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Long ago a reader of this book told me that Sartre wanted a word that described something worse than pain (I see in the wikipedia article that the original title was Melancholia) or perhaps some related word.

If so, "Nausea" sounds apt: one of the few feelings that, unlike some even extreme types of pain, cannot be ignored and can absolutely dominate a human's state of mind -- hard to imagine doing serious work, etc. if even moderately nauseous.

Can anyone verify that this was what the author was aiming for in his titular choice and, if so, what was special about the main character's circumstances that made Sartre seek an unusual title? (Any new writer attempting to get published with such an off-putting title and even a previously successful writer probably would be advised against sending a manuscript so titled to a publisher.)

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  • What book is this question about? La Nausée is a novel by Jean-Paul Sartre, not by Albert Camus.
    – Tsundoku
    Nov 21, 2022 at 7:44
  • @Tsundoku: Thanks, I would have sworn that I saw Camus but of course it was JP Sartre. So the book is Nausea.
    – releseabe
    Nov 21, 2022 at 8:13

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Sartre first submitted his novel for publication in 1936 under the title Melancholia, based on the engraving Melencolia I by Albrecht Dürer. When it was accepted for publication the following year, the publisher, Gallimard judged the title "inadequate" (according to the foreword to the English edition by Richard Howard), and an alternative was sought. Sartre ironically suggested The Extraordinary Adventures of Antoine Roquentin, together with a bande publicitaire that would clarify "There are no adventures".

Finally the head of the publishing house, Gaston Gallimard, made the suggestion of Nausea, which was accepted. So rather than a publisher advising avoidance of such an off-putting word, it was actually the publisher's suggestion. At the time of publication Sartre wrote a short cover blurb or prière d'insérer which gives a brief explanation of what the title meant:

It is Nausea, it grabs you from behind and then one floats in a lukewarm pool of time.

This then is the concept of "nausea" that Sartre had in mind. Many, including Simone de Beauvoir, had reservations about the title, thinking that it would evoke the concept of a physical discomfort. Nowadays however, it seems to be Sartre's interpretation that has triumphed, and nausea used generally as a nickname for existential anguish.

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  • thanks -- that sounds like what my acquaintance was talking about.
    – releseabe
    Nov 21, 2022 at 18:12

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