History of Literature







French literature


 

CONTENTS:

The Middle Ages

The 16th century

The 17th century

The 18th century to the Revolution of 1789

From 1789 to the mid-19th century

19th-century thought

The 20th century. From 1900 to 1940

The mid-20th century. Approaching the 21st century





 


French literature
 


The 20th century. From 1900 to 1940

 

Romain Rolland
Charles Péguy
Francois Mauriac
Alain-Fournier
Saint-John Perse
André Gide
Marcel Proust
Paul Claudel
Paul Valéry
Henri Barbusse
Guillaume Apollinaire
André Breton
"Manifesto of Surrealism", "What is Surrealism?", "Second  Manifesto  of Surrealism"
Louis Aragon
Paul Éluard
Édouard Dujardin
Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette
Louis-Ferdinand Céline
Pierre-Eugène Drieu La Rochelle
André Malraux
Georges Bernanos
Jean Anouilh

 

 



From 1900 to 1940


The legacy of the 19th centuryFrench writing of the first quarter of the 20th century reveals a dissatisfaction with the pessimism, skepticism, and narrow rationalism of the preceding age and displays a new confidence in human possibilities, although this is undercut by World War I. There is continuity with the poetry of the late 19th century but a rejection of its prose. Mallarmé and Rimbaud were models for Paul Valéry and Paul Claudel, but members of the new generation, such as Charles-Louis Philippe, whose Bubu de Montparnasse (1901; Bubu of Montparnasse) followed
Zola into the Paris slums, thought the Naturalist novel unduly deterministic and rejected its claims to objectivity.

In philosophy, the positivism of Taine and Renan, and its confidence in practical reason, gave ground to a resurgence of interest in the spiritual and the mystical, led by the work of Henri Bergson on intuition and the creative imagination. Among foreign thinkers, Arthur Schopenhauer, so important to the preceding generation, gave way to Friedrich Nietzsche, whose books were read less for the superman theme than as a protest against the limitations of the mechanistic world.

Literature continued to follow the political and social struggles of the Third Republic. To the continuing reverberations of the Dreyfus Affair must be added other tensions exacerbating the conflict of the Republic and the Roman Catholic church: the separation of church and state and the struggle for the education system, with Jules Ferry’s law of 1882 making primary education free, compulsory, and secular. This is the context in which the Catholic revival that emerged in the 1880s reaches its literary high point in the work of Paul Claudel and Charles Péguy and then, in a second generation, François Mauriac and Georges Bernanos. Meanwhile, anti-German sentiment stemming from the 1870 defeat, revived in the years immediately preceding World War I, helped create the protofascist Action Française, led by Charles Maurras. Seeking to steer French culture toward integral nationalism and to restore the monarchy, the group was in constant conflict with the expanding socialist movement.

The governments of the Third Republic were weak centrist coalitions that writers, with middle-class privileges to protect, found it difficult either to admire or to attack. The uneasy truce they procured in French society was the basis of a literature that exalted individual experience. Some of the leading writers of the years before 1914 gathered around the Nouvelle Revue Française, founded by André Gide in 1908. Jacques Rivière took over as its director in 1919. The review, which became France’s leading literary magazine while also spawning the Gallimard publishing house, sought a balance between modernity and tradition. Its articles represented a network of dialogues rather than one fixed position and initially tended to emphasize the authenticity of the inner life.

Valery Larbaud’s A.O. Barnabooth: son journal intime (1913; A.O. Barnabooth: His Diary) depicts the slow discovery of the self after an initial liberation. An enormously successful exercise in nostalgia, Le Grand Meaulnes (1913; Le Grand Meaulnes: The Land of Lost Content) by Alain-Fournier (pseudonym of Henri-Alban Fournier) explored the new theme of adolescence; in poetry, Saint-John Perse (pseudonym of Alexis Léger) depicted the triumphant recovery of childhood in Éloges (1911; Éloges, and Other Poems); and Rivière’s essays on painting, the Russian ballet, and contemporary writers showed an excellent critical mind seeking to hold together the aspirations and values of a society about to face one of its most serious challenges.
 

 

Romain Rolland



French writer

born Jan. 29, 1866, Clamecy, France
died Dec. 30, 1944, Vézelay

Main
French novelist, dramatist, and essayist, an idealist who was deeply involved with pacifism, the fight against fascism, the search for world peace, and the analysis of artistic genius. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1915.

At age 14, Rolland went to Paris to study and found a society in spiritual disarray. He was admitted to the École Normale Supérieure, lost his religious faith, discovered the writings of Benedict de Spinoza and Leo Tolstoy, and developed a passion for music. He studied history (1889) and received a doctorate in art (1895), after which he went on a two-year mission to Italy at the École Française de Rome. At first, Rolland wrote plays but was unsuccessful in his attempts to reach a vast audience and to rekindle “the heroism and the faith of the nation.” He collected his plays in two cycles: Les Tragédies de la foi (1913; “The Tragedies of Faith”), which contains Aërt (1898), and Le Théâtre de la révolution (1904), which includes a presentation of the Dreyfus Affair, Les Loups (1898; The Wolves), and Danton (1900).

In 1912, after a brief career in teaching art and musicology, he resigned to devote all his time to writing. He collaborated with Charles Péguy in the journal Les Cahiers de la Quinzaine, where he first published his best-known novel, Jean-Christophe, 10 vol. (1904–12). For this and for his pamphlet Au-dessus de la mêlée (1915; “Above the Battle”), a call for France and Germany to respect truth and humanity throughout their struggle in World War I, he was awarded the Nobel Prize. His thought was the centre of a violent controversy and was not fully understood until 1952 with the posthumous publication of his Journal des années de guerre, 1914–1919 (“Journal of the War Years, 1914–1919”). In 1914 he moved to Switzerland, where he lived until his return to France in 1937.

His passion for the heroic found expression in a series of biographies of geniuses: Vie de Beethoven (1903; Beethoven), who was for Rolland the universal musician above all the others; Vie de Michel-Ange (1905; The Life of Michel Angelo), and Vie de Tolstoi (1911; Tolstoy), among others.

Rolland’s masterpiece, Jean-Christophe, is one of the longest great novels ever written and is a prime example of the roman fleuve (“novel cycle”) in France. An epic in construction and style, rich in poetic feeling, it presents the successive crises confronting a creative genius—here a musical composer of German birth, Jean-Christophe Krafft, modeled half after Beethoven and half after Rolland—who, despite discouragement and the stresses of his own turbulent personality, is inspired by love of life. The friendship between this young German and a young Frenchman symbolizes the “harmony of opposites” that Rolland believed could eventually be established between nations throughout the world.

After a burlesque fantasy, Colas Breugnon (1919), Rolland published a second novel cycle, L’Âme-enchantée, 7 vol. (1922–33), in which he exposed the cruel effects of political sectarianism. In the 1920s he turned to Asia, especially India, seeking to interpret its mystical philosophy to the West in such works as Mahatma Gandhi (1924). Rolland’s vast correspondence with such figures as Albert Schweitzer, Albert Einstein, Bertrand Russell, and Rabindranath Tagore was published in the Cahiers Romain Rolland (1948). His posthumously published Mémoires (1956) and private journals bear witness to the exceptional integrity of a writer dominated by the love of mankind.

 

 

 


Charles Péguy




 

born Jan. 7, 1873, Orléans, Fr.
died Sept. 5, 1914, near Villeroy

French poet and philosopher who combined Christianity, socialism, and patriotism into a deeply personal faith that he carried into action.

Péguy was born to poverty. His mother, widowed when he was an infant, mended chairs for a living. He attended the lycée at Orléans on a scholarship and in 1894 entered the École Normale Supérieure in Paris, intending to teach philosophy. In 1895 he turned to socialism, convinced it was the sole means by which poverty and destitution in the modern world could be overcome. He also abandoned the conventional practice of Roman Catholicism, though he retained to the end of his life a fervent religious faith. At this time he wrote his first version of Jeanne d’Arc (1897), a dramatic trilogy that formed a declaration and affirmation of his religious and socialist principles. Péguy was then caught up in the Dreyfus affair; he threw himself unreservedly into the battle to establish Dreyfus’ innocence and helped to bring many of his fellow socialists onto the same side.

Besides running a bookstore that was a centre of pro-Dreyfus agitation, Péguy in 1900 began publishing the influential journal Cahiers de la Quinzaine (“Fortnightly Notebooks”), which, though never reaching a wide public, exercised a profound influence on French intellectual life for the next 15 years. Many leading French writers, including Anatole France, Henri Bergson, Jean Jaurès, and Romain Rolland, contributed work to it.

Péguy published several collections of his essays in the years before World War I, but the most important works of his maturity are his poems. Chief among them is Le Mystère de la charité de Jeanne d’Arc (1910), a mystical meditation that enlarges upon some of the scenes in the Jeanne d’Arc of 1897; Mystère des Saints Innocents (1912); and the culmination of the meditative and devotional outpouring of his final years, Ève (1913), a statuesque poem of 4,000 alexandrines in which Péguy views the human condition in the perspective of the Christian revelation.

When World War I broke out, he went to the front as a lieutenant, dying in the first Battle of the Marne.
 

 

 


François Mauriac



 

born Oct. 11, 1885, Bordeaux, France
died Sept. 1, 1970, Paris


novelist, essayist, poet, playwright, journalist, and winner in 1952 of the Nobel Prize for Literature. He belonged to the lineage of French Catholic writers who examined the ugly realities of modern life in the light of eternity. His major novels are sombre, austere psychological dramas set in an atmosphere of unrelieved tension. At the heart of every work Mauriac placed a religious soul grappling with the problems of sin, grace, and salvation.

Mauriac came from a pious and strict upper-middle-class family. He studied at the University of Bordeaux and entered the École Nationale des Chartes at Paris in 1906, soon deserting it to write. His first published work was a volume of delicately fervent poems, Les Mains jointes (1909; “Joined Hands”). Mauriac’s vocation, however, lay with the novel. L’Enfant chargé de chaînes (1913; Young Man in Chains) and La Robe prétexte (1914; The Stuff of Youth), his first works of fiction, showed a still uncertain technique but, nevertheless, set the pattern for his recurring themes. His native city of Bordeaux and the drab and suffocating strictures of bourgeois life provide the framework for his explorations of the relations of characters deprived of love. Le Baiser au lépreux (1922; The Kiss to the Leper) established Mauriac as a major novelist. Mauriac showed increasing mastery in Le Désert de l’amour (1925; The Desert of Love) and in Thérèse Desqueyroux (1927; Thérèse), whose heroine is driven to attempt the murder of her husband to escape her suffocating life. Le Noeud de vipères (1932; Vipers’ Tangle) is often considered Mauriac’s masterpiece. It is a marital drama, depicting an old lawyer’s rancour toward his family, his passion for money, and his final conversion. In this, as in other Mauriac novels, the love that his characters seek vainly in human contacts is fulfilled only in love of God.

In 1933 Mauriac was elected to the French Academy. His later novels include the partly autobiographical Le Mystère Frontenac (1933; The Frontenac Mystery), Les Chemins de la mer (1939; The Unknown Sea), and La Pharisienne (1941; A Woman of the Pharisees), an analysis of religious hypocrisy and the desire for domination. In 1938 Mauriac turned to writing plays, beginning auspiciously with Asmodée (performed 1937), in which the hero is a heinous, domineering character who controls weaker souls. Such is also the theme of the less successful Les Mal Aimés (1945; “The Poorly Loved”).

A highly sensitive man, Mauriac felt compelled to justify himself before his critics. Le Romancier et ses personnages (1933; “The Novelist and His Characters”) and the four volumes of his Journal (1934–51), followed by three volumes of Mémoires (1959–67), tell much of his intentions, his methods, and his reactions to contemporary moral values. Mauriac tackled the difficult dilemma of the Christian writer—how to portray evil in human nature without placing temptation before his readers—in Dieu et Mammon (1929; God and Mammon, 1936).

