Modern France


History of Modern France

The Third French Republic 1870-1940. Part 12


Zoom lecture




27 April 2022 

Jean-Philippe Charbonnier, Juliette Greco and Miles Davis in 1949

Left Bank Paris in the 1950s

Part 1: Existentialism and Jazz

with Sylvie Koneski


The literary life of Paris after World War II was resurrected in Saint-Germain-des-Prés, the district that became the center of intellectuals and philosophers, actors, singers and musicians, because of its atmosphere of non-conformism and its cheap hotels. Most writers and artists gathered in cafés - the Café de Flore, the Brasserie Lipp, Les Deux Magots - where the philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, the most prominent figure of the period, and his companion, writer Simone de Beauvoir, held court.


Existentialism was a lifestyle philosophy acted out day and night in the new bars and cellar night clubs of Saint-Germain-des-Prés. Jazz, French song and poetry co-existed in the most famous club, le Tabou, which welcomed jazz musicians like Miles Davis, Charlie Parker and the novelist/musician Boris Vian. The young French singer Juliette Greco became the “muse of existentialism”.


Beauvoir’s celebrated Le Deuxième Sexe [The Second Sex] (1949, ), Albert Camus’ L’Etranger [The Outsider] (1942) and Boris Vian’s L’Écume des jours [Froth on the Daydream] (1947) are a few of the seminal texts of the period we will be evoking in our presentation of Left Bank Paris of the post-war years.

Henri Cartier-Bresson, Jean-Paul Sartre in 1946

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