Flashes of doubt in his previous life.  When weary during his life of pleasure, he had brief glimpses of "reality,' but recovered

Sometimes when worn out by his pleasures, he would, in his weariness for a brief second have the impression that he understood the secret of people and the world - but he recovered his energy and took up this mad whirl of pleasure again- until the night when the music stopped.. 
Page 6 summary Page 17 book :
Parfois, tard dans ces nuits où la danse, l’alcool léger, mon déchaînement le violent abandon de chacun…….me jetaient dans un ravissement à la fois las et comblé il me semblait, à l’extrémité de la fatigue, et l’espace d’une seconde, que je comprenais enfin le secret des êtres et du monde.

The days when the music stopped.

(1) The laughter on the bridge and in the street outside his house.
The crisis came when he heard the laughter on the bridge (Page 8 summary).  Standing on the Pont des Arts he had felt a sense of power and achievement.  However, just at that moment, a laugh burst out behind him. He spun round but saw no one. He looked over the other parapet and saw no person and no boat.
When he turned back he heard the laugh again - fading as if going down the river. His heart was beating furiously.  The laugh was quite natural and friendly, not at all mysterious.  However, as he moved away from the river he was bewildered and upset.

He needed company that night, but his friend wasn't in when he rang him. Under his window he heard laughter again. He looked out and saw some young people happily saying goodbye. 

It is only later that Jean-Baptiste has the courage to explain this emotional reaction.  Hesitantly he tells his French listener that at 1am on a November morning two or three years earlier, he had stood alone on a bridge over the Seine when he realised that a young woman had thrown herself from the bridge to take her life.  He had done nothing and walked away.

(2) The moment he began to label himself
(After the laughter in the street)When he went into the bathroom for a drink, it seemed that his smile was double.
Page 23 -, Mon image souriait dans la glace, mais il me sembla que mon sourire était double.
Later, he explains that when we accept to be ruled by moral absolutes, we have to accept our servitude.  Slaves and masters are in the nature of things.  Page 25 - Je sais bien qu'on ne peut se passer de dominer ou d'être servi. Chaque homme a besoin d'esclaves comme d'air pur.
Now we recognise in Europe that everything reduces itself finally to a matter of power: We no longer say I think such and such a thing what are your objections? We say "Such is the truth, in a few years the police will show you I am right .Everyone has someone under him to command:  Page 25 - Nous ne disons plus, comme aux temps naïfs: "Je pense ainsi. Quelles sont vos objections?" Nous sommes devenus lucides. Nous avons remplacé le dialogue par le communiqué. "Telle est la vérité, disons-nous. Vous pouvez toujours la discuter, ça ne nous intéresse pas. Mais dans quelques années, il y aura la police, qui vous montrera que j'ai raison."
Servitude is inevitable but we must not call slaves by their true names. It would be bad for their morale and our conscience.  It would be impossible if everyone was completely frank and stated his true profession: Cowardly philosopher, Christian landowner, adulterous humanist.  Hell must be like that- labelled once and for all with no chance of explaining oneself.
He asks his friend what his sign will be. His friend will not reply. Jean-Baptiste says his friend will answer later. His own sign would be a doubled sided face, with the motto “Do not trust it.” Jean_Baptiste Clamence - actor. 
Page 26 - une face double, un charmant Janus, et, au-dessus, la devise de la maison "Ne vous y fiez pas."

(3) The return of the laughter.

Jean-Baptiste says there was nothing mysterious about the laughter. He thought about it for a few days, and then forgot it. However at intervals he seemed to hear it again within himself.
Page 23 - j'ai pensé un peu à ce rire, pendant quelques jours, puis je l'ai oublié. De loin en loin, il me semblait l'entendre, quelque part en moi. Mais la plupart du temps, je pensais, sans effort, à autre chose
Whenever he went near the Seine afterwards there was a sense of apprehension.