Mauriac was also a prominent polemical writer. He intervened vigorously in the 1930s, condemning totalitarianism in all its forms and denouncing Fascism in Italy and Spain. In World War II he worked with the writers of the Resistance. After the war he increasingly engaged in political discussion. He wrote De Gaulle (1964; Eng. trans., 1966), having officially supported him from 1962. Though Mauriac’s fame outside France spread slowly, he was regarded by many as the greatest French novelist after Marcel Proust.
 

 

 


Alain-Fournier




pseudonym of Henri-Alban Fournier

born Oct. 3, 1886, La Chapelle-d’Angillon, Cher, France
killed in action Sept. 22, 1914, in the vicinity of Épargue, near Verdun

French writer whose only completed novel, Le Grand Meaulnes (1913; The Wanderer, or The Lost Domain), is a modern classic.

Based on his happy childhood in a remote village in central France, Alain-Fournier’s novel reflects his longing for a lost world of delight. The hero, an idealistic but forceful schoolboy, runs away and at a children’s party in a decrepit country house meets a beautiful girl. The rest of the novel describes his search for her and for the house and the mood of wonderment he knew there. Its outstanding quality is evocation of an atmosphere of otherworldly nostalgia, against a realistically observed rural background. Other works, mainly published posthumously, include a correspondence (2 vol., 1948) with the critic Jacques Rivière, his brother-in-law.
 

 

 


Saint-John Perse





pseudonym of Marie-René-Auguste-Aléxis Saint-Léger Léger

born May 31, 1887, Saint-Léger-les-Feuilles, Guadeloupe
died Sept. 20, 1975, Presqu’île-de-Giens, France

French poet and diplomat who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1960 “for the soaring flight and evocative imagery of his poetry.”

He studied at the universities of Bordeaux and Paris and in 1914 entered the diplomatic service. He went to China and was successively consul at Shanghai and secretary at Peking. In 1921 he attended the Washington disarmament conference as an expert on East Asian affairs. He was later secretary (1921–32) to the French statesman Aristide Briand. In 1933 he was appointed secretary-general at the Foreign Ministry, with the rank of ambassador. Dismissed from office in 1940 and deprived of French citizenship by the Vichy government, he went to the United States, where he worked as consultant on French literature in the Library of Congress. He returned to France in 1957.

Saint-John Perse’s early poetry, published before his diplomatic career began in earnest, includes Éloges (1911; Éloges, and Other Poems), which shows the influence of Symbolism; he later developed a more personal style. The language of his poetry, admired especially by poets for its precision and purity, is difficult, and he made little appeal to the general public. His poetry has been compared to that of Arthur Rimbaud. His hypnotic vision is conveyed by a liturgical metre and exotic words. The best-known early work is the long poem Anabase (1924; Anabasis, translated by T.S. Eliot). In the poems written in exile—Exile (1942; Exile, and Other Poems), Vents (1946; Winds), Amers (1957; Seamarks), Chronique (1960), and Oiseaux (1962; Birds)—he achieved a deeply personal note. For some, Saint-John Perse is the embodiment of the French national spirit: intellectual yet passionate, deeply conscious of the tragedy of life, a man of affairs with an artist’s feeling for perfection and symmetry. Among his better-known poems translated into English are “I have halted my horse by the tree of the doves,” “And you, Seas,” and “Under the bronze leaves a colt was foaled.”
 





Gide

The house of Gallimard published the four greatest writers of this period: André Gide, Marcel Proust, Claudel, and Valéry, who in their different ways were to carry the tradition of high French culture over the watershed of World War I. Gide’s Les Nourritures terrestres (1897; Fruits of the Earth) and L’Immoraliste (1902; The Immoralist) encouraged a generation of French youth to question the values of family and tradition and to be guided by that part of themselves, turned toward the future, that was ignored or repressed by a society with its own gaze fixed on the past. These texts helped open the door to the political radicalism of postwar generations, though Gides own immediate focus was much less on colonial oppression in Africa than on the space the continent offered for his own sexual liberation. His Les Caves du Vatican (1914; The Vatican Cellars) caught the fancy of intellectuals with an anarchist bent, partly because of its celebration of the acte gratuit, undertaken not for gain or self-interest but as a gesture of authentic self-expression, but also because of its outrageously funny satire on humanity’s submission to authoritarian systems of belief.

His most influential book (both in form and in content) was Les Faux-Monnayeurs (1926; The Counterfeiters). It dealt with questions of self-knowledge, sincerity, and self-interest, discussing (among other themes) the value of Freudian psychoanalysis, which was becoming, thanks partly to Gide, familiar currency among the intelligentsia. The novel addressed homosexuality, child sexuality, and the repressive role of the family, at the same time as it challenged all the conventional devices of novel writing, portraying the problematic nature of the relation between the fictional and the real. Children are the centre of the work, which examines the extent to which any new life is already marked out for corruption by the past—the family and the society—in which it begins.
 


André Gide




 

French writer
in full André-Paul-Guillaume Gide

born Nov. 22, 1869, Paris, France
died Feb. 19, 1951, Paris

Main
French writer, humanist, and moralist who received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1947.

Heritage and youth
Gide was the only child of Paul Gide and his wife, Juliette Rondeaux. His father was of southern Huguenot peasant stock; his mother, a Norman heiress, although Protestant by upbringing, belonged to a northern Roman Catholic family long established at Rouen. When Gide was eight he was sent to the École Alsacienne in Paris, but his education was much interrupted by neurotic bouts of ill health. After his father’s early death in 1880, his well-being became the chief concern of his devoutly austere mother; often kept at home, he was taught by indifferent tutors and by his mother’s governess. While in Rouen Gide formed a deep attachment for his cousin, Madeleine Rondeaux.

Gide returned to the École Alsacienne to prepare for his baccalauréat examination, and after passing it in 1889, he decided to spend his life in writing, music, and travel. His first work was an autobiographical study of youthful unrest entitled Les Cahiers d’André Walter (1891; The Notebooks of André Walter). Written, like most of his later works, in the first person, it uses the confessional form in which Gide was to achieve his greatest successes.


Symbolist period
In 1891 a school friend, the writer Pierre Louÿs, introduced Gide into the poet Stéphane Mallarmé’s famous “Tuesday evenings,” which were the centre of the French Symbolist movement, and for a time Gide was influenced by Symbolist aesthetic theories. His works “Narcissus” (1891), Le Voyage d’Urien (1893; Urien’s Voyage), and “The Lovers’ Attempt” (1893) belong to this period.

In 1893 Gide paid his first visit to North Africa, hoping to find release there from his dissatisfaction with the restrictions imposed by his puritanically strict Protestant upbringing. Gide’s contact with the Arab world and its radically different moral standards helped to liberate him from the Victorian social and sexual conventions he felt stifled by. One result of this nascent intellectual revolt against social hypocrisy was his growing awareness of his homosexuality. The lyrical prose poem Les Nourritures terrestres (1897; Fruits of the Earth) reflects Gide’s personal liberation from the fear of sin and his acceptance of the need to follow his own impulses. But after he returned to France, Gide’s relief at having shed the shackles of convention evaporated in what he called the “stifling atmosphere” of the Paris salons. He satirized his surroundings in Marshlands (1894), a brilliant parable of animals who, living always in dark caves, lose their sight because they never use it.

In 1894 Gide returned to North Africa, where he met Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas, who encouraged him to embrace his homosexuality. He was recalled to France because of his mother’s illness, however, and she died in May 1895.

In October 1895 Gide married his cousin Madeleine, who had earlier refused him. Early in 1896 he was elected mayor of the commune of La Roque. At 27, he was the youngest mayor in France. He took his duties seriously but managed to complete Fruits of the Earth. It was published in 1897 and fell completely flat, although after World War I it was to become Gide’s most popular and influential work. In the postwar generation, its call to each individual to express fully whatever is in him evoked an immediate response.

Great creative period
Le Prométhée mal enchaîné (1899; Prometheus Misbound), a return to the satirical style of Urien’s Voyage and Marshland, is Gide’s last discussion of man’s search for individual values. His next tales mark the beginning of his great creative period. L’Immoraliste (1902; The Immoralist), La Porte étroite (1909; Strait Is the Gate), and La Symphonie pastorale (1919; “The Pastoral Symphony”) reflect Gide’s attempts to achieve harmony in his marriage in their treatment of the problems of human relationships. They mark an important stage in his development: adapting his works’ treatment and style to his concern with psychological problems. The Immoralist and Strait Is the Gate are in the prose form which Gide termed a récit; i.e., a studiedly simple but deeply ironic tale in which a first-person narrator reveals the inherent moral ambiguities of life by means of his seemingly innocuous reminiscences. In these works Gide achieves a mastery of classical construction and a pure, simple style.

During most of this period Gide was suffering deep anxiety and distress. Although his love for Madeleine had given his life what he called its “mystic orientation,” he found himself unable, in a close, permanent relationship, to reconcile this love with his need for freedom and for experience of every kind. Les Caves du Vatican (1914; The Vatican Swindle) marks the transition to the second phase of Gide’s great creative period. He called it not a tale but a sotie, by which he meant a satirical work whose foolish or mad characters are treated farcically within an unconventional narrative structure. This was the first of his works to be violently attacked for anticlericalism.

In the early 1900s Gide had already begun to be widely known as a literary critic, and in 1908 he was foremost among those who founded La Nouvelle Revue Française, the literary review that was to unite progressive French writers until World War II. During World War I Gide worked in Paris, first for the Red Cross, then in a soldiers’ convalescent home, and finally in providing shelter to war refugees. In 1916 he returned to Cuverville, his home since his marriage, and began to write again.

The war had intensified Gide’s anguish, and early in 1916 he had begun to keep a second Journal (published in 1926 as Numquid et tu?) in which he recorded his search for God. Finally, however, unable to resolve the dilemma (expressed in his statement “Catholicism is inadmissible, Protestantism is intolerable; and I feel profoundly Christian”), he resolved to achieve his own ethic, and by casting off his sense of guilt to become his true self. Now, in a desire to liquidate the past, he began his autobiography, Si le grain ne meurt (1926; If It Die . . .), an account of his life from birth to marriage that is among the great works of confessional literature. In 1918 his friendship for the young Marc Allégret caused a serious crisis in his marriage, when his wife in jealous despair destroyed her “dearest possession on earth”—his letters to her.

After the war a great change took place in Gide, and his face began to assume the serene expression of his later years. By the decision involved in beginning his autobiography and the completion in 1918 of Corydon (a Socratic dialogue in defense of homosexuality begun earlier), he had achieved at last an inner reconciliation. Corydon’s publication in 1924 was disastrous, though, and Gide was violently attacked, even by his closest friends.

Gide called his next work, Les Faux-Monnayeurs (1926; The Counterfeiters), his only novel. He meant by this that in conception, range, and scope it was on a vaster scale than his tales or his soties. It is the most complex and intricately constructed of his works, dealing as it does with the relatives and teachers of a group of schoolboys subject to corrupting influences both in and out of the classroom. The Counterfeiters treats all of Gide’s favourite themes in a progression of discontinuous scenes and happenings that come close to approximating the texture of daily life itself.

In 1925 Gide set off for French Equatorial Africa. When he returned he published Voyage au Congo (1927; Travels in the Congo), in which he criticized French colonial policies. The compassionate, objective concern for humanity that marks the final phase of Gide’s life found expression in political activities at this time. He became the champion of society’s victims and outcasts, demanding more humane conditions for criminals and equality for women. For a time it seemed to him that he had found a faith in Communism. In 1936 he set out on a visit to the Soviet Union, but later expressed his disillusionment with the Soviet system in Retour de l’U.R.S.S. (1936; Return from the U.S.S.R.) and Retouches à mon retour de l’U.R.S.S. (1937; Afterthoughts on the U.S.S.R.).


Late works
In 1938 Gide’s wife, Madeleine, died. After a long estrangement they had been brought together by her final illness. To him she was always the great—perhaps the only—love of his life. With the outbreak of World War II, Gide began to realize the value of tradition and to appreciate the past. In a series of imaginary interviews written in 1941 and 1942 for Le Figaro, he expressed a new concept of liberty, declaring that absolute freedom destroys both the individual and society: freedom must be linked with the discipline of tradition. From 1942 until the end of the war Gide lived in North Africa. There he wrote “Theseus,” whose story symbolizes Gide’s realization of the value of the past: Theseus returns to Ariadne only because he has clung to the thread of tradition.

