To the Editor:
Joseph Epstein, a writer I highly esteem, is mistaken when he writes in “Friendship Among the Intellectuals” [July-August] that Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus “broke up their friendship over Camus’s The Myth of Sisyphus.” The two French writers did indeed split over one of Camus’s books, but it was in fact L’Homme Révolté or The Rebel (1951).
The distinction is significant because The Myth of Sisyphus, which deals philosophically with suicide versus the acceptance of life, was published in 1942, at the very beginning of the friendship that united Camus and Sartre against the Nazi occupation. The friendship deteriorated during the early years of the cold war, and ended for good with the publication of The Rebel, the work that argued “against political utopianism.” Toward the end of his life, Sartre would reflect somewhat sadly that Camus was “the last good friend I had.”
I might mention in passing that around the same time as the falling out with Camus, Sartre broke with another notable anti-Communist, Arthur Koestler, over Sartre’s embrace of the Soviet Union, yet Koestler was still perfectly willing to continue seeing him for lunch. Simone de Beauvoir records in her memoirs that Koestler said, “Just because we don’t agree politically, it doesn’t mean we can’t be friends”—to which Sartre brusquely replied, “Yes, it does,” snapping his appointment book shut. It is amusing to note that this may be the only instance in which Norman Podhoretz (another of Mr. Epstein’s subjects) and Jean-Paul Sartre ever saw eye-to-eye.
Whitestone, New York
Joseph Epstein writes:
I thank Robert Nason for his graceful correction.