This was a period of time when he had health problems. He was run down. Tonics helped for a time, than he declined again.   Page 8 - Page 24  J’eus aussi, à ce moment, quelques misères de santé.  Rien de précis, de l’abattement si vous voulez, une sorte de difficulté à retrouver ma bonne humeur

(4) Other incidents at this period after the laughter also disturbed him:
Saluting the blind man - Page 9 Shortly after the evening of the laughter, he escorted a blind man across the road, and then raised his hat to him. He asked himself why he was doing this to a blind man.  He realised that he was taking his bow to the audience.

Helping the motorist -
Around the same time when a motorist thanked him, he made a slip of the tongue and said no one would have done the same - A Freudian slip.  Page 9/27 - je répondis que personne n'en aurait fait autant. Je voulais dire, bien sûr, n'importe qui.

  (5) The period of the return of memory.

He went through a period when he began to recall his previous conduct and was overwhelmed with guilt about incident after incidentThe obvious facts of his unacceptable character and behaviour started coming to him gradually in the period following the laughter on the bridge.  In order to realise the truths he had to regain his memory. Previously with his astonishing power of forgetfulness, everything - war - suicide - love - slipped over him.
Il a fallu d’abord que je retrouve la mémoire……..Jusque-là, j’avais toujours été aidé par un étonnant pouvoir d’oubli.  J’oubliais tout, et d’abord mes résolutions.  Au fond, rien ne comptait guère, suicide, amour , misère, j’y prêtais attention, bien sûr, quand les circonstances m’y forçaient, mais d’une manière courtoise et superficielle.

Now he recalls incidents forgotten in the past:
 The motorist at the traffic lights - page 10. Jean-Baptiste tells how one day a little man on a motor cycle had stalled his motor-bike in front of him at the lights. Jean-Baptiste asked him with his usual politeness to move over to let him pass.  The man told him to go and get lost. Still polite, Jean-Baptiste used more firmness but the man offered to beat his head in.  Angry at this, Jean-Baptiste got out in order to deal with him, standing a head taller than the motor-cyclist and being strongly built, Jean-Baptiste would probably not have laid a finger on him. However, a crowd was gathering and someone in the crowd called Jean-Baptiste the lowest of the low for threatening a man at such a physical disadvantage. As Jean-Baptiste turned away, the man in the crowd gave him a violent thump on the ear and the little man made off on his motor bike.  Jean-Baptiste made towards the man in the crowd, but the horns of the cars behind him made him regain his car docilely. The man shouted "pauvre type." as he drove past. 
It took him a long time to get over this incident. He saw it as a humiliation.  Page 30 - Je m'étais en somme dégonflé publiquement, par suite d'un concours de circonstances, il est vrai, mais il y a toujours dos circonstances. He used to picture what he should have done, knocked down the man in the crowd and then chased and caught the motor cyclist. But it was too late. –
Now he understands the lesson of this incident, realising the true significance of his own reaction. Previously, he had seen himself as the complete man - in physical matters as well.  Page 30 - J'avais rêvé, cela était clair maintenant, d’être un homme complet, qui se serait fait respecter dans sa personne comme dans son métier. Moitié  Cerdan_et, moitié de Gaulle. But having allowed himself to be hit in public this illusion was destroyed. Had he been the intelligent, honest person he pictured himself, he would have said he had got angry at nothing, and had lacked presence of mind. Instead he wanted revenge. As if his real wish was simply to be the strongest.  -Page 10/Page 31 - Quand j'étais menacé, je ne devenais pas seulement un juge à mon tour, mais plus encore: un maître irascible qui voulait, hors de toute loi, assommer le délinquant et le mettre à genoux.  With this realisation, it was difficult for him to continue to believe in his vocation to defend the oppressed.

