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on 18 June 2008
The Age of Reason puts Mathieu Delarue's character on trial. We find him in a moral quandary over his mistress of seven years, recently pregnant; does he marry her, or does he try to maintain his `freedom'? The first option is seen by Mathieu as something of a dreaded defeat, the latter... well that develops into more of a problem as it dawns on him that he has absolutely no firm idea of what freedom means. The more the issue is explored the more obscure it becomes, the less assured Mathieu feels in his life, and so the more fateful his choice of marriage or abortion becomes.

The novel's really a fictional presentation of Being and Nothingness and what is mainly explored through Mathieu's character here is issue of bad faith. He criticises bourgeois life but, as the crisis of Marcelle's pregnancy proves, he is only one decision away from the traditional water-torture of career and family. He approves of his friend Brunet, a Communist, but at the same time admits to himself:
"...I don't want any change. I enjoy railing against capitalism, and I don't want it suppressed because I should no longer have any reasons for railing, I enjoy feeling fastidious and aloof. I enjoy saying no, always no, and I should be afraid of any attempt to construct a finally habitable world, because I should merely have to say - Yes; and act like other people."
In his attempt to conform to a youthfully misconceived ideal of freedom Mathieu finds himself beholden to emptiness and ugliness, ultimately he has achieved nothing with his life. The Age of Reason is very much the realisation of a life wasted and sets the scene well for the following volumes, The Reprieve and Iron in the Soul, where Mathieu must define some kind of engagement with life as it forces itself upon him through the second world-war.
Now I know all this sounds a tad glum but Sartre is a writer with a violent sense of humour and, as with his earlier novel Nausea, I did find I was laughing plenty after my initial dismay at a world so grim had subsided. I mean;
"There was in that ill-favoured face of Sarah's an intriguing, almost voluptuous humility that evoked a mean desire to hurt her, to crush her with shame, `When I look at her', Daniel used to say, `I understand Sadism.'"

I found it took me a couple of chapters to acclimatise to Sartre's superficially bleak mood, but after that The Age of Reason was spankingly good. If you haven't read any of the philosophy don't worry, Sartre was a good enough fiction writer for the Roads to Freedom series to stand on its own merits. Top stuff.
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on 4 September 2003
The Age of Reason is a narrative fiction parallel of (parts of) Sartre's philosophical work 'Being and Nothingness.' The latter is supposed to be a bit difficult to read, but the former is a joy. If it suits you.
You don't have to get into the heavy stuff about personal freedom, bad faith and the death of God etc to enjoy this, because it is written so well that you can just take it as a story at face value.
The difference for me is, however, the underlying idea. I think a novel with a great central idea is a great thing. See Catch 22 for a similar example. Here, Sartre presents to us the situation where you find tourself unable to make the next move because it will go against your principles. But that very move will preserve your freedom, which is in fact your guiding principle. So do you break your own rules to allow yourself to carry on living by them, or just chuck everything away and start over?
I don't know about you, but I think that's a pretty base to build a story on. I'm afraid I can't explain it as well as it should be, but I hope you get the drift. The setting, characters and events are all presented in a very colloquial style and manner - don't expect anything really heavy here - he saves that for the 2nd and 3rd installments of the trilogy.
I liked it. Top 5 book of all time. Read it while you're young enough to appreciate the challenge. Go on! Eh? Go on....
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on 18 September 2010
If you enjoy reading philosophical, metaphysical works of fiction you will love this book. As popular culture reduces everything to the lowest common denominator (violence, sex, profanity, instant gratification) and treats the reader or viewer as a moron with the attention span of a dog, Sartre does the opposite. Every sentence by every character is given equal serious interpretation by every other character. Every mood and motivation is analysed, every act is considered and reconsidered. Existentialism is everywhere. And the writing is sublime. The language is beautiful. I can't wait to read the next two novels in the trilogy.
Perhaps the only negative is that I concurrently read the excellent 'Tete a tete' about Sartre's life and his relationship with Simone de Beauvoir. It is clear from reading this biography that the characters in the Roads to Freedom trilogy are almost exact replicas of Sartre's friends and lovers. And of course the pricipal character is a Professor of Philosophy! as was Sartre of course.
However this does not detract from what, in this modern age of vacuous nonsense, is a breath of fresh air from a high mountain of stratospheric genius.
JP :O)
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on 9 March 2001
The hero of this book is a man who has everything worked out in his life, until his girlfriend falls pregnant and he has to question the principles that he has lived by so far. The whole book focuses on two days in the summer of 1938, and follows Mathieu as he tries to find money to pay for an abortion, but still trying to convince himself that he is free and that his freedom is worth something. All the time the there's something creeping up in the background to bring a brilliant twist to the story. Sartre was a French philosopher and this book is an easy introduction to existentialiam, for those interested in philosophy and those not alike!
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on 6 January 2015
I have only read The Age of Reason from the Roads to Freedom trilogy, and it worked well as a stand-alone novel. Sartre's novels are very subtle, so you could either read it as a straightforward (and admittedly non-eventful) story about a man trying to secure money for his girlfriend's abortion, or spend hours uncovering Sartre's latent existentialist philosophy. I find this way of learning about existentialism less menacing and much more enjoyable than delving into an academic text. Much to quote from this novel, it was a beautiful read.
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on 28 January 2013
In this celebrated work JPS set out his principles of freedom that would become a kind of blueprint for the 1960s. At times a strangely abstract novel that harks back to Zola for an overall feel of a decadent middle class about to make the hyper-jump to a Gallic Counter-Culture with World War 2 applying the brakes for a few years before the 1960s explosion.

