Short summary - Nausea - Jean-Paul Sartre

French literature summaries - 2021

Short summary - Nausea
Jean-Paul Sartre

The novel is built on the principle of the diary entries of the protagonist Antoine Rocinten, who traveled around Central Europe, North Africa, the Far East and for three years settled in the city of Bouville to complete his historical research dedicated to the Marquis de Rollebon, who lived in the 18th century.
At the beginning of January 1932, Antoine Roquentin suddenly begins to feel a change in himself. He is overwhelmed by some hitherto unknown sensation, similar to a slight attack of madness. It embraces him for the first time on the seashore when he is about to throw pebbles into the water. The stone seems to him alien, but alive. All the objects on which the hero holds his gaze seem to him living their own lives, intrusive and fraught with danger. This condition often prevents Roquentin from working on his historical work on the Marquis de Rollebon, who was a prominent figure at the court of Queen Marie Antoinette, the only confidante of the Duchess of Angouleme, visited Russia and, apparently, had a hand in the assassination of Paul I.
Ten years ago, when Roquentin just found out about the Marquis, he literally fell in love with him, and after many years of travels almost all over the world, three years ago he decided to settle in Bouville, where a rich archive is collected in the city library: letters from the Marquis, part of his diary, various kinds of documents. Recently, however, he begins to feel that he is mortally tired of the Marquis de Rollebon. True, in Roquentin's opinion, the Marquis de Rollebon is the only justification for his own senseless existence.
More and more often he is overtaken by that new condition for him, which is most suitable for the name "nausea". She rolls over Roquentin with attacks, and there are fewer and fewer places left where he can hide from her. Even in a cafe, where he often goes, among people he cannot hide from her. He asks the waitress to play a record with his favorite song "Some of these days". The music expands, grows, fills the hall with its metallic transparency, and the Nausea disappears. Roquentin is happy. He ponders what heights he could reach if his own life became the fabric of the melody.
Roquentin often recalls his beloved Annie, with whom he broke up six years ago. After several years of silence, he suddenly receives a letter from her, in which Annie says that in a few days she will be passing through Paris, and she needs to see him. The letter does not contain an address, such as "dear Antoine", nor the usual polite farewell. He recognizes in this her love for perfection. She has always strived to embody “perfect moments”. Certain moments in her eyes had a hidden meaning, which had to be “expelled” from him and brought to perfection. But Roquentin always got into trouble, and at these moments Annie hated him. When they were together, for all three years, they did not allow a single moment, be it moments of sorrow or happiness, to separate from them and become past. They kept everything to themselves. Probably, they parted by mutual agreement due to the fact that this load had become too heavy.
During the daytime, Antoine Roquentin often works in the reading room of the Bouville library. In 1930, there he met a certain Ogier P., a clerk, whom he gave the nickname Self-taught, because he spent all his free time in the library and studied all the books available here in alphabetical order. This Self-Taught Man invites Roquenten to dine with him, for, apparently, he is going to tell him something very important. Before the library closes, Nausea rolls over Rokanten again. He goes outside in the hope that fresh air will help him get rid of it, looks at the world, all objects seem to him somehow unsteady, as if exhausted, he feels that a threat looms over the city. How fragile all the obstacles in the world seem to him! Overnight, the world can change beyond recognition, and does not do this just because he is lazy. However, at the moment the world looks like it wants to be different. And in this case everything can happen, absolutely everything. Roquentin fancies how a third, mocking eye hatches from a small pimple on the child's cheek, how the tongue in his mouth turns into a monstrous centipede. Roquentin is scared. Attacks of terror roll over him in his room, in the city garden, in a cafe, and on the seashore.
Roquentin goes to the museum, where portraits of world famous husbands hang. There he feels his mediocrity, the groundlessness of his existence, realizes that he will no longer write a book about Rollebon. He just can't write anymore. Before him suddenly the question arises, what should he do with his life? The Marquis de Rollebon was his ally, he needed Roquentin in order to exist, Roquentin in him so as not to feel his existence. He ceased noticing that he himself existed; he existed in the guise of a marquis. And now this Nausea that has rolled over him has become his existence, from which he cannot get rid of, which he is forced to drag out.
On Wednesday, Rocinten goes to a cafe with the Self-Taught Man in the hope that he will be able to get rid of the Nausea for a while. The Self-Taught Man tells him about his understanding of life and argues with Roquentin, who assures him that there is not the slightest sense in existence. The self-taught person considers himself a humanist and assures that the meaning of life is love for people. He tells how, being a prisoner of war, once in a camp he ended up in a barrack full of men, how “love” for these people descended on him, he wanted to hug them all. And every time, getting into this barrack, even when it was empty, the Self-Taught Man experienced inexpressible delight. He clearly confuses the ideals of humanism with feelings of a homosexual nature, Rocenten is again overwhelmed by Nausea, his behavior even scares the Self-Taught Man and the rest of the cafe visitors. Having bowed out quite indelicately, he hurries to get out into the street.
Soon there is a scandal in the library. One of the library servants, who has been following the Self-Taught Man for a long time, catches him when he sits in the company of two boys and strokes one of them on the hand, accuses him of meanness, that he sticks to children, and, giving him a fist in the nose, kicks him out of the library in disgrace, threatening to call the police.
On Saturday, Rocinten arrives in Paris and meets with Annie. For six years, Annie has grown very fat, she looks tired. She has changed not only externally, but also internally. She is no longer obsessed with "perfect moments", for she realized that there will always be someone who will spoil them. Previously, she believed that there are certain emotions, states: Love, Hatred, Death, which give rise to "winning situations" - building material for "perfect moments", but now she realized that these feelings are inside her. Now she remembers the events of her life and arranges them, correcting something, into a chain of “perfect moments”. However, she herself does not live in the present, she considers herself a "living dead". Roquentin's hopes for a renewal of relations with Annie are crumbling, she leaves for London with a man who is in custody, and Roquentin intends to permanently move to Paris. He is still tormented by the feeling of the absurdity of his existence, the consciousness that he is "superfluous".
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Having stopped in Bouville to collect things and pay for the hotel, Roquentin enters a cafe, where he had spent a lot of time before. His favorite song, which he asks to put on his parting, makes him think about its author, about the singer who sings it. He has a deep affection for them. It is as if he finds an inspiration, and he sees a way that will help him come to terms with himself, with his existence. He decides to write a novel. If at least someone in the whole world, having read it, thinks about its author in the same way, with tenderness, Antoine Rocinten will be happy.