Sartre, Camus and a woman called Wanda

From The Telegraph:

Jean-Paul Sartre, the great existentialist philosopher, had one big problem: he looked like something hanging off the outside of Notre Dame. This wouldn’t have been so much of a problem except that he was also a self-confessed Don Juan. His philosophy explained how to score even though ugly. It was like a self-help manual for ogres and losers. But then he had the misfortune to run into Albert Camus: another philosopher, another self-confessed serial seducer, but – and this was the key point – much, much better looking. Camus was a movie star among French philosophers. He had Resistance chic, and wore the collar of his trench coat turned up like Humphrey Bogart. He was a man Vogue wanted to photograph, who never really had to try too hard. Whereas Sartre had to try very hard. “Why are you going to so much trouble?” Camus, all laid-back cool, said to him one night when they were out drinking in some Left Bank bar and Sartre had been laboriously applying his chat-up routine. “Have you had a proper look at this mug?” Sartre replied. So when they fell out it was always about more than a woman. But it was definitely about a woman, too. Her name was Wanda.

In the middle of the Second World War, Sartre and Camus had their own private little war going. But Sartre’s relationship with Wanda went right back to before the war, pre-Camus. For years, Sartre had been obsessing over Wanda’s older sister, Olga Kosakiewicz, one of Simone de Beauvoir’s students. De Beauvoir seduced Olga to start with, then tried to pass her on to Sartre. But Olga wasn’t really up for it. De Beauvoir was a lot better looking than Sartre, and taller, too. So began Sartre’s fixation on the first of the half-Russian Kosakiewicz sisters. Olga got into his plays; she got into his novels. But one thing he could never quite pull off was getting her into his bed. She resisted without ever entirely pushing him away. She was Sartre’s unattainable object of desire, the “transcendental signifier”, as their friend Jacques Lacan, the psychoanalyst, would have said. I think Sartre managed to interpret all his sexual frustration as good for his existential soul.

More here.