I am impressed with Jean-Paul's proto-hippie characters; we know them, we are them, we have been them, we loved them, we hated them. Everyone in this Parisian bubble of bohemian nightclubs, student life and existential selfishness has problems of sorts, but lets be honest, no one here is out of pocket, overworked or wondering where their next meal is coming from. All can indulge themselves in sex, philosophy, introspection, drink and drugs. The Left Bank becomes a sort of late 1930s 1960s San Fransisco, the only thing missing is rock music and flowers...man. Here the music is Jazz and yes, we even have a sex scene with the lady wearing a flower in her hair...uncanny.

I mention the characters because there is little else and there doesn't need to be; the characterization is simply brilliant. Sartre cuts the frills to the bone and at times I wondered what period we were in-the 1930s, the 1870s or the 1960s. Are they selfish early yuppies? Beautiful people? Spoilt brats or pioneers of 20th Century personal freedoms? My own view is that they are all of these.

A great novel that predicted and defined much of the culture of the late 20th Century.
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on 8 January 2013
Essential piece of fiction for people who like cynical plots and motives. The characters are perfectly written : Mathieu the teacher/washout, Daniel the smooth-featured homosexual with spiteful motives, Brunet the likable, commie party-pusher, Ivich the russian brat student (and a few more) develop in the story in very convincing ways. lots of angst about unexpected things and lots of selfish motives. I read it as drama-ish study of self-absorbed philosophies.
I think i liked all the characters a little bit, which is impressive since most (including the protagonist) are selfish brats trying to preserve a responsibility-free life at the expense of others.
My favorite piece of dialogue in the novel, i think is the patronizing, morality speech Mathieu gets from his brother who is the only person able to lend to mathieu the money he needs for the abortion.
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This is the first volume of the trilogy entitled "Roads to Freedom." The other two volumes, in English, are entitled The Reprieve (Penguin Modern Classics) and Troubled Sleep (Chemins de la Liberte = The Roads To Freedom). The trilogy concerns the lives of a variety of French people over a period of two years, 1938-40, which covered the lead up to, and France's disastrous defeat at the hands of Germany in the Second World War. I first read the trilogy some 40 years ago, and was exceedingly impressed with Sartre's power as a novelist, and a chronicler of the human condition. I was most impressed with the middle volume, started with it on this re-read, and was not disappointed. I'd advise the first time reader to tackle them in order. Although they can be read independently, there will be a much deeper understanding of the characters if one "begins at the beginning."