In June 1947 Gide received the first honour of his life: the Doctor of Letters of the University of Oxford. It was followed in November by the Nobel Prize for Literature. In 1950 he published the last volume of his Journal, which took the record of his life up to his 80th birthday. All Gide’s writings illuminate some aspect of his complex character. He is seen at his most characteristic, however, in the Journal he kept from 1889, a unique work of more than a million words in which he records his experiences, impressions, interests, and moral crises during a period of more than 60 years. After its publication he resolved to write no more.

Gide’s lifelong emphasis on the self-aware and sincere individual as the touchstone of both collective and individual morality was complemented by the tolerant and enlightened views he expressed on literary, social, and political questions throughout his career. For most of his life a controversial figure, Gide was long regarded as a revolutionary for his open support of the claims of the individual’s freedom of action in defiance of conventional morality. Before his death he was widely recognized as an important humanist and moralist in the great 17th-century French tradition. The integrity and nobility of his thought and the purity and harmony of style that characterize his stories, verse, and autobiographical works have ensured his place among the masters of French literature.






Proust and Claudel

Marcel Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu (1913–27; Remembrance of Things Past) had no time for fresh beginnings. Evoking the vanishing world of fashionable Parisian society of the Third Republic, the novel sequence explored the ways in which memory, imagination, and, most of all, artistic form could be put to work together to counter the corrosive effects of time. If time for Gide is future prospect, for Proust it is past and gone, the mediator of loss and death, history slipping from the grasp of the class that made it. Only art offers the possibility of retaining the essence of lost lives, loves, and sensations. The novel reenacts the operations of imagination and memory, conscious and unconscious, as they join the stimulus of sense impressions to metaphor and image and to the rhythms and associations of syntax.

The work of the poet and dramatist Paul Claudel also evokes a dream of the past. Claudel sought to revivify the symbols of traditionalist Catholicism. His poetry proper (Cinq grands odes [1910; Five Great Odes]) is not without its influence, but the real importance of Claudel’s poetic gift lies in the lyrical, epic qualities it infuses into his drama, which will be discussed below.
 


Marcel Proust




 

born July 10, 1871, Auteuil, near Paris, France
died Nov. 18, 1922, Paris


French novelist, author of À la recherche du temps perdu (1913–27; In Search of Lost Time), a seven-volume novel based on Proust’s life told psychologically and allegorically.

Life and works
Marcel was the son of Adrien Proust, an eminent physician of provincial French Catholic descent, and his wife, Jeanne, née Weil, of a wealthy Jewish family. After a first attack in 1880, he suffered from asthma throughout his life. His childhood holidays were spent at Illiers and Auteuil (which together became the Combray of his novel) or at seaside resorts in Normandy with his maternal grandmother. At the Lycée Condorcet (1882–89) he wrote for class magazines, fell in love with a little girl named Marie de Benardaky in the Champs-Élysées, made friends whose mothers were society hostesses, and was influenced by his philosophy master Alphonse Darlu. He enjoyed the discipline and comradeship of military service at Orléans (1889–90) and studied at the School of Political Sciences, taking licences in law (1893) and in literature (1895). During these student days his thought was influenced by the philosophers Henri Bergson (his cousin by marriage) and Paul Desjardins and by the historian Albert Sorel. Meanwhile, via the bourgeois salons of Madames Straus, Arman de Caillavet, Aubernon, and Madeleine Lemaire, he became an observant habitué of the most exclusive drawing rooms of the nobility. In 1896 he published Les Plaisirs et les jours (Pleasures and Days), a collection of short stories at once precious and profound, most of which had appeared during 1892–93 in the magazines Le Banquet and La Revue Blanche. From 1895 to 1899 he wrote Jean Santeuil, an autobiographical novel that, though unfinished and ill-constructed, showed awakening genius and foreshadowed À la recherche. A gradual disengagement from social life coincided with growing ill health and with his active involvement in the Dreyfus affair of 1897–99, when French politics and society were split by the movement to liberate the Jewish army officer Alfred Dreyfus, unjustly imprisoned on Devil’s Island as a spy. Proust helped to organize petitions and assisted Dreyfus’s lawyer Labori, courageously defying the risk of social ostracism. (Although Proust was not, in fact, ostracized, the experience helped to crystallize his disillusionment with aristocratic society, which became visible in his novel.) Proust’s discovery of John Ruskin’s art criticism in 1899 caused him to abandon Jean Santeuil and to seek a new revelation in the beauty of nature and in Gothic architecture, considered as symbols of man confronted with eternity: “Suddenly,” he wrote, “the universe regained in my eyes an immeasurable value.” On this quest he visited Venice (with his mother in May 1900) and the churches of France and translated Ruskin’s Bible of Amiens and Sesame and Lilies, with prefaces in which the note of his mature prose is first heard.

The death of Proust’s father in 1903 and of his mother in 1905 left him grief stricken and alone but financially independent and free to attempt his great novel. At least one early version was written in 1905–06. Another, begun in 1907, was laid aside in October 1908. This had itself been interrupted by a series of brilliant parodies—of Balzac, Flaubert, Renan, Saint-Simon, and others of Proust’s favourite French authors—called “L’Affaire Lemoine” (published in Le Figaro), through which he endeavoured to purge his style of extraneous influences. Then, realizing the need to establish the philosophical basis that his novel had hitherto lacked, he wrote the essay “Contre Sainte-Beuve” (published 1954), attacking the French critic’s view of literature as a pastime of the cultivated intelligence and putting forward his own, in which the artist’s task is to release from the buried world of unconscious memory the ever-living reality to which habit makes us blind. In January 1909 occurred the real-life incident of an involuntary revival of a childhood memory through the taste of tea and a rusk biscuit (which in his novel became madeleine cake); in May the characters of his novel invaded his essay; and, in July of this crucial year, he began À la recherche du temps perdu. He thought of marrying “a very young and delightful girl” whom he met at Cabourg, a seaside resort in Normandy that became the Balbec of his novel, where he spent summer holidays from 1907 to 1914; but, instead, he retired from the world to write his novel, finishing the first draft in September 1912. The first volume, Du côté de chez Swann (Swann’s Way), was refused by the best-selling publishers Fasquelle and Ollendorff and even by the intellectual La Nouvelle Revue Française, under the direction of the novelist André Gide, but was finally issued at the author’s expense in November 1913 by the progressive young publisher Bernard Grasset and met with some success. Proust then planned only two further volumes, the premature appearance of which was fortunately thwarted by his anguish at the flight and death of his secretary Alfred Agostinelli and by the outbreak of World War I.

During the war he revised the remainder of his novel, enriching and deepening its feeling, texture, and construction, increasing the realistic and satirical elements, and tripling its length. In this majestic process he transformed a work that in its earlier state was still below the level of his highest powers into one of the greatest achievements of the modern novel. In March 1914, instigated by the repentant Gide, La Nouvelle Revue Française offered to take over his novel, but Proust now rejected them. Further negotiations in May–September 1916 were successful, and in June 1919 À l’ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs (Within a Budding Grove) was published simultaneously with a reprint of Swann and with Pastiches et mélanges, a miscellaneous volume containing “L’Affaire Lemoine” and the Ruskin prefaces. In December 1919, through Léon Daudet’s recommendation, À l’ombre received the Prix Goncourt, and Proust suddenly became world famous. Three more installments appeared in his lifetime, with the benefit of his final revision, comprising Le Côté de Guermantes (1920–21; The Guermantes Way) and Sodome et Gomorrhe (1921–22; Sodom and Gomorrah). He died in Paris of pneumonia, succumbing to a weakness of the lungs that many had mistaken for a form of hypochondria and struggling to the last with the revision of La Prisonnière (The Captive). The last three parts of À la recherche were published posthumously, in an advanced but not final stage of revision: La Prisonnière (1923), Albertine disparue (1925; The Fugitive), and Le Temps retrouvé (1927; Time Regained).

Proust’s enormous correspondence (although thousands of letters have appeared in print, many await publication), remarkable for its communication of his living presence, as well as for its elegance and nobility of style and thought, is also highly significant as the raw material from which a great artist built his fictional world. For À la recherche du temps perdu is the story of Proust’s own life, told as an allegorical search for truth.

At first, the only childhood memory available to the middle-aged narrator is the evening of a visit from the family friend, Swann, when the child forced his mother to give him the goodnight kiss that she had refused. But, through the accidental tasting of tea and a madeleine cake, the narrator retrieves from his unconscious memory the landscape and people of his boyhood holidays in the village of Combray. In an ominous digression on love and jealousy, the reader learns of the unhappy passion of Swann (a Jewish dilettante received in high society) for the courtesan Odette, whom he had met in the bourgeois salon of the Verdurins during the years before the narrator’s birth. As an adolescent the narrator falls in love with Gilberte (the daughter of Swann and Odette) in the Champs-Élysées. During a seaside holiday at Balbec, he meets the handsome young nobleman Saint-Loup, Saint-Loup’s strange uncle the Baron de Charlus, and a band of young girls led by Albertine. He falls in love with the Duchesse de Guermantes but, after an autumnal visit to Saint-Loup’s garrison-town Doncières, is cured when he meets her in society. As he travels through the Guermantes’s world, its apparent poetry and intelligence is dispersed and its real vanity and sterility revealed. Charlus is discovered to be homosexual, pursuing the elderly tailor Jupien and the young violinist Morel, and the vices of Sodom and Gomorrah henceforth proliferate through the novel. On a second visit to Balbec the narrator suspects Albertine of loving women, carries her back to Paris, and keeps her captive. He witnesses the tragic betrayal of Charlus by the Verdurins and Morel; his own jealous passion is only intensified by the flight and death of Albertine. When he attains oblivion of his love, time is lost; beauty and meaning have faded from all he ever pursued and won; and he renounces the book he has always hoped to write. A long absence in a sanatorium is interrupted by a wartime visit to Paris, bombarded like Pompeii or Sodom from the skies. Charlus, disintegrated by his vice, is seen in Jupien’s infernal brothel, and Saint-Loup, married to Gilberte and turned homosexual, dies heroically in battle. After the war, at the Princesse de Guermantes’s afternoon reception, the narrator becomes aware, through a series of incidents of unconscious memory, that all the beauty he has experienced in the past is eternally alive. Time is regained, and he sets to work, racing against death, to write the very novel the reader has just experienced.

Proust’s novel has a circular construction and must be considered in the light of the revelation with which it ends. The author reinstates the extratemporal values of time regained, his subject being salvation. Other patterns of redemption are shown in counterpoint to the main theme: the narrator’s parents are saved by their natural goodness, great artists (the novelist Bergotte, the painter Elstir, the composer Vinteuil) through the vision of their art, Swann through suffering in love, and even Charlus through the Lear-like grandeur of his fall. Proust’s novel is, ultimately, both optimistic and set in the context of human religious experience. “I realized that the materials of my work consisted of my own past,” says the narrator at the moment of time regained. An important quality in the understanding of À la recherche lies in its meaning for Proust himself as the allegorical story of his own life, from which its events, places, and characters are taken. In his quest for time lost, he invented nothing but altered everything, selecting, fusing, and transmuting the facts so that their underlying unity and universal significance should be revealed, working inward to himself and outward to every aspect of the human condition. À la recherche is comparable in this respect not only with other major novels but also with such creative and symbolic autobiographies as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Dichtung und Wahrheit and the Viscount de Chateaubriand’s Mémoires d’outretombe, both of which influenced Proust.


Assessment
Proust projected his own homosexuality upon his characters, treating this, as well as snobbism, vanity, and cruelty, as a major symbol of original sin. His insight into women and the love of men for women (which he himself experienced for the many female originals of his heroines) remained unimpaired, and he is among the greatest novelists in the fields of both heterosexual and homosexual love.

