Margaret Innes

New Worlds: Reading, Writing and the Imagination

A Love Letter to Sartre’s Nausea

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On our bookshelves is a very battered copy of the green Penguin Twentieth Century Classics edition of Jean-Paul Sartre’s Nausea, translated by Robert Baldick. On the inside covers, front and back, is a letter written by someone unknown to me. A letter written to accompany the book when it was given to the woman it’s addressed to. I’ve changed the names to Anne and Joseph just in case some strange twist of fate brings to their notice the fact that I’m publishing this letter between them or if anyone out there knows them. For those reading, the dedication in this edition is To The Beaver. Other than for the names and one illegible scratching out, this is an exact transcription including the spelling mistakes.

Dear Anne,

Notice firstly who (what?) Satre dedicates this book to. ???

You once said you doubted your existence. This feeling we have shared, once I even thought myself as a figment of my own imagination thus cancelling myself out (an explanation to this is, I hope, not required here.) You ‘pinched’ me out of that dream.

This book, Well I found it interesting to say the least & I feel (if it is possible for me to do such a thing) that the less said the better.

If you do read this book I have found it more effective in situations of unknown crowd company. for example a bus or train. 

                                                                        (see back cover)

I’m not telling you to read this book, that would be un-existential, giving you this book is un-existential …..

Perhaps you could relate some of Monsieur Roquentin’s experience to Meg’s  ???

I sit on the wall watching people as if I am a fly. ( You also whispered something about being on the ‘EDGE’ )

Sometimes the fly will coment & be noticed, but merely as that, a fly not a living organism. Some will say a fly is not intelligent, a fly has no consciousness. What are these things?? It does not matter if we squash the fly on the wall. If I squashed a fly on the wall today and no one else knew or saw the body. Did it exist?

“Some of these days

You’ll miss me honey”



I’ve asked myself, is this the kind of letter you write when you are young (or maybe not so young) and drunk or stoned and deeply troubled with existential angst and unrequited or even requited love? A lot of it seems very, very appropriate for a novel which is all about asking if there is meaning in life. Its content curiously matches the subject of Sartre’s most important non-fiction book, his philosophical work Being and Nothingness. You might even say it got to the heart of his work, in its own words.

This letter comes with a book that has an unknown provenance. We have no idea how it ended up on our shelves. Neither of us remembers buying it and it has no price other than the printed English and New Zealand prices on the back cover. My husband works at the Lifeline Bookfair and if it had been donated there, it couldn’t have been sold. It’s in such bad condition, policy says it would have been thrown into the recycling. So perhaps he brought it home for us to read and the letter came with it, just as it once went to Anne.

So somehow this letter has fallen into our lives as a random piece of writing about being and nothingness, love and despair and loneliness, something that is unexpectedly poetic in places. I’m putting it out there because it moved me, because it is such a strange happenstance that we should find and read something so personal in such a place, and because it seems to have been written from the heart. It’s a small prose poem by an unknown writer touching on things most fundamental to many of us.9


Author: Margaret Innes

Margaret Innes is an award winning writer who publishes non-genre fiction under her own name and crime fiction under the name of Alex Palmer.

One thought on “A Love Letter to Sartre’s Nausea

  1. Thank you Marg – I enjoyed reading that, and listening to you reading it out too (and thanks for the text) x B

    Bernadette Hince tel 0424 857 284

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