The Roads to Freedom

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The Roads to Freedom (French: Les chemins de la liberté) is a series of novels by Jean-Paul Sartre. Intended as a tetralogy, it was left incomplete with only three of the planned four volumes published.

The three published novels revolve around Mathieu, a Socialist teacher of philosophy, and a group of his friends. The trilogy includes: L'âge de raison (The Age of Reason), Le sursis (generally translated as The Reprieve but which could cover a number of semantic fields from 'deferment' to 'amnesty'), and La mort dans l'âme (Troubled Sleep, originally translated by Gerard Hopkins as Iron in the Soul, Hamish Hamilton, 1950). The trilogy was to be followed by a fourth novel, La dernière chance (i.e. The Last Chance); however, Sartre would never finish it: two chapters were published in 1949 in Sartre's magazine Les Temps modernes under the title Drôle d'amitié.[1]

The novels were written largely in response to the events of World War II and the Nazi occupation of France, and express certain significant shifts in Sartre's philosophical position towards 'engagement' (commitment) in both life and literature, finding their resolution in the extended essay L'existentialisme est un humanisme (Existentialism is a Form of Humanism), which was criticized from both sides of the existentialist fence.

This series of novels is considered to be (for example by Rowley in Tête-à-tête[2]) semi-autobiographical, with, for example, Mathieu standing in for Sartre, and Ivich representing Olga Kosakiewicz.

Summary of the Series[edit]

"The first novel, L’âge de raison (1945; The Age of Reason), centers on philosophy student Mathieu Delarue’s uncertainty over whether to devote himself to his pregnant mistress or to his political party. The second volume, Le sursis (1945, The Reprieve), explores the ramifications of the appeasement pact that Great Britain and France signed with Nazi Germany in 1938. In the third book, La mort dans l’âme (1949; Troubled Sleep, published in Great Britain as Iron in the Soul), Delarue ends his indecisiveness by attempting to defend a village under attack from the Germans. Although he is killed, Delarue expresses his ultimate freedom through his bravery."[3]

Shifting Viewpoints Within the Novels[edit]

In L'âge de raison, "the perspective changes from chapter to chapter throughout the account of a 48-hour period. In volume 2, Le Sursis, the time-span is a week, but the viewpoint shifts more rapidly, moving sometimes within a single phrase from one character's perspective to another's. This narrative technique... was probably influenced by the American novelist John Dos Passos. The lack of punctuation, the juxtaposition of perspectives, and the intensity created by the single focus of a multiplicity of characters work together to convey the common humanity and intersubjective experience of the French on the verge of war... Volume 3, La mort dans l'âme, reverts to a slower pace of perspectival change."[4]


The novel series was adapted into a thirteen-part television serial by David Turner for the BBC in 1970, with Michael Bryant as Mathieu and directed by James Cellan Jones. The adaptation was nominated for several BAFTA awards for 1970.[5] The entire series was screened at the British Film Institute over the weekend of 12-13 May 2012, attended by the director and several surviving cast members.[6]


  1. ^ Caute, D. Introduction to The Reprieve by Jean-Paul Sartre, Penguin Classics, 2001.
  2. ^ Rowley, H. Tête-à-tête, HarperCollins, 2005.
  3. ^ From the article on Jean-Paul Sartre in Contemporary Literary Criticism, Gale, 1989, p. 372. Available online with library card, retrieved 7/24/2014.
  4. ^ Quotation taken from the article on "Chemins de la liberté, Les" in The New Oxford Companion to Literature in French, ed. by Peter France. Oxford, 1995, pages 159-160.
  5. ^ BAFTA Television Nominations for 1970.
  6. ^ BFI Press Release

External links[edit]