The entire climate of the 20th-century novel was affected by À la recherche du temps perdu, which is one of the supreme achievements of modern fiction. Taking as raw material the author’s past life, À la recherche is ostensibly about the irrecoverability of time lost, about the forfeiture of innocence through experience, the emptiness of love and friendship, the vanity of human endeavour, and the triumph of sin and despair; but Proust’s conclusion is that the life of every day is supremely important, full of moral joy and beauty, which, though they may be lost through faults inherent in human nature, are indestructible and recoverable. Proust’s style is one of the most original in all literature and is unique in its union of speed and protraction, precision and iridescence, force and enchantment, classicism and symbolism.

George Duncan Painter
 

 

 


Paul Claudel




 

in full Paul-Louis-Charles-Marie Claudel

born Aug. 6, 1868, Villeneuve-sur-Fère, Fr.
died Feb. 23, 1955, Paris


poet, playwright, essayist, a towering force in French literature of the first half of the 20th century, whose works derive their lyrical inspiration, their unity and scope, and their prophetic tone from his faith in God.

Claudel, the brother of the sculptor Camille Claudel, was born in a village of Champagne. Their family was one of farmers and gentry, an inauspicious background for his subsequent diplomatic career. Becoming expert in economic affairs, in 1890 he embarked on a long and brilliant career in the foreign service that took him from New York City to China (for 14 years), back to Europe, and then to South America. While pursuing his literary career, he was the French ambassador to Tokyo (1921), Washington (1927), and Brussels (1933).

As he traveled the world, removed from the literary circles of Paris, he slowly elaborated his theocentric conception of the universe and conceived his vocation: the revelation through poetry, both lyrical and dramatic, of the grand design of creation. This enthusiastic and relentless deciphering of the cosmos was inspired in Claudel’s 18th year by a double revelation: the discovery of Rimbaud’s Illuminations and his sudden conversion to Roman Catholicism.

Claudel reached his largest audience through his Symbolist plays—works that powerfully synthesized all theatrical elements to evoke a unified mood, atmosphere, and leitmotif. He reorchestrates his themes, expressed by a few symbolic types, again and again. His heroes are men of action—generals, conquerors, born masters of the earth. La Ville (published 1890), L’Echange (written 1893), and Le Repos du septième jour (written 1896) all portray heroes burning with all the lusts of the flesh: pride, greed, ambition, violence, and passion. But Claudel moves beyond man’s appetites along a firm path to redemption.

In 1900 Claudel underwent a religious crisis and decided to abandon his artistic and diplomatic career and enter a Benedictine monastery. Discouraged by the Order and deeply disappointed, he left France to take up a consular post in China. On shipboard he met a married Polish woman with whom he shared an adulterous love for the next four years, after which time it was mutually renounced.

Although Claudel married a French woman in 1906, this episode of forbidden love became a major myth of his subsequent works beginning with Partage de midi (published 1906). In this searching, autobiographical work, Claudel appears torn between human and divine love. The conflict is resolved in L’Annonce faite à Marie (1912; Tidings brought to Mary, 1916), a medieval mystery in tone, in which Claudel expounds on woman’s place in God’s scheme. Woman, the daughter of Eve, temptress and source of evil, is also the child of Mary, the initiator of man’s search for salvation: such is the Doña Prouhèze of Le Soulier de satin (written 1924; The Satin Slipper, 1931), Claudel’s masterpiece. The stage is the Spanish Catholic world of the Renaissance; it reaches through Columbus, the Jesuits, and the conquistadors to the very ends of the earth. This huge tapestry is the story of the pursuit of the unattainable (because she is married) Doña Prouhèze by the adventurer Rodrigue, who is the characteristic worldly, passionate, and predatory Claudelian hero. The couple rejects sexual fulfillment and accepts the ultimate sacrifice: death for Prouhèze, enslavement for Rodrigue; thus, they reach the spiritual consummation of their union.

Claudel’s other dramatic works include the historical trilogy L’Otage (published 1911), Le Pain dur (1918), and Le Père humilié (written 1916, published 1920). Set in the time of the French Revolution, it portrays faith humiliated in the person of the pope. He also wrote Le Livre de Christophe Colomb (published 1933), with music by Darius Milhaud, and the oratorio Jeanne d’arc (performed 1938), with music by Arthur Honegger.

His best-known and most impressive lyrical works are the ambitious, confessional Cinq grandes odes (1910). Later volumes, which consist of poems written at various times, lack the symbolic unity that holds the odes together. He very early adopted a long, unscanned, usually unrhymed line that came to be known as the verset claudélien, which is his unique contribution to French prosody.

 




Valéry

The life and work of Paul Valéry, the philosopher-poet, extended from the fall of the Second Empire to the end of World War II, and for European intellectuals he became, even more than Anatole France, the archetypal exponent and proponent of the French mind. His poetry is an exploration and celebration of the operations of consciousness, the skills of the trained poet, and the drama of the creative intellect, overseeing the interplay of sensations, memory, imagination, and, most of all, the ordering and analytic faculty of reason. The principles of a creative process that is not only a work of abstraction but also a coproduction of body, landscape, and mind are theorized in “La Soirée avec Monsieur Teste” (1896; “An Evening with Monsieur Teste,” appearing in English translation in Monsieur Teste) and in the dialogues of the early 1920s on architecture and dance. They are turned into poetry in such admirable and well-known works as La Jeune Parque (1917; “The Young Fate,” published in French-English edition as La Jeune Parque) and Le Cimetière marin (1920; published in French-English edition as Le Cimetière marin / The Graveyard by the Sea), which looks out for inspiration to the blue horizon of the Mediterranean. The Graveyard by the Sea first appeared in book form in the important collection Charmes (1922; “Charms”). Throughout his career, Valéry also wrote and worked tirelessly to argue for a wider public the importance of the European inheritance, cradled in the Mediterranean and flowering in the Enlightenment. Poetry, philosophy, and the politics of the global market came together in his thinking to produce such essays as La Crise de l’esprit (1919; “The Crisis of the Spirit”), bringing together ideas he promulgated not only in his writing but also in active involvement in the cultural committees of the League of Nations.
 


Paul Valéry




 

in full Ambroise-Paul-Toussaint-Jules Valéry

born Oct. 30, 1871, Sète, Fr.
died July 20, 1945, Paris


French poet, essayist, and critic. His greatest poem is considered La Jeune Parque (1917; “The Young Fate”), which was followed by Album de vers anciens 1890–1900 (1920) and Charmes ou poèmes (1922), containing “Le Cimetière marin” (“The Graveyard by the Sea”). He later wrote a large number of essays and occasional papers on literary topics and took a great interest in scientific discoveries and in political problems.

Valéry was born at a small Mediterranean port where his father was a customs officer. He was educated at Montpellier, where he studied law and cultivated his interest in poetry and architecture. He was a diffident youth, and his few friends at this time were Gustave Fourment, who became a professor of philosophy, and the writers Pierre Louÿs and André Gide. His early literary idols were Edgar Allan Poe, J.-K. Huysmans, and Stéphane Mallarmé, to whom he was introduced in 1891 and whose artistic circle he came to frequent regularly.

Valéry wrote many poems between 1888 and 1891, a few of which were published in magazines of the Symbolist movement and favourably reviewed, but artistic frustration and despair over an unrequited love affair prompted him in 1892 to renounce all emotional preoccupations and to dedicate himself to the “Idol of the Intellect.” He disposed of most of his books, and from 1894 until the end of his life he would rise at dawn each day, meditate for several hours on scientific method, consciousness, and the nature of language, and record his thoughts and aphorisms in his notebooks, which were later to be published as the famous Cahiers. Valéry’s new-found ideals were Leonardo da Vinci (“Introduction à la méthode de Léonard de Vinci” [1895]), his paradigm of the Universal Man, and his own creation, “Monsieur Teste” (Mr. Head), an almost disembodied intellect who knows but two values, the possible and the impossible (“La Soirée avec Monsieur Teste” [1896]).

From 1897 to 1900, Valéry worked as a civil servant in the French War Office; from 1900—the year of his marriage to a close friend of Mallarmé’s daughter—until 1922, he was private secretary to Edouard Lebey, director of the French press association. Valéry’s main daily duty was to read out the chief events from the newspapers and the Paris Stock Exchange to the director, and he thereby became a well-informed commentator on current affairs.

Pressed by Gide in 1912 to revise some of his early writings for publication, Valéry began work on what was intended to be a valedictory poem to the collection La Jeune Parque, centred on the awakening of consciousness in the youngest of the three ancient “Parques,” or “Fates,” which traditionally symbolized the three stages of human life. He became so engrossed in the technical problems it presented that he took five years to complete the long symbolic work. When finally published in 1917, it brought him immediate fame. His reputation as the most outstanding French poet of his time was quickly consolidated with Album de vers anciens, 1890–1900 and Charmes ou poèmes, a collection that includes his famous meditation on death in the cemetery at Sète (where he now lies buried).

Valéry’s most idiosyncratic works are all variations on the theme of the tension within the human consciousness between the desire for contemplation and the will to action: in “Introduction à la méthode de Léonard de Vinci” and repeatedly in his notebooks, he contrasts the infinite potentialities of mind with the inevitable imperfections of action; in La Jeune Parque, he shows a young Fate by the sea at dawn, uncertain whether to remain a serene immortal or to choose the pains and pleasures of human life; in “Le Cimetière marin” he broods by the sea at noon on Being and Not-Being, on the living and the dead; his many letters regularly complain of the conflict in his own life between the dictates of public life and his desire for solitude.

Valéry wrote no more poetry of consequence after 1922, but his place as a major writer was secure. Though his fame was first established, and still largely rests, on his poetic achievements, and though he devoted considerable attention to the problems of writing poetry, he consistently claimed that poetry in itself did not much interest him, and that literary composition, like mathematics and the sciences, served him only as mirrors to the workings of his own mind. His essays and prefaces, more often than not written quickly to order, were the fruits of his regular meditations and reveal his interest in a remarkably wide variety of subjects: writers and writing, philosophers and language, painters, dancing, architecture, and the fine arts are all reexamined with refreshing vigour. He retained an abiding interest in education, politics, and cultural values, and two remarkably prescient youthful essays on the Sino-Japanese conflict (“Le Yalou,” written 1895) and the threat of German aggression (“La Conquête allemande,” 1897) reveal the same anxious awareness of the forces menacing Western civilization as his very last public lecture on Voltaire (delivered in 1944).

After the death of Lebey in 1922, the formerly retiring Valéry became a prominent public personage. His erudition, courtesy, and dazzling conversational gifts made him a much sought-after society figure, and he was as much at ease in the company of the foremost international writers and scientists of the day as with generals and heads of state. Valéry was greatly interested in the state of modern physics and mathematics, and through extensive reading and, often, personal acquaintances he became well versed in the work of such scientists and mathematicians as Maurice, duc de Broglie, Bernhard Riemann, Michael Faraday, Albert Einstein, and James Clerk Maxwell. He made lecture tours all over Europe and delivered speeches on a number of national occasions. He was elected to the Académie Française in 1925, was made administrative head of the Centre Universitaire Méditerranéen at Nice in 1933, and became professor of poetry, a chair created especially for him, at the Collège de France in 1937. On his death, he was given a full state funeral.

Though he made much of his preoccupation with intellectual problems and incurred the particular displeasure of the Surrealists for his scathing attacks on poetic inspiration, there is ample evidence in Valéry’s work that he remained all his life keenly responsive to the pleasures of the senses: the voluptuousness of his female nude studies (“Luxurieuse au bain,” “La Dormeuse,” and the picture of Eve in “Ébauche d’un serpent”), the warmth with which he writes of the lovers’ embrace (“Le Cimetière marin,” “Fragments du Narcisse,” “La Fausse Morte”) or of the sun, sky, and sea, which he had loved since his Mediterranean childhood—all show that he must not be too closely identified with his arid Monsieur Teste. The distinctive feature of his prose and poetry, even when he is dealing with the most abstract of subjects, is sensuousness; his prose is aphoristic and graceful, his poetry rich in natural images and allusions, always classical in form, and, at its best, as sinewy, subtly rhythmical, and melodious as the very best verse of the great dramatist Jean Racine or the Symbolist poet Paul Verlaine.