 His previous insincerity with women:

  1. His chat - page 11/34. 44:  He had gone along with the game- the conversation and the tenderness, as they call it, which precedes sex. As a Barrister and a former trainee actor this chat was easy: Page 34 - Je n'étais pas en peine de discours, étant avocat, ni de regards, ayant été, au régiment, apprenti comédien. It was always the same play, but he varied his roles. e.g. the old number about your indefinable charm - It's senseless - I didn't want to be attracted etc. - also: the mysterious happiness no other woman has given you, which, even though it cannot go on, can never be replaced. Especially there was an emotional speech he had perfected about the tragedy of his fate - denied the happiness of others - how it wasn't worth becoming attracted to him. The ladies joined in the act and doing their utmost to understand him gave themselves.
  2. One woman whom he had pursued merely because she had hurt his pride by criticising his virility.  This woman hadn't really made a great impression on him but he had been attracted by her passive avid appearance. The sex was mediocre. However he forgot and didn't think she had noticed. Several weeks later, he learnt that she had confided to a third party his inadequacies. He tried to shrug it off - One had to be modest about sexuality with all the unpredictable factors involved. But even in solitude it was a question of who would appear to the best advantage.Consequently he saw her shortly afterwards and seduced her - this time taking her really. She also needed the same reassurance. From then on he mortified her as much as possible - dropping her, and then taking her back, until they reached the point where they had a jailer - prisoner relationship. Finally in a moment of passion she gave homage to what held her enslaved. That day he began to move apart from her. Since he has forgotten her.


  1. The link he began to make between his play acting in sex and professionally in court This view of his insincerity leads him to criticise his insincerity in court. This hurt most. Page 13/37. Above all he recalls the most painful memory - The suicide on the bridge - page 13/38. With the return of memory the laughter on the bridge envelops his whole life - page 12/36  After Jean-Baptiste’s memory returned, whenever he laughed at this business, it was now a different laugh and included as its target not only his seductive chat to women but also his barrister’s pleas in court.  Page 36 - Quant à moi, lorsque cette affaire me revint à l'esprit, je me mis encore à rire. Mais c'était d'un autre rire, assez semblable à celui que j'avais entendu sur le pont des Arts. Je riais de mes discours et de mes plaidoiries.  His speeches in court disturbed him more. At least in his actions in love, his true nature could not be concealed. Page 37 - Du moins, me voyant agir avec les êtres, je ne pouvais pas me tromper sur la vérité de ma nature. Nul homme n’est hypocrite dans ses plaisirs, ai-je lu cela ou l'ai-je pensé, mon cher compatriote?


(6) The period of the sense of persecution.
His first reaction on the return of memory had been to criticise others - not himself. Man's aim is always to avoid judgement on oneself. He regretted his failings but continued to forget them. It was the trial of others which went on in his heart.
Page 16/42.  Certes, je connaissais mes défaillances et je les regrettais.  Je continuais pourtant de les oublier, avec une obstination assez méritoire.  Le procès des autres au contraire, se faisait sans trêve dans mon cœur. 
But having lost his self-confidence, he was now vulnerable to the judgement  of others and people are viciously critical page 15/43: Although outwardly he was still the same, he was only aware of the disorder within him, Instead of being the centre of a comfortable circle of friends, it seemed that now they sat in line before him, to judge him - that they were laughing at him,
Page 16/  43 - A partir du moment où j'ai appréhendé qu'il y eût en moi quelque chose à juger, j'ai compris, en somme, qu'il y avait en eux une vocation irrésistible de jugement. Oui, ils étaient, là comme avant, mais ils riaient. Now his friends seemed to be laughing too.

He felt he was surrounded by enemies who were trying to hurt him. When he stumbled and once fell in public he retained the unreasonable suspicion that he had been tripped up - He became aware of enemies in his social life and in his profession. This could have been expected. However, what upset him most was to discover enemies among people he hardly knew or didn't know at all.

Now all criticism struck home. The whole universe laughed. Page 15/44 Criticism had been all around him, but he had been unaware of it. When lucidity came to him, all this struck home at once. The universe began to laugh around him,
Page 16 Page 44 - Du jour où je fus alerté, la lucidité me vint, je reçus toutes les blessures en même temps et je perdis mes forces d'un seul coup. L'univers entier se mit alors à rire autour de moi. There is no-one, except the ascetic sages who can stand this. Thus people rush to pass judgment, in order to deflect it from them­selves - what do you expect?

