s very important and Albert and I are gagging for an absinthe spritzer. Are you ready?”

Oui, mon cher, I’m ready.”

The line crackles badly but Jean continues,

“Hell is other people.”

“Pardon, Jean. you’re breaking up, I didn’t quite get that, could you repeat it please?” Simone squints into the receiver, as if somehow that will help.

Mon dieu, woman,” Jean yells down the line. “Just write it down, will you, before I forget…HELL IS OTHER PEOPLE!”

The static on the line peaks just before the line goes dead.

Simone slowly places the receiver back in the cradle and picks up the notepad from the desk.

She says aloud to herself, puzzled, “Alice tofu treacle?”

“Well, I have to say, it’s not one of his best”