Robert Donald Davidson Gibson
 


 

The impact of World War I War novels and poetry

The liberal confidence displayed in the pages of the Nouvelle Revue Française was bolstered at the start of World War I by nationalist euphoria among a public kept in ignorance by official propaganda. But it found its nemesis in the horrors of modern scientific warfare as ordinary soldiers from the trenches finally found their own voice of protest. Novels about war, such as Le Feu (1916; Under Fire), written by Henri Barbusse, a leading member of the French Communist Party—whose revolutionary movement and review Clarté, founded in 1919, advocated pacifism and popular power—were relatively few in number, but their success was enormous. Guillaume Apollinaire’s war poems, Calligrammes (1918; Calligrammes: Poems of Peace and War), with their unforgettable images of darkness, gas, and blinding rain, provided new forms to represent the dislocation of the European landscape and its human subjects. This was a black counterpart to the other kinds of dislocation Apollinaire had recorded in the context of the modern metropolis and its exciting new energies (as, for instance, in “Zone,” in Alcools [1913; Eng. trans. Alcools]).
 


Henri Barbusse


born May 17, 1873, Asnières, Fr.
died Aug. 30, 1935, Moscow


novelist, author of Le Feu (1916; Under Fire, 1917), a firsthand witness of the life of French soldiers in World War I. Barbusse belongs to an important lineage of French war writers who span the period 1910 to 1939, mingling war memories with moral and political meditations.

Barbusse started as a neo-Symbolist poet, with Pleureuses (1895; “Mourners”), and continued as a neo-Naturalist novelist, with L’Enfer (1908; The Inferno, 1918). In 1914 he volunteered for the infantry, was twice cited for gallantry, and finally was discharged because of his wounds in 1917. Barbusse’s Le Feu; journal d’une escouade, awarded the Prix Goncourt, is one of the few works to survive the proliferation of wartime novels. Its subtitle, Story of a Squad, reveals the author’s double purpose: to relate the collective experience of the poilus’s (French soldiers’) life in the trenches and to denounce war. The horror of bloodshed and destruction led Barbusse to an indictment of society as a whole. He became a pacifist, then a militant Communist and a member of international peace organizations. After Clarté (1919; Light, 1919), his literary production acquired a definite political orientation. His last work, Staline (1935; Eng. trans., 1935), was partly written in the Soviet Union, where he was living at the time of his death.
 

 

 


Guillaume Apollinaire







French poet
pseudonym of Guillelmus (or Wilhelm) Apollinaris de Kostrowitzki

born August 26, 1880, Rome?, Italy
died November 9, 1918, Paris, France

Main
poet who in his short life took part in all the avant-garde movements that flourished in French literary and artistic circles at the beginning of the 20th century and who helped to direct poetry into unexplored channels.


Muse Inspiring the Poet.
Portrait of Apollinaire and Marie Laurencin,
by Henri Rousseau, 1909


The son of a Polish émigrée and an Italian officer, he kept his origins secret. Left more or less to himself, he went at the age of 20 to Paris, where he led a bohemian life. Several months spent in Germany in 1901 had a profound effect on him and helped to awaken him to his poetic vocation. He fell under the spell of the Rhineland and later recaptured the beauty of its forests and its legends in his poetry. He fell in love with a young Englishwoman, whom he pursued, unsuccessfully, as far as London; his romantic disappointment inspired him to write his famous Chanson du mal-aimé (“Song of the Poorly Loved”).

After his return to Paris, Apollinaire became well known as a writer and a fixture of the cafés patronized by literary men. He also made friends with some young painters who were to become famous—Maurice de Vlaminck, André Derain, Raoul Dufy, and Pablo Picasso. He introduced his contemporaries to Henri Rousseau’s paintings and to African sculpture; and with Picasso, he applied himself to the task of defining the principles of a Cubist aesthetic in literature as well as painting. His Peintures cubistes appeared in 1913 (Cubist Painters, 1944).

His first volume, L’Enchanteur pourrissant (1909; “The Rotting Magician”), is a strange dialogue in poetic prose between the magician Merlin and the nymph Viviane. In the following year a collection of vivid stories, some whimsical and some wildly fantastic, appeared under the title L’Hérésiarque et Cie (1910; “The Heresiarch and Co.”). Then came Le Bestiaire (1911), in mannered quatrains. But his poetic masterpiece was Alcools (1913; Eng. trans., 1964). In these poems he relived all his experiences and expressed them sometimes in alexandrines and regular stanzas, sometimes in short unrhymed lines, and always without punctuation.

In 1914 Apollinaire enlisted, became a second lieutenant in the infantry, and received a head wound in 1916. Discharged, he returned to Paris and published a symbolic story, Le Poète assassiné (1916; The Poet Assassinated, 1923), and more significantly, a new collection of poems, Calligrammes (1918), dominated by images of war and his obsession with a new love affair. Weakened by war wounds, he died of Spanish influenza.

His play Les Mamelles de Tirésias was staged the year before he died (1917). He called it surrealist, believed to be the first use of the term. Francis Poulenc turned the play into a light opera (first produced in 1947).

In his poetry Apollinaire made daring, even outrageous, technical experiments. His calligrammes, thanks to an ingenious typographical arrangement, are images as well as poems. More generally, Apollinaire set out to create an effect of surprise or even astonishment by means of unusual verbal associations, and, because of this, he can be considered a forebear of Surrealism.
 




The avant-garde

These dislocations and disruptions were the dynamic that generated a violent and vigorous resurgence of the avant-garde, attacking the bourgeois rationalist certainties they held responsible for Europe’s decay. Tristan Tzara’s Dada movement, founded in Zürich in 1916, joined forces with the writers clustering round the review Littérature (André Breton, Philippe Soupault, Louis Aragon, Paul Éluard, and, later, René Char) in Paris in 1920. Breton’s Manifeste du surréalisme (“Surrealist Manifesto”) appeared in 1924. Literature and revolution were joined in an explosion of nihilistic gesture, black humour, and outrageous erotic transgression, engendering new forms of perception and expression. Like Sigmund Freud, Surrealists studied fantasy and desire, attempting to follow in poetic form Freud’s insights into dream processes while also invoking (with varying enthusiasm and effect) the revolutionary banner of Karl Marx. Breton and Soupault together published their écriture automatique (“automatic writing”) and looked to the visual media (film and Cubist painting and photography) as much as to language for contemporary images.

The early 1920s were a brilliant period, during which the cosmopolitanism of reviews such as Commerce (1924–32), directed by Valéry, Larbaud, and the poet Léon-Paul Fargue and including texts from many countries, was a conscious attempt to overcome the rifts created in Europe by the war. Paris again became a pole of attraction for European intellectuals, not least the Anglo-Irish and Anglo-American high priests of modernism: James Joyce, T.S. Eliot, and William Carlos Williams. Joyce’s Ulysses, first published in Paris, demonstrates the mutual profitability of Anglo-French exchange. Indebted to the interior monologue form developed by the poet and novelist Édouard Dujardin, it influenced in its turn Larbaud’s Amants, heureux amants (1923; “Lovers, Happy Lovers”).
 


André Breton

"Manifesto of Surrealism"
"What is Surrealism?"
"Second  Manifesto  of Surrealism"



born Feb. 18, 1896, Tinchebray, France
died Sept. 28, 1966, Paris

French poet, essayist, critic, and editor, chief promoter and one of the founders of the Surrealist movement.

As a medical student, Breton was interested in mental illness; his reading of the works of Sigmund Freud (whom he met in 1921) introduced him to the concept of the unconscious. Influenced by psychiatry and Symbolist poetry, he joined the Dadaists. In 1919 with Louis Aragon and Philippe Soupault, he cofounded the review Littérature; in its pages, Breton and Soupault published “Les Champs magnétiques” (1920; “Magnetic Fields”), the first example of the Surrealist technique of automatic writing. In 1924 Breton’s Manifeste du surréalisme defined Surrealism as “pure psychic automatism, by which it is intended to express . . . the real process of thought. It is the dictation of thought, free from any control by the reason and of any aesthetic or moral preoccupation.” Surrealism aimed to eliminate the distinction between dream and reality, reason and madness, objectivity and subjectivity. Breton’s novel Nadja (1928) merged everyday occurrences with psychological aberrations. L’Immaculée Conception (1930), written with Paul Éluard, attempted to convey a verbal impression of different types of mental disorder. Les Vases communicants (1932; “The Communicating Vessels”) and L’Amour fou (1937; “Mad Love”) explored the connection between dream and reality. Breton also wrote theoretical and critical works, including Les Pas perdus (1924; “The Lost Steps”), Légitime Défense (1926; “Legitimate Defense”), Le Surréalisme et le peinture (1926; “Surrealism and Painting”), Qu’est-ce que le surréalisme? (1934; What is Surrealism?), and La Clé des champs (1953; “The Key to the Fields”).



Andre Breton
Poem-Object
1941

 

The Surrealist movement eventually became politically involved in the ferment of the 1930s, and Breton and several colleagues joined the Communist Party. His second Surrealist manifesto, published in 1930, explored the philosophical implications of Surrealism. Breton broke with the Communist Party in 1935 but remained committed to Marxist ideals. During the German occupation of France, Breton escaped to the United States. In 1942 at Yale University he organized a Surrealist exposition and issued yet another Surrealist manifesto. In 1946 Breton returned to France, where, the following year, he produced another Surrealist exhibition. His Poèmes appeared in 1948 in Paris, and Selected Poems was published in London in 1969.
 

 

 


Louis Aragon



 

born Oct. 3, 1897, Paris, France
died Dec. 24, 1982, Paris

original name Louis Andrieux French poet, novelist, and essayist who was a political activist and spokesman for communism.

Through the Surrealist poet André Breton, Aragon was introduced to avant-garde movements such as Dadaism; and together with Philippe Soupault, he and Bretonfounded the Surrealist review Littérature (1919). Aragon's first poems, Feu de joie (1920; “Bonfire”) and Le Mouve mentperpétuel (1925; “Perpetual Motion”), were followed by a novel, Le Paysan de Paris (1926; The Nightwalker). In 1927 his search for an ideology led him to the French Communist Party, with which he was identified thereafter, as he came to exercise a continuing authority over its literary and artistic expression. In 1928 he met Elsa Triolet (the Russian-born sister-in-law of the poet Vladimir Mayakovsky), who became his wife and his inspiration (she died in 1970).

In 1930 Aragon visited the Soviet Union, and in 1933 his political commitment to communism resulted in a break with the Surrealists. The four volumes of his long novel series, Le Monde réel (1933–44; “The Real World”), describe in historical perspective the class struggle of the proletariat toward social revolution. Aragon continued to employ Socialist Realism in another long novel, Les Communistes (6 vol., 1949–51), a bleak chronicle of the party from 1939 to 1940. His next three novels—La Semaine sainte (1958; Holy Week), La Mise à mort (1965; “The Moment of Truth”), and Blanche ou l'oubli (1967; “Blanche, or Forgetfulness”)—became a veiled autobiography, laced withpleas for the Communist Party. They reflected the newer novelistic techniques of the day.

The poems of Le Crève-Coeur (1941; “Heartbreak”) and La Diane française (1945) express Aragon's ardent patriotism, and those of Les Yeux d'Elsa (1942; “Elsa's Eyes”) and Le foud'Elsa (1963; “Elsa's Madman”) contain deep sentiments of love for his wife. From 1953 to 1972 Aragon was editor of the communist cultural weekly Les Lettres Françaises. He was made a member of the French Legion of Honour in 1981.

 

 


Paul Éluard



Portrait of Paul Eluard by Salvador Dali, 1929
 

pseudonym of Eugène Grindel

born Dec. 14, 1895, Saint-Denis, Paris, Fr.
died Nov. 18, 1952, Charenton-le-Pont


French poet, one of the founders of the Surrealist movement and one of the important lyrical poets of the 20th century.