Everyone demands to be innocent, even if he has to accuse the whole human race and heaven to achieve it.
Page 45 - Chacun exige d'être innocent, à tout prix, même si, pour cela, il faut accuser le genre humain et le ciel.

Jean-Baptiste says we are all in a hurry for judgement that is why he became a judge penitent - Page 16 (but this will be the last stage after four more periods in his decline). The other man suggests that we should patiently await the final judgment.
Jean-Baptiste says perhaps we should, but we are all in a hurry. Thus he has made himself a judge penitent.
Page 46 - Mais voilà, nous sommes pressés. Si pressés même que j'ai été obligé de me faire juge-pénitent.

If the animal trainer has the least cut on his face, the animals scenting blood will devour him. Thus when he began to suspect he wasn't so admirable, he was bleeding a little and had to watch out.
Page 43 - J'ai compris cela d'un coup, le jour où le soupçon m'est venu que, peut-être, je n'étais pas si admirable. Dès lors, je suis devenu méfiant. Puisque je saignais un peu, j'y passerais tout entier; ils allaient me dévorer.
Although outwardly he was still the same, he was only aware of the disorder within him, Instead of being the centre of a comfortable circle of friends, it seemed that now they sat in line before him, to judge him - that they were laughing at him,
Page 43 - A partir du moment ou j'ai appréhendé qu'il y eût en moi quelque chose à juger, j'ai compris, en somme, qu'il y avait en eux une vocation irrésistible de jugement. Oui, ils étaient, là comme avant, mais ils riaient.


(7) The period of self analysis.
He had to come to terms with the laughter of his contemporaries. From the evening of the laughter on the bridge, when he had been called, he had had to seek a reply. - It wasn't easy. For a long time he couldn't find his way. He had first to see into himself, to discover that he wasn't simple - the complications of his character.
Page 46 Il a fallu d’abord que ce rire perpétuel, et les rieurs, m’apprissent à voir plus clair en moi, à découvrir enfin que je n’étais pas simple.
He then realised the profound duplicity of his nature.
Page 47 - J'ai mis au jour la duplicité profonde de la créature. J'ai compris alors, à force de fouiller dans ma mémoire, que la modestie m'aidait à briller, 1'humilité à vaincre et la vertu à opprimer
page 16. All his virtues had a less edifying reverse side. It is true that he had the virtues of his faults. e.g. his egotism resulted in his acts of generosity - his betrayals didn't prevent his fidelity - through his periods of idleness he still got through a vast amount of work - his self satisfaction led to him helping his neighbour.  Yet this realisation of these compensations could not console him.
On some mornings he reached the ultimate conclusion to be reached in the case against himself - that he excelled above all in contempt.
Page 18 summary/ Page 48 - Ceux mêmes que j'aidais le plus souvent étaient le plus méprisés. Avec courtoisie, avec une solidarité pleine d’émotion, je crachais tous les jours à la figure de tous les aveugles.
His only excuse is that he has never been able to believe that human affairs were serious.
Page 48 - Je n'ai jamais pu croire profondément que les affaires humaines fussent choses sérieuses.
He did what was expected of him, but in a distracted kind of way which finally spoilt everything.
Page 49 - J'ai vécu ma vie entière sous un double signe et mes actions les plus graves ont été souvent celles où j'étais le moins engagé.
It was probably this realisation, which to add to his follies made him react violently against the judgment which he felt at work within and around him - so that he had to find a way out to avoid this judgment
He could not accept his own excuse that he had regarded life as a game.
The realisation of his profound duplicity made him decide he must escape judgement.

However for a time on the surface things went on as normal - He was on rails and was carried along by his normal routine.  Page 49: J’étais sur des rails et je roulais.
His friends praised him even more and this hurt him more keenly.
His engine was no longer running smoothly ,there were now inexplicable break-downs: .Page 49 :  La machine se mit donc à avoir des caprices, des arrêts inexplicables.

