Paul Johnson reviews Tête-à-Tête: The Lives and Loves of Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre by Hazel Rowley, in Literary Review:
The way in which Sartre became world-famous is itself interesting and shows how useful it is for a writer to operate simultaneously in different fields. A schoolteacher, he had made a study of the phenomenalists, and in 1938 published a novel, La Nausée (a good title, thought up by his publishers: Sartre wanted to call it Mélancolie), based on Heidegger’s principles. It was a deliberate attempt to make a splash, but failed. Then he had a good war. It is amazing he was conscripted at all since he had been virtually blind in one eye since the age of four and his sight became progressively worse; towards the end of his life (he died in 1980) he was virtually blind. As it was, he served in the meteorological section at Army Group HQ, where he tossed balloons of hot air into the atmosphere to test which way the wind was blowing. Taken prisoner during France’s ignominious collapse in June 1940, he was released the following March, having been classified as ‘partially blind’. He got a job in the famous Lycée Condorcet teaching philosophy, gave a wide berth to the active Résistance, and concentrated on promoting himself. As he put it later: ‘We have never been so free as we were under the German occupation.’
An only child, spoilt by his adoring mother, Sartre had never been bothered by consideration for other people. He believed to his dying day that he was the centre of the universe.