In 1919 Éluard made the acquaintance of the Surrealist poets André Breton, Philippe Soupault, and Louis Aragon, with whom he remained in close association until 1938. Experiments with new verbal techniques, theories on the relation between dream and reality, and the free expression of thought processes produced Capitale de la douleur (1926; “Capital of Sorrow ”), his first important work, which was followed by La Rose publique (1934; “The Public Rose”) and Les Yeux fertiles (1936; “The Fertile Eyes”). The poems in these volumes are generally considered the best to have come out of the Surrealist movement. At this time Éluard also explored, with André Breton, the paths of mental disorders in L’Immaculée Conception (1930).

After the Spanish Civil War Éluard abandoned Surrealist experimentations. His late work reflects his political militance and a deepening of his underlying attitudes: the rejection of tyranny, the search for happiness. In 1942 he joined the Communist Party. His poems dealing with the sufferings and brotherhood of man, Poésie et vérité (1942; “Poetry and Truth”), Au rendez-vous allemand (1944; “To the German Rendezvous”), and Dignes de vivre (1944; “Worthy of Living”), were circulated clandestinely during World War II and served to strengthen the morale of the Resistance. After the war his Tout dire (1951; “Say Everything”) and Le Phénix (1951) added, in simple language and vivid imagery, to the great body of French popular lyrical poetry.





 

 

 


Édouard Dujardin




Édouard Dujardin (November 10, 1861–October 31, 1949) was a French writer, one of the early users of the stream of consciousness literary technique, exemplified by his 1888 novel Les Lauriers sont coupés.

 

Édouard Émile Louis Dujardin was born in Saint-Gervais-la-Forêt, Loir-et-Cher, and was the only child of Alphonse Dujardin, a sea captain.

Dujardin became editor of the journal Revue Indépendente during 1886, and it was in this journal that his first works were published. His association with this journal resulted in it being termed an "important voice for the symbolists" (Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center 2004).

When his parents died, Dujardin was the sole heir of their fortune, and he used some of this money to finance the plays Antonia during 1891 and Le Chevalier Du Passé during 1882.

His literary works are extensive and include numerous plays, poems and novels. Dujardin also produced works of literary and social criticism and reminiscence. James Joyce claimed his style of interior monologue owed its influence to works by Dujardin. He continued his involvement with journalism throughout his life and this resulted in numerous disputes with authorities, including charges of treason, though he was never convicted.

Dujardin had expensive and lavish tastes for clothing which was deemed "dandyish" for his time, and was known to frequent Parisian night life. His many dalliances with females were noted and he had had numerous relationships with actresses, models and other glamorous women. Dujardin was also known to have many female friends involved in the arts and he supported some of them financially.

His frivolous lifestyle eventually reduced his finances so he began numerous financial ventures, including gambling and real estate. He also offered his services to periodicals for marketing and advertising campaigns. It was here that the police noticed an article compiled by Dujardin which resulted in a jail sentence, though it was later remitted.

During 1885 Dujardin and Téodor de Wyzewa[1] initiated the Revue Wagnérienne, imitating Félix Fénéon and his Revue Indépendante which had first been published the year before. During 1886 Dujardin and Fénéon joined forces under the banner of a new improved Revue Indépendante. One of the innovations at this time was that the Revue started having small exhibitions in its rooms.

Dujardin married a woman named Germaine during 1893 and they later separated during 1901. They did not divorce until 1924 when he married Marie Chenou, a woman thirty years his junior. He fathered two children, lived a peaceful life during his old age and died aged 88 years old on October 31, 1949.





Colette

Not all French writers shared the Surrealist impulse to revolt. The 1920s saw a withdrawal into various forms of escapism: a cult of travel writing, for example, exemplified by Paul Morand, and an interest in the regional novel, continuing well into the 1930s, in which a refusal of the stresses of urbanization was expressed as a nostalgic poeticization of the relationship of the peasant with the land (as in the works of André Chamson, Charles-Ferdinand Ramuz, and Jean Giono). It was also in the 1920s that Colette, who had already made her name in the first years of the century with her highly popular Claudine novels, began to establish herself as a serious writer, with Chéri (1920; Eng. trans. Chéri) and Le Blé en herbe (1923; Ripening Seed). In the 1930s she produced autobiographical writings, including autobiographical fictions that, almost uniquely, provided a female perspective on feminine experience in a male-centred age. Le Pur et l’impur (1932; The Pure and the Impure), published with little success in 1932 as Ces Plaisirs (“These Pleasures”), is one of the first major women’s texts to be centred on lesbian themes.
 


Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette





From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


Colette was the surname of the French novelist Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette (28 January 1873 – 3 August 1954). She is best known for her novel Gigi (upon which the stage and film musical comedies by Lerner & Loewe, of the same title, were based).

Colette was born in Saint-Sauveur-en-Puisaye, Yonne, in the Burgundy Region of France, the daughter of Jules-Joseph Colette and Adèle Eugénie Sidonie Landoy ("Sido"). In 1893 she married Henri Gauthier-Villars, a famous bisexual wit known as "Willy", who was 15 years her senior.

Her first books, the Claudine series, were published under the pen name of her husband, "Willy", writer, music critic, "literary charlatan and degenerate",. Claudine still has the power to charm; in belle epoque France it was downright shocking, much to Willy's satisfaction and profit.

 

Music hall career, affairs with women




Colette in a publicity still for Rêve d'Égypte


In 1906 she left the unfaithful Gauthier-Villars, living for a time at the home of the American writer and salonist Natalie Barney. The two had a short affair, and remained friends until Colette's death. She was also, according to author Jean-Claude Baker’s book Josephine: The Hungry Heart, involved for some time with actress Josephine Baker.

Colette took up work in the music halls of Paris, under the wing of Mathilde de Morny, the Marquise de Belbeuf, known as Missy, with whom she became romantically involved. In 1907, the two performed together in a pantomime entitled Rêve d'Égypte at the Moulin Rouge. Their onstage kiss nearly caused a riot, which the police were called in to suppress. As a result of this scandal, further performances of Rêve d'Égypte were banned and Colette and de Morny were no longer able to openly live together, though their relationship continued a total of five years. She also was involved in a heterosexual relationship during this time, with the Italian writer Gabriele D'Annunzio. Another affair during this period was with the automobile-empire scion, Auguste Herriot.

 

Second marriage, affair with stepson

In 1912 Colette married Henri de Jouvenel, the editor of the newspaper Le Matin. The couple had one daughter, Colette de Jouvenel, known to the family as Bel-Gazou. Colette de Jouvenel later stated that her mother did not want a child and left her in the care of an English nanny, only rarely coming to visit her.

In 1914, during World War I, Colette was approached to write a ballet for the Opéra de Paris which she outlined under the title "Divertissements pour ma fille". After Colette herself chose Maurice Ravel to write the music, he reimagined the work as an opera, to which Colette agreed. Ravel received the libretto to L'Enfant et les sortilèges in 1918, and it was first performed on 21 March 1925.

During the war she converted her husband's St. Malo estate into a hospital for the wounded, and was made a Chevalier of the Legion of Honour (1920). She divorced Henri de Jouvenel in 1924 after a much talked-about affair with her stepson, Bertrand de Jouvenel.



Third marriage

In 1935, Colette married Maurice Goudeket, an uncle of Juliet Goudeket alias Jetta Goudal[5]. After 1935 her legal name was simply Sidonie Goudeket. Maurice Goudeket published a book about his wife, Close to Colette: An Intimate Portrait of a Woman of Genius. An English translation was published in 1957 by Farrar, Straus & Cudahy, New York.

 

Continued writings

Post-war, her writing career bloomed following the publication of Chéri (1920). Chéri tells a story of the end of a six-year affair between an aging retired courtesan, Léa, and a pampered young man, Chéri. Turning stereotypes upside-down, it is Chéri who wears silk pajamas and Léa's pearls, and who is the object of gaze. And in the end Léa demonstrates all the survival skills which Colette associates with femininity. (The story continued in La Fin de Chéri (1926), which contrasts Léa's strength and Chéri's fragility and decline).

After Chéri, Colette entered the world of modern poetry and paintings revolving around Jean Cocteau, who was later her neighbor in Jardins du Palais-Royal. Their relationship and life is vividly depicted in their books. By 1927 she was frequently acclaimed as France's greatest woman writer. "It ... has no plot, and yet tells of three lives all that should be known", wrote Janet Flanner of Sido on its publication in 1930. "Once again, and at greater length than usual, she has been hailed for her genius, humanities and perfect prose by those literary journals which years ago ... lifted nothing at all in her direction except the finger of scorn."

She published around 50 novels in total, many with autobiographical elements. Her themes can be roughly divided into idyllic natural tales or dark struggles in relationships and love. All her novels were marked by clever observation and dialogue with an intimate, explicit style. Her most popular novel, Gigi, was made into a Broadway play and a highly successful Hollywood motion picture, Gigi, starring Maurice Chevalier, Louis Jourdan and Leslie Caron.
 





Political commitment

From the mid-1920s onward, the pressure of international economic competition and the growing self-awareness and organization of the working class, accompanied by the increasing elaboration and spread of the polarized ideologies of communism and fascism, often polarized writers as well. Julien Benda’s plea for intellectual detachment, La Trahison des clercs (1927; The Great Betrayal), caused a stir but sharpened divisions. Adolf Hitler’s accession to power in Germany in 1933 increased the possibility of a fascist Europe, the stability of the Third Republic was undermined by economic depression, and the Stavisky affair (1933–34) led to charges of widespread corruption in the parliamentary regime. By the time the Spanish Civil War broke out in 1936, the battle lines were drawn between the right-wing “patriotic” leagues and the Front Populaire (Popular Front), the left-wing alliance, led by Léon Blum, that came to power in 1936 and ended the following year. Many writers joined the fray.





Politics in the novel


Céline and Drieu

The novels of Louis-Ferdinand Céline, notably Voyage au bout de la nuit (1932; Journey to the End of the Night) and Mort à credit (1936; Death on the Installment Plan), were radically experimental in form and language. They give a dark account of the machinery of repressive authoritarianism and the operations of capitalist ambition in war and peace, and across continents. With hindsight, Céline’s novels can be seen as portraying the preparation of the common man of Europe for fascism, and, though not originally designed as such, they were read for a long time in that light—especially as Céline himself published anti-Semitic pamphlets, Bagatelles pour un massacre (1937; “Trifles for a Massacre”) and L’École des cadavres (1938; “School for Corpses”). During World War II he was an active collaborator with the Nazis.

But it fell to another future collaborator, Pierre-Eugène Drieu La Rochelle, himself converted to fascism, to write expressly in Gilles (1939) the archetypal itinerary of the young French fascist, from defeat in the trenches of World War I, through failure and despair in the 1920s, to the decision to help overthrow the elected Republican government in Spain. Drieu’s example was followed by younger men, such as Robert Brasillach, author of Notre Avant-guerre (1941; “Our Prewar”), and Lucien Rebatet, who, like Brasillach, contributed during the Occupation to the virulently anti-Semitic newspaper Je Suis Partout.
 


Louis-Ferdinand Céline




 

born May 27, 1894, Courbevoie, near Paris, France
died July 1, 1961, Meudon

French writer and physician who, while admired for his talent, is better known for his anti-Semitism and misanthropy.

Céline received his medical degree in 1924 and traveled extensively on medical missions for the League of Nations. In 1928 he opened a practice in a suburb of Paris, writing in his spare time. He became famous with his first novel, Voyage au bout de la nuit (1932; Journey to the End of Night), the story of a man’s tortured and hopeless search for meaning, written in a vehement and disjointed style that marked its author as a major innovator of 20th-century French literature. There followed Mort à crédit (1936; Death on the Installment Plan), a similarly bleak portrayal of a world bereft of value, beauty, and decency.

Though a favourite of the left wing, Céline was disenchanted by a visit to the Soviet Union and said so in Mea Culpa (1937). He later developed fanatically anti-Semitic sentiments, expressed in three notorious pamphlets: Bagatelles pour un massacre (1937; “Trifles for a Massacre”), L’École des cadavres (1938; “School for Corpses”), and Les Beaux Draps (1941; “The Fine Mess”). These works also attacked the French.

