Did you know that Sartre had died? If you didn’t you can be forgiven, for the British press tried to keep the whole thing as quiet as possible.
On 16 April most major Western newspapers were full of tributes to Sartre, but the Guardian could only come up with a pedantic obituary in its ‘later editions’. This was written by a certain Professor Cranston who solemnly informed us that Sartre had been born in Alsace and had studied for a while at the French Institute in Berlin, as if anybody needed to be told these things. The good professor also had some comments to make. He found the post-war popularity of existentialism ‘absurd’ and claimed that Sartre’s later philosophy was ‘misanthropic’. Even this, though, was something as The Times was apparently so overwhelmed with grief that it couldn’t mention Sartre at all and had to console its readers with a front-page photograph of Alec Guiness receiving an Oscar. This state of paralysis ended only the next day when the said newspaper was finally able to carry a brief article which described Sartre as ‘a supporter of lost causes’.
Then came Friday and the New Statesman appeared. The leading feature was concerned with the British Rock industry whose recent hit ‘We don’t need no education’ seemed to suit the editors just fine. They didn’t publish anything on Sartre at all and the Sunday papers were scarcely better. Clive James