France Literature Part II

By | February 7, 2022

Fiction has continued this decade to take the lion’s share of literary production. Here the example of the greatest contemporaries, already consecrated by fame, is still active and vital, whoever pays attention to what the unimaginative wisdom of a Gide and the coherent and steadfast work of G. Duhamel, J. de Lacretelle, A. Malraux, R. Martin du Gard, G. Bernanos, Br. Niauriac, J. Romains, with the strenuous psychological analysis which, combined with a fervent moral problem, identifies the environmental and structural situation of their characters. A little in the shade, the libertine coquetry of Colette, whose fortune we still cannot say how much it is due to the clarity of the page and how much to a worldly custom by now gone; left aside, for their political past, to silence the Chateaubriant and the sensual P. Drieu La Rochelle, turbid ideologue oscillating between communism and fascism, also the almost classically exemplary J. Chardonne and H. de Montherlant, P. Morand and J. Giono; but the various traditions of the story and the novel continue or are found in the passionate Catholicism of Daniel-Rops, in the lucid and ironic intelligence of the human relationship that is in Jouhandeau’s page, in the vast cultural and social interests of Schlumberger and Hamp, in the intense dramas of Chamson and Cassou, in the vigorous plasticity of Malaquais with his descriptions of rebels, criminals, refugees and adventurers and in the slang fruition of Audiberti not born from a naturalistic misunderstanding, but intended as a firm and resentful figure that takes moved by a strong will to style. Nor should we forget the minor skills of Plisnier, of Kessel, Éducation Européenne by Gary, from the no less popular Mon Village à l’heure allemande by Bory to the solid realism of Bosco and the intimate shots of Peyrefitte.

According to, the literary affirmation of French existentialism of Heideggerian and immanentistic inspiration coincides with the disappearance of surrealism.

It is true that Catholic existentialism had begun its literary tests with the theater of Gabriel Marcel, but another thing is the transcendental existentialism of Sartre’s philosophy and therefore the poetics and the intentional accent of the word are very different. The literary reason for existentialism has been recognized in a need for verbal renewal denounced by the semantic instability of a terminology that was understood at the time of its creation, and therefore not yet scientifically technicized, but such as to make use of the deformation of common use. Undoubtedly, however, the impulse to artistic attempts lies in a sentimental situation that wants to be intuited and come to light: it is the feeling of anguish and nothingness that seeks a liberation in the reality of the word by expressing every content, even the least confessable. The doctrine has its own organ in Les Temps modernes. Since 1 October 1945 Sartre, also endowed with a strong polemical temperament, is its soul. They are part of the editorial board and assiduously collaborate with it. Simone de Beauvoir, very attached to Sarrian thought, Raymond Aron and Maurice Merleau-Ponty who possess, especially the latter, a marked theoretical individuality and therefore vividly manifest their independence, reacting to the fashion of existentialism, while other very young people also access this philosophy which is the most bitterly fought by Catholics, Marxists and bourgeois conservation. Only Simone de Beauvoir, alongside Sartre, dedicated himself to the novel and from the theater by declaring a clear profession of faith, where Camus proclaims his autonomy of convictions and taste.

The theater of J. Anouilh, on whose clear poetic elegance the memory of Giraudoux acts, and that of A. Salacrou are, alongside the slimy dramas of Sartre, the advanced points of an abundant and full of vitality repertoire while the representative vigor of Paul Raynal is not placed in oblivion and Stève Passeur, the Brasseur and many others assert themselves that it is not necessary to mention here.

The literature of thought (criticism, politics, biographical essays) hinges on the controversy between existentialists, Catholics (J. Maritain, H. Massis, etc.) and Marxists