And the beginning in this case is the summer of 1938. The novel's motive force is a wanted/unwanted pregnancy, which precipitates a "mid-life crisis," in both principal characters: Professor of Philosophy, Mathieu Delarue and his long-term "partner," Marcelle Duffet. There are several other major characters, including two young Russian émigrés, the brother and sister, Boris and Ivich. Boris has a significant relationship with a woman roughly twice his age, a nightclub singer, Lola. Ivich fears that she has just failed her exams, which will necessitate a return to her home in the detested provincial town of Laon, and seeks solace from Mathieu, with results that are not necessarily predictable. There is also Jacques, Mathieu's bourgeois lawyer brother, and Sarah, who is married to the artist Gomez, who left the Parisian life to fight in the Spanish Civil War. And there is the homosexual, Daniel, who feels that the "mark of Cain" is upon him. Another character, Bruet, asks Mathieu to join the Communist Party, when it seemed like such a sensible choice, save for the necessity of following "the party line."

Mathieu and Marcelle had previously agreed that if there was an "accident" she would get an abortion. Ah, the theory, but there is much "right to life" queasiness when the "accident" is no longer theoretical. And then, alas, as the seemingly unlimited choices of youth become more circumscribed, was it really an "accident"? For so many of us who have been through the realization of middle age, Mathieu's summation of Marcelle's position resonates: "Her last chance"..."Between thirty and forty, people staked on their last chance."

Even though in his 30's, and a Professor, Mathieu does not have the money to pay for an abortion that would be properly performed, and thus the spectra of a "back-alley butcher" hangs in the background if he cannot borrow the money. He makes the rounds, from Daniel, who has the money but claims he does not, to his brother, Jacques. Sartre deftly sums up Jacques, as being in the "older but wiser" category, and if he was an American, would have become a Republican: "Jacques was very proud of his youth... for five years he has assiduously aped all the fashionable dissipations, he had dallied with surrealism, conducted a few agreeable love-affairs, and occasionally, before making love, he had inhaled ethyl chloride from a handkerchief." But now, ah: "...what is bohemianism, after all? It was amusing enough a hundred years ago, but today it is simply a name for a handful of eccentrics who are no danger to anybody and have missed the train." Mathieu retorts that "your age of reason is the age of resignation." Later he debates with himself: "Marry her, you shoddy bohemian, marry her, you have reached the age of reason, you must marry her."

And does the "resignation" come for Mathieu, as it does for all of us? "...he had finished the day, and he had also finished with his youth...disillusioned epicureanism, smiling tolerance, resignation, flat seriousness, stoicism-- all the aids whereby a man may savor, minute by minute, like a connoisseur, the failure of a life."

The reader knows, unlike the characters, that all these concerns of bohemianism and the bourgeois would soon be swept away, first placed in abeyance by the "reprieve" of the week of the Munich agreement in the fall of '38, and then finally by the fall of France in 1940. This volume lacks the stylistic brilliance of "The Reprieve" and has a few nightclub scenes that "drag," so I'd only rate it as 4.5-stars, rounded up.

(Note: Review first published at Amazon, USA, on March 21, 2011)
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on 2 February 2000
Our hero Maurice is philisophical man big questions and a very straight forward man with personal questions. However when his misstress falls pregnant, our hero is in a quandry about how his actions and principles can be resolved. Not a new premise for a story, but well handled as we see our hero wander through a salacious Paris with an avant-garde swagger that becomes an anxious rushing. It all finishes with a final desicion and the result is a certain humility and compromise. Easy to read (for Satre at least) it is recommended.
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on 29 July 2002
The first part of Satre's epic "Roads to Freedom" trilogy tells of a philosophy teacher Mathieu's struggle to find the 4000 francs needed to provide his mistress with a safe abortion.
Mathieu is a man consumed by his personal fight to achieve and maintain true freedom. Satre brilliantly depicts the landscape of Paris in the summer of 1938, the second world war looming large on the horizon. All of the author's characters are imbued with reality and tragedy, from the tormented homosexual Daniel, to Mathieu himself. It is this that makes the creates the empathy between the reader and characters, and makes the storyy so compelling.
This book is a masterpiece and one of the best novels of the post war period, whether read as a stand - alone piece or as part of the Satre's trilogy of war novels.
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