(8) He became obsessed by death.  
He began to measure his life expectancy, fearing he would die before his task was completed - what task he didn't know.  He had a ridiculous dread of dying without confessing his lies - Not to a priest - he was above that - but to his friends. Otherwise truth would die with him.
.  Page 49 ;  Une crainte ridicule me poursuivait, en effet : on ne pouvait mourir sans avoir avoué tous ses mensonges.  Non pas à un dieu ou un de ses représentants, j’étais au-dessus de ça, vous le pensez bien.  Non, il s’agissait de l’avouer aux hommes.
Death was a growing obsession.
He argued within himself that it was a pretension to think that one tiny truth mattered - lost in the ocean of time - that we pay off our moral debts in the sufferings which our body inflicts on dying. - However death was a growing obsession and the compliments of his friends seemed to be increasing the lies out of all proportion.   Page 50 : Il n’empêche, le malaise grandissait, la mort était fidèle `a mon chevet, je me levais avec elle, et les compliments devenaient de plus en plus insupportables

(9) The period of self mockery.
Then he could stand it no longer. He had to make a break. He was going to cast himself into the general derision, to forestall the laughter - page 17/50.
Since he was a liar he was going to display it to everyone before they found out. Page 50 - Pour prévenir le rire, j'imaginai donc de me jeter dans la dérision générale.
In this he could avoid judgment by putting the laughter on his side - he thought of bumping into blind men in the street, letting down the tyres of invalid cars, slapping babies on the Metro - But he didn't do it

To invite ridicule he began to express politically incorrect viewpoints.  He applauded the restaurant owner for throwing out a beggar who was putting them off their meal. He wrote a poem in praise of the police and a piece in praise of the guillotine.  He enjoyed letting slip a "Thank God" or a "My God" when he was in the company of professional humanists - to see the fuss and confusion these "gros mots" caused.

This was childish but he wished to shed his undeserved public esteem, which he no longer valued, as it was not general - and it could not be as he did not share it himself.
Page 52 - Je n'en voulais plus de leur estime puisqu'elle n'était pas générale et comment aurait-elle été générale puisque je ne pouvais la partager? Alors, il valait mieux tout recouvrir, jugement et estime, d’un manteau de ridicule.
He had to destroy the false mannequin that he offered to the public.  Thus on giving a talk at a training course for young barristers, he told them to defend the thief by blaming the decent citizens, with a significance going beyond   the “We are all guilty” cliché of the politically correct.  At a conference of young barristers he spoke of their personal guilt.

By these outbursts he bewildered other people in their opinion of him. But this was not enough to give him a sense of innocence. For this one has to accuse oneself in a certain way. This way he found only after he had lived completely dissolute life. Page 53 - Voyez-vous, il ne suffit pas de s'accuser pour s'innocenter, ou sinon je serais un pur agneau. Il faut s'accuser dune certaine manière, qu'il m'a fallu beaucoup de temps pour mettre au point, et que je n'ai pas découverte avant de m'être trouvé dans l'abandon le plus complet.
Until he achieved this solution the laughter continued to float around him.

(10) The period of escape with women.
After his struggles, he recognised the futility of his little efforts and decided to shun the society of men - not for a desert isle but to take refuge with women - who do not condemn but merely humiliate and draw our strength. And who are thus the refuge of hunted criminals.
Page 54 Je me suis réfugié seulement auprès des femmes.  Vous le savez, ells ne condamnent vraiment aucune faiblesse : elles essaieront plutôt d’humilier ou de désarmer nos forces  C’est pourquoi la femme est la récompense, non du guerrier, mais du criminel……c’est dans le lit de la femme qu’il est généralement arrêté.

Now in need of love, he found himself making increasingly explicit promises of love:
he felt the need for love and with this need he thought himself in love. He often caught himself saying "Do you love me?" - a question he had always avoided, because it draws the answer "How about you?" If he replied "Yes" it committed him too far, and if "No" it risked ending the affair. - Needing this commitment of love from his partner, he now found himself making more and more explicit promises.
Page 55 ; J’étais donc amené à des promesses de plus en plus explicites, j’en venais à demander de mon cœur un sentiment de plus en plus vaste.

