Virginia Woolf and Jean-Paul Sartre

This is just a frivolous thing really. But there is a striking similarity between something that Virginia Woolf wrote in her novel The Waves and a very famous passage in Sartre’s Being and Nothingness. So basically I’m wondering whether Sartre ripped off Virginia Woolf. (I’m sure I read somewhere that he taught modern literature sometime during the 1930s, but anyway, he must have been aware of Woolf’s writings). Here’s Sartre’s passage:

Pierre is not here. This does not mean that I discover his absence in some precise spot in the establishment. In fact Pierre is absent from the whole cafe; his absence fixes the cafe in its evanescence; the cafe remains ground; it persists in offering itself as an undifferentiated totality to my only marginal attention; it slips into the background; it pursues its nihilation. Only it makes itself ground for a determined figure; it carries the figure everywhere in front of it, presents the figure everywhere to me. This figure which slips constantly between my look and the solid, real objects of the cafe is precisely a perpetual disappearance; it is Pierre raising himself as nothingness on the ground of the nihilation of the cafe. (Being and Nothingness, p. 10)

Here’s Virginia Woolf’s:

‘It is now five minutes to eight,’ said Neville. ‘I have come early. I have taken my place at the table ten minutes before the time in order to taste every moment of anticipation; to see the door open and to say, “Is it Percival? No; it is not Percival.” There is a morbid pleasure in saying: “No, it is not Percival.” I have seen the door open and shut twenty times already; each time the suspense sharpens. This is the place to which he is coming. This is the table at which he will sit. Here, incredible as it seems, will be his actual body. This table, these chairs, this metal vase with its three red flowers are about to undergo an extraordinary transformation. Already the room, with its swing-doors, its tables heaped with fruit, with cold joints, wears the wavering, unreal appearance of a place where one waits expecting something to happen. Things quiver as if not yet in being…And every moment he seems to pump into this room this prickly light, this intensity of being, so that things have lost their normal uses—this knife-blade is only a flash of light, not a thing to cut with. The normal is abolished. (The Waves)

Okay, so Sartre’s writing style is an abomination, and there seems to be a whole Gestalt psychology thing going on with him which is absent from Woolf’s passage. But even so – it’s the same thing, isn’t it? Pretty much?

If so, I think it’s interesting, because that Sartre passage really is very famous.

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