At the outbreak of World War II, Céline enlisted in the ambulance service, but after the fall of France in 1940 he rejected both collaboration and resistance and returned instead to work at a dispensary at Bezons. Fearing that he would be charged with collaboration, he fled during the Allied liberation of France to Denmark via Germany, which was then undergoing the height of the Allied bombing campaigns. In Denmark he was imprisoned for more than a year after French officials charged him with collaboration and demanded his extradition. He returned to France in 1951 after a military tribunal in Paris granted him amnesty. On his return, he resumed the practice of medicine and continued to write. His last works, a trilogy composed of D’un Château l’autre (1957; Castle to Castle), Nord (1960; North), and Rigodon (1969; Rigadoon), depict World War II as seen from within Germany; they are viewed by some critics as equal in power and style to his two celebrated early novels. Other works include Guignol’s Band (1944), Casse Pipe (1949; “Shooting Gallery”), and Entretiens avec le Professeur Y (1955; “Conversations with Professor Y”).

During the 1930s Céline enjoyed a high reputation, but it diminished during and after the war years because of his increasingly vicious and hysterical misanthropy. The relentless despair, amorality, rage, and eroticism of his works continue to disturb some critics, who object to his underlying viewpoint even when they praise his apocalyptic lyricism. Other critics find a paradoxical humanism in Céline’s agonized rhetoric and interpret his ravings as a revolt against the world’s intolerable evil.

 

 


Pierre-Eugène Drieu La Rochelle



 

born Jan. 3, 1893, Paris, France
died March 16, 1945, Paris

French writer of novels, short stories, and political essays whose life and works illustrate the malaise common among European youth after World War I.

Drieu, the brilliant son of a middle-class family, attended the École des Sciences Politiques with the intention of entering diplomatic service. His plans, however, were interrupted by World War I, in which he fought and was wounded. Like many others of his generation, he emerged from the war disillusioned, and he began a lifelong search for a sound moral and philosophical approach to life. He briefly became involved in the Surrealist movement. Characteristic novels of this period include his first novel, L’Homme couvert de femmes (1925; “The Man Covered With Women”), and Le Feu follet (1931; The Fire Within, or Will o’ the Wisp; filmed by Louis Malle in 1963). Le Feu follet is the story of the last hours in the life of a young bourgeois Parisian addict who kills himself. In one fashion or another, the subject of decadence and the general loss of moral fibre in postwar French society was to remain a subject of major concern throughout his life.

His later works include La Comédie de Charleroi (1934; The Comedy of Charleroi and Other Stories), a memoir of the war; Rêveuse bourgeoisie (1937; “Dreamworld Bourgeoisie”); and, perhaps his best known novel, Gilles (1939). Having worked through several political ideologies, Drieu eventually settled on fascism. He collaborated with the Vichy government during World War II, and, shortly after the liberation of France, he committed suicide. His Récit secret (1961; Secret Journal and Other Writings) and Mémoires de Dirk Raspe (1966) were among a number of his works that were published posthumously.
 



Malraux, Gide, and others

On the political left, Joseph Stalin’s decision to end the policy of hostility toward the Socialist Party and to encourage party activists to work for the formation of popular fronts brought many writers into or close to the Communist Party. Newspapers such as Commune, which advocated that literature should serve the cause of working-class liberation, were influential. André Gide’s adherence to and defection from communism, depicted in Retour de l’U.R.S.S. (1936; Back from the U.S.S.R.), were widely discussed.

The books of Paul Nizan, Jean-Paul Sartre’s tutor and mentor, who had joined the Communist Party, explore in the forms of Socialist Realism the tensions and temptations of changing class loyalties; perhaps the best-known example is Antoine Bloyé (1933; Eng. trans. Antoine Bloyé). Louis Aragon, at loggerheads with his Surrealist colleagues for his espousal of Socialist Realism, published his own account of society’s move from capitalism to more-emancipated systems (Les Cloches de Bâle [1934; “The Bells of Bâle”]). But most eagerly read were the novels of André Malraux, vigorous dramatizations of the heroism and glamour of revolutionary fraternity. La Condition humaine (1933; Man’s Fate) depicts the communist uprising in Shanghai in 1927, while L’Espoir (1937; Man’s Hope) is a lyrical and epic account of the Spanish Civil War, evoking the passionate contemporary debates among revolutionary factions about the best way to fight for the revolutionary ideal.

A few isolated writers dealt with political struggles outside the European arena. Colonialism had been denounced by Gide in his Voyage au Congo (1927; “Voyage to the Congo”) and Retour du Tchad (1928; “Return to Chad”; trans. jointly as Travels in the Congo) and had been attacked by Nizan in Aden Arabie (1931; Eng. trans. Aden Arabie). Henry de Montherlant’s L’Histoire d’amour de la rose de sable (written in 1932 although not published until 1954; Desert Love) offers another critique, using as its vehicle the figure of a nationalist officer who loses his belief in French rule over Morocco. In the late 1930s Albert Camus, still in his native Algeria working in the theatre and as a reporter on Alger-Républicain, was starting to make his voice heard.
 


André Malraux


born Nov. 3, 1901, Paris, France
died Nov. 23, 1976, Paris


French novelist, art historian, and statesman, who became an active supporter of General Charles de Gaulle and, after de Gaulle was elected president in 1958, served for 10 years as France’s minister of cultural affairs. His major works include the novel La Condition humaine (1933; Man’s Fate); Les Voix du silence (1951; The Voices of Silence), a history and philosophy of world art; and Le Musée imaginaire de la sculpture mondiale (1952–54; Museum Without Walls).

Life
Malraux was born into a well-to-do family. The details of his early life and education are obscure, however. At the age of 21 he left France in search of a Khmer temple of whose discovery he had read in an archaeological bulletin. Plunging into the Cambodian forest, he reached the temple, which was not then being considered for restoration. He had some bas-reliefs removed from it and took them back to Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. Arrested at once and sentenced to imprisonment, he appealed to Paris and was released. Malraux’s mistreatment in jail by the French colonial authorities turned him into a fervent anticolonialist and an advocate of social change. While in Southeast Asia he organized the Young Annam League (the precursor of the Viet Minh, or Viet Nam League for Independence), became a leading writer and pamphleteer, and founded a newspaper, L’Indochine Enchaînée (“Indochina in Chains”). Crossing to China, he apparently participated in several Chinese revolutionary incidents and may possibly have met Mikhail Borodin, the Russian communist adviser to Sun Yat-sen and then to Chiang Kai-shek.

Malraux was to return to East Asia several times. In 1929 he made important discoveries of Greco-Buddhist art in Afghanistan and Iran. In 1934 he flew over the Rubʿ al-Khali in Arabia and discovered what may have been the site of the Queen of Sheba’s legendary city. After his second return from Indochina in 1926 he published his first novel, La Tentation de l’Occident (The Temptation of the West). His novels Les Conquérants (The Conquerors), published in 1928, La Voie royale (The Royal Way), published in 1930, and the masterpiece La Condition humaine in 1933 (awarded the Prix Goncourt) established his reputation as a leading French novelist and a charismatic, politically committed intellectual. Though he captivated Paris with his exceptional intelligence, lyrical prose, astonishing memory, and breadth of knowledge, it was not generally appreciated that his true life was elsewhere than in the literary salons or on the committee of La Nouvelle Revue Française or at literary congresses.

As fascism, in the shape of Nazism, rose in the 1930s, Malraux recognized its threat and presided over committees pressing for the liberation of the international communists Ernst Thälmann and Georgi Dimitrov from their imprisonment under the Nazis. He simultaneously eschewed a rigid Marxism, participated in the Ligue Nationale Contre l’Antisémitisme (National League Against Anti-Semitism), and in 1935—before the world in general had learned that concentration camps existed—published Le Temps du mépris (Days of Wrath), a short novel describing the brutal imprisonment of a communist by the Nazis. At the same time, he began to write his Psychologie de l’art (3 vol., 1947–50; The Psychology of Art), an activity that bore a relationship to his other interests, for to Malraux aesthetic ideas, like the philosophy of action expressed in his own novels, would always be part of man’s eternal questioning of destiny and his response to it.

Upon the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936, Malraux went to Spain, joined the Republican forces, and organized for them an international air squadron, becoming its colonel. After flying numerous aerial missions at the front, he visited the United States in order to collect money for medical assistance to Spain. His novel L’Espoir (Man’s Hope), based on his experiences in Spain, was published in 1937. A motion-picture version of L’Espoir that Malraux produced and directed in Barcelona in 1938 was not shown in France until after the country’s liberation at the end of World War II.

When World War II broke out, Malraux enlisted as a private soldier in a French tank unit. He was captured but escaped to the free zone of France, where he joined the resistance movement. His life in the French underground movement began in the Corrèze département in south-central France. He was shot and captured (1944) by the Germans and made to undergo a mock execution. After his liberation by the French Forces of the Interior, he formed a Free French brigade that he commanded during the 1st French Army’s campaign against Strasbourg in Alsace. During this time of trial he abandoned his earlier enthusiasm for revolutionary action and Marxism and rediscovered the sense of promise held out by Western culture.

On the Alsatian front he met General Charles de Gaulle, with whom his destiny was thenceforth to be linked. He was appointed temporary minister of information (November 1945–January 1946) in de Gaulle’s first government and then followed de Gaulle into retirement, from which he emerged to deliver brilliant speeches as a national delegate to the Gaullist Rassemblement du Peuple Français, or RPF (French People’s Rally). Withdrawing to his villa at Boulogne in northern France, he devoted himself to composing his monumental meditation on art, Les Voix du Silence, which was published in 1951.

When de Gaulle returned to power in France in 1958, he appointed Malraux minister of cultural affairs in the first Cabinet of the Fifth Republic. For 10 years he was minister of cultural affairs and the intimate friend of de Gaulle. He proved an innovative and forceful cultural administrator.


Literary works
Between the acts of his dramatic and absorbing life, Malraux wrote several brilliant and powerful novels dealing with the tragic ambiguities of political idealism and revolutionary struggle. His first important novel, Les Conquérants (1928), is a tense and vivid description of a revolutionary strike in Guangzhou (Canton), China. La Voie royale (1930) is a thriller set among the Khmer temples of Cambodia that Malraux himself explored. Malraux’s masterpiece is La Condition humaine (1933), which made him known to readers all over the world. This novel is set in Shanghai during the crushing by Chiang Kai-shek and the Nationalists of their former communist allies in 1927. Its main characters are several Chinese communist conspirators and European adventurers who are betrayed both by the Nationalists and by emissaries of Soviet Russia. Each of these complex, introspective personalities is affected differently by the tragic fate awaiting him, but the brotherhood arising out of a common political activity seems to them the only antidote to the meaningless solitude that is the hallmark of the human condition. In the novel Le Temps du mépris (1935; Days of Contempt, or Days of Wrath), Malraux tells a story of the underground resistance to the Nazis within Hitler’s Germany. Despite Malraux’s evident Marxist sympathies and his bitter criticisms of fascism, this was the only one of his books that was allowed to be published inside the Soviet Union. From his experience in the Spanish Civil War, Malraux constructed his most pessimistic political novel, L’Espoir (1937; Man’s Hope, or Days of Hope). This book dramatically re-creates the first nine months of the Spanish Civil War.

After 1945 Malraux virtually abandoned the writing of novels and turned instead to the history and criticism of art. His Les Voix du silence was a revised version of his Psychologie de l’art. Les Voix du silence is a brilliant and well-documented synthesis of the history of art in all countries and through all ages. The work is also a philosophical meditation on art as a supreme expression of human creativity and as one that enables man to transcend the meaningless absurdity and insignificance of his own condition. Malraux continued to explore this approach in La Métamorphose des Dieux, 3 vol. (1957–76; The Metamorphosis of the Gods). He published his autobiography, Antimémoires, in 1967. After the death of his companion, the novelist Louise de Vilmorin, Malraux lived and worked in solitude at Verrières-le-Buisson, near Paris, where he was first buried. In 1996, on the 20th anniversary of his death, his body was enshrined in the Panthéon in Paris.
 