He had simultaneous love affairs just as previously he had had multiple liai­sons, thus causing more hurt than at the time of his fine indifference.  The outcome was unfortunate. He realised it was causing greater error. His parrot in desperation wanted to starve herself to death.
Far from transporting him to eternity, women were adding to his errors and his deviation from the right path.

He then tried platonic love - but this bored him and the women. He tried to give up women and live a chaste life -- but without sex he bored them and they bored him -- He had found truth, but it was deadly dull:
Page 56 -- Plus de jeu, plus de théâtre, j’étais sans doute dans la vérité, mais la vérité, cher ami, est assommante,

Despairing both love and chastity, he decided to try debauchery, which is a good substitute for love, silences the laughter and above all confers immortality.
In a certain degree of lucid intoxication, lying between two girls, drained of all desire, hope is no longer a torture, the spirit reigns, the sorrow of living has forever run its course,
Page 56 - A un certain degré d’ivresse lucide, couché, tard dans la nuit, entre deux filles, et vide de tout désir, l'espoir n’est plus une torture, voyez-vous, l'esprit règne sur tour les temps, la douleur de vivre est à jamais révolue.

Unable to achieve immortality, he sought substitutes sleeping with prostitutes and drinking whole nights long. The next morning he had the bitter taste of the mortal condition but for long hours he had soared.  He still remembers tenderly some of those nights of sexual pleasure and arising the next morning in a morning of glory.

Drink and women gave him the only relief of which he was worthy. Debauchery is liberating because it creates no obligation.
Page 57 - Vous verrez alors que la vraie débauche est libératrice parce qu'elle ne crée aucune obligation.  On n’y possède que soi-même.
It is ideal for the great lovers of their own person

He could have found peace and deliverance in this dissipation, but his liver could not stand up to it and he suffered from a physical exhaustion which he still feels. He notes the irony. :
Page 58 - On joue à être immortel et, au bout de quelques semaines, on ne sait même plus si l'on pourra se trainer jusqu’au lendemain


(11) A short period of respite.
The excess reduced his vitality and thus his suffering - the laughter was muffled in this fog.
He was still carrying on as a barrister, but was compromised by his disorderly life.  Less from his nocturnal exploits than from the provocations of his words during his pleas in court.  Clients became fewer - Still in his pleas, he managed to take off but never to soar any longer.  Outside his work he saw few people -- keeping up the tedious survival of a couple of liaisons. He even passed some evenings of pure friendship, resigned to boredom.
He put on weight and thought the crisis over.
One day on a sea cruise, to which he had treated a lady friend, to celebrate his recovery (without saying so), from the upper deck he saw a black speck out at sea. He was filled with panic, wanting to cry for help. Forcing himself to look again, he saw it was just rubbish from a ship but he had thought it was a drowned person!
He understood with resignation that the cry on the Seine, had floated to the Channel then to the ocean to wait for him and would wait for him forever,
Page 60 - Je compris alors, sans révolte, comme on se résigne a une idée dont on connaît depuis longtemps la vérité, que ce cri qui, des années auparavant, avait retenti sur la Seine, derrière moi, n'avait pas cessé, porté par le fleuve vers les eaux de la Manche, de cheminer dans le monde, à travers 1'étendue illimitée de l'océan, et qu'il m'y avait attendait jusqu' à ce jour où je l'avais rencontré.
He realised that he was not cured and that he was stuck forever and must put up with it.

(12) The exile.

Jean-Baptiste had found the final solution. He ran away to Amsterdam - Page 22/65.
Or they would be if he Clamence had not found the way out -
In solitude one takes oneself easily for a prophet and that is the role he plays in Amsterdam.
Page 65 - Dans la solitude, la fatigue aidant, que voulez-vous, on se prend volontiers pour un prophète. Après tout, c'est bien là ce que je suis, refugié dans un désert de pierres, de brumes et d'eaux pourries, prophète vide pour temps médiocres.