Politics subordinate to other concerns: Mauriac, Bernanos, and others


Few novels were in fact untouched by the political challenge, but many were more concerned with other preoccupations. The Surrealists explored the romance of the modern city. Aragon’s Le Paysan de Paris (1926; Paris Peasant), an innovative collage, was followed by Bretons Nadja (1928; Eng. trans. Nadja), a distinctive contribution to the tradition that joins the beckoning enigma of a dream woman as a figure of erotic desire and the fascination of Paris. François Mauriac’s Catholic novels Thérèse Desqueyroux (1927; Eng. trans. Thérèse Desqueyroux) and Noeud de vipères (1932; The Knot of Vipers), blind to the romance and thrill of the modern, deployed the traditional form of the French psychological novel to evoke the banal desolation of characters deprived of God’s grace and stranded in a desert of provincial middle-class society. Georges Bernanos, drawing more explicitly on Catholic dogma and symbolism, addressed the same theme (Journal d’un curé de campagne [1936; The Diary of a Country Priest]), but he was also concerned with issues of class. His pamphlet La Grande Peur des bien-pensants (1931; “The Great Fear of the Conformers”) is a blistering attack on bourgeois complacency; Les Grands Cimetières sous la lune (1938; “The Great Cemeteries in the Moonlight”; Eng. trans. A Diary of My Times) denounces General Francisco Franco’s Falangists. The tradition of the family novel was continued by Roger Martin du Gard’s novel cycle Les Thibault (1922–40). A different kind of family, reared in poverty and engaged in trade union action, was described by the Breton writer Louis Guilloux in his autobiographical novel, La Maison du peuple (1927; “The House of the People”). Guilloux’s Le Sang noir (1935; Bitter Victory) is an even bleaker depiction of provincial life, as experienced by a schoolmaster. In Les Hommes de bonne volonté (1932–46; Men of Good Will) the Unanimist Jules Romains delved into the history of the Third Republic to try to show a transcendent, collective dimension connecting isolated individual experience. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s Vol de nuit (1931; Night Flight) was a popular adventure novel.
 


Georges Bernanos




Georges Bernanos (20 February 1888 – 5 July 1948) was a French author, and a soldier in World War I. Of Roman Catholic and monarchist leanings, he was a violent adversary to bourgeois thought and to what he identified as defeatism leading to France's defeat in 1940.
 

Bernanos was born at Paris, into a family of craftsmen, and spent much of his childhood in the Pas de Calais region, which became a frequent setting for his novels. He served in the First World War as a soldier, where he witnessed the battles of the Somme and Verdun. He was wounded several times. After the war, he worked in insurance before writing Sous le soleil de Satan. He won the Grand Prix du roman de l'Académie française for Journal d'un curé de campagne (Diary of a Country Priest).

Because of his anti-democratic leanings and his allegiance to the Action Française (he was a member of their youth organization, the Camelots du Roi), from which he finally departed in 1932, he was able to see the danger in Fascism and Nazism (which he described as "disgusting monstrousness") before World War II broke out in Europe. Though he initially celebrated Francisco Franco and the Fascist Falange due to the anticlerical atrocities of the Republicans during the Spanish Civil War, Bernanos spent part of the conflict in Majorca, and became disappointed in the Francoist cause, which he grew to criticize in the book Diary of My Times. Most of his important fictional works were written between 1926 and 1937.

He emigrated to South America in 1938, and stayed there until 1945, for most of the time in Barbacena, Brazil, where he tried his hand at managing a farm. His three sons returned to France to fight when World War II broke out, while he fulminated at his country's 'spiritual exhaustion' which he saw as the root of its collapse in 1940. From exile he mocked the 'ridiculous' Vichy regime and became a strong supporter of the nationalist Free French Forces led by the conservative Charles de Gaulle.

After the liberation, de Gaulle invited him to return to France, offering him a post in the government. Bernanos did return, but did not participate actively in French political life.

His writings are sharply critical of modern society and its inroads into personal liberty, both through government and through technical development. He was an isolated figure, but maintained a very high reputation among his fellow writers in France.

Bernanos died at Neuilly-sur-Seine, in 1948.
 


 

Poetry

Valéry, Claudel, and Fargue continued writing poetry throughout this period, as did Breton, Aragon, and Éluard, the latter two both closely connected with the Communist Party. In such books as Capitale de la douleur (1926; Capital of Pain), Éluard’s free verse plays innovatively with traditional ideas of order, focusing at least as much on the rhythms of syntax as on images. The poet’s own distinctive blend of poetics and politics is based on the theme of love: a twin allegiance to the beloved woman and the ideals of the larger interrelationships of humanity. Saint-John Perse produced what he himself described as a modern epic of interior journey: Anabase (1924; Anabasis). Henri Michaux’s prose poems in La Nuit remue (1934; The Night Moves) are a striking example of that difficult genre. René Char’s work exalts the mystical forces that reside in the countryside of southern France, with its bare hills and its twisted vegetation. Jules Supervielle’s poetry of the 1920s and ’30s conjures up the mysterious spirit animating animals, plants, and objects.


 

Theatre

The great directors and actor-directors of the interwar years, who continued in Jacques Copeau’s tradition—Charles Dullin, Louis Jouvet, Georges and Ludmila Pitoëff, and Gaston Baty, known collectively as the Cartel—rebuilt the commercial theatre. They fostered a literary and poetic theatre, developing high standards of acting, production, and stage design; and they tried (less successfully) to reach out beyond the traditional middle-class audience. The plays produced for this theatre—by Jean Cocteau, Jean Giraudoux, Armand Salacrou, and the early Jean Anouilh—have aged less well than the innovations in staging. Giraudoux’s La Guerre de Troie n’aura pas lieu (1935; adapted in English as Tiger at the Gates) has remained famous for its encapsulation of the prewar debate on national differences and the inevitability of war. Cocteau’s best contribution was his merging of theatre with other arts (including music) and spectacle, a mélange more appropriate, as it turned out, to the new medium of cinema than to the stage (Orphée [stage version 1927, film version 1950; Orpheus]).

The very different kind of theatre launched in 1896 by Alfred Jarry found its way back onto the stage through the Surrealists, with, for example, Roger Vitrac’s black comedy Victor; ou, les enfants au pouvoir (1928; “Victor; or, Children in Power”). Antonin Artaud began to formulate his Theatre of Cruelty, which would use stage resources enriched by Japanese Noh theatre and the Balinese Theatre (in Paris in 1931), replacing words by spectacle, to expose audiences to the realities of repressive power structures from which they were muffled by habit in their everyday lives. But his Le Théâtre et son double (1938; The Theatre and Its Double), now a seminal point of reference for modern drama, began to exert its influence only after republication in 1944.

Another major figure still awaiting full recognition was Paul Claudel. Former anarchist turned religious convert, the most celebrated poet of the Roman Catholic revival had from the start of the century been turning the traditionalist cult of suffering, and its symbols and myths, into potentially great drama. The lyrical language of Partage de midi (1906; “Break of Noon”) transformed an adulterous love affair into participation in the divine Passion. L’Annonce faite à Marie (1912; “Tidings Brought to Mary”) is a simpler, low-key evocation of the miracle of rebirth. (Partage de midi and L’Annonce faite à Marie appear in English translation in Two Dramas [1960].) Claudel’s experiments mixing the inspiration of Wagnerian drama, Japanese Noh theatre, and film produced in the interwar years two major epics proclaiming the absolute presence of divine order in the world. Le Soulier de satin (1929; The Satin Slipper) is an account of the imperializing ambitions of Spain in the 16th century, in which divine grace pursues the characters who try in vain to escape their destiny; Le Livre de Christophe Colomb (1930; The Book of Christopher Columbus) is the story of the explorer whose faith joined the two halves of the globe. Claudel’s moment was to come in the 1940s, with the discovery of his work by the great director Jean-Louis Barrault, who recognized its spectacular potential and the dramatic heights of violence and passion it attained.
 


Jean Anouilh





in full Jean-Marie-Lucien-Pierre Anouilh

born June 23, 1910, Bordeaux, France
died Oct. 3, 1987, Lausanne, Switz.

playwright who became one of the strongest personalities of the French theatre and achieved an international reputation. His plays are intensely personal messages; often they express his love of the theatre as well as his grudges against actors, wives, mistresses, critics, academicians, bureaucrats, and others. Anouilh’s characteristic techniques include the play within the play, flashbacks and flash forwards, and the exchange of roles.

The Anouilh family moved to Paris when Jean was a teenager, and it was there that he studied law and worked briefly in advertising. At the age of 18, however, he saw Jean Giraudoux’s drama Siegfried, in which he discovered a theatrical and poetic language that determined his career. He worked briefly as the secretary to the great actor-director Louis Jouvet.

L’Hermine (performed 1932; The Ermine) was Anouilh’s first play to be produced, and success came in 1937 with Le Voyageur sans bagage (Traveller Without Luggage), which was soon followed by La Sauvage (1938).

Anouilh rejected both Naturalism and Realism in favour of what has been called “theatricalism,” the return of poetry and imagination to the stage. Technically he showed a great versatility, from the stylized use of Greek myth, to the rewriting of history, to the comédie-ballet, to the modern comedy of character. Although not a systematic ideologist like the Existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre, Anouilh developed his own view of life highlighting the contradictions within human reality, for example, or the ambiguous relationships between good and evil. He called two major collections of his plays Pièces roses (“Rose-coloured Plays”) and Pièces noires (“Black Plays”), in which similar subjects are treated more or less lightly. His dramatic vision of the world poses the question of how far the individual must compromise with truth to obtain happiness. His plays show men or women facing the loss of the privileged world of childhood. Some of his characters accept the inevitable; some, such as the light-headed creatures of Le Bal des voleurs (1938; Thieves’ Carnival), live lies; and others, such as Antigone (1944), reject any tampering with ideals.

With L’Invitation au château (1947; Ring Around the Moon), the mood of Anouilh’s plays became more sombre. His aging couples seem to perform a dance of death in La Valse des toréadors (1952; The Waltz of the Toreadors). L’Alouette (1953; The Lark) is the spiritual adventure of Joan of Arc, who, like Antigone and Thérèse Tarde (La Sauvage), is another of Anouilh’s rebels who rejects the world, its order, and its trite happiness. In another historical play, Becket ou l’honneur de Dieu (1959; Becket, or, The Honour of God), friendship is crushed between spiritual integrity and political power.

In the 1950s Anouilh introduced into his vision of the world the novelty of political ferment: Pauvre Bitos, ou le Dîner de têtes (1956; Poor Bitos). In the 1960s his plays were considered by many to be dated compared with those of the Absurdist dramatists Eugène Ionesco or Samuel Beckett. Le Boulanger, la boulangère et le petit mitron (1968; “The Baker, the Baker’s Wife, and the Baker’s Boy”) was coolly received, but in the following decade other new plays appeared to confirm his place as a master entertainer: Cher Antoine; ou, l’amour raté (1969; Dear Antoine; or, The Love That Failed), Les Poissons rouges; ou, Mon père, ce héros (1970; “The Goldfish; or, My Father, This Hero”), Ne réveillez pas madame (1970; “Do Not Awaken the Lady”), Le Directeur de l’opéra (1972), L’Arrestation (1975; “The Arrest”), Le Scénario (1976), Vive Henry IV (1977), and La Culotte (1978; “The Trousers”).

Anouilh also wrote several successful film scenarios and translated from English some works of other playwrights.
 




The eve of World War II


By the eve of World War II, new influences were at work on the French cultural scene. From the mid-1930s onward, the novels of the American writers William Faulkner and John Dos Passos, as well as the philosophies of the Germans Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger, were finding a following in France. Camus published L’Envers et l’endroit (1937; Betwixt and Between) and Noces (1939; Nuptials), two volumes of essays that revealed his sense of the beauty and the emptiness of life on the edge of the Mediterranean. In La Nausée (1938; Nausea), unraveling the psychological novel and the diary form, and in the five nouvelles collected in Le Mur (1939; The Wall), Jean-Paul Sartre was already transferring into creative writing the insights into the problematic nature of perception, the nature of the “real,” the alienated subject, and (as he saw it) the absurdity of the world that he had developed in his meditations on phenomenology and existentialism.
 

Patrick McCarthy
Jennifer Birkett

 

 
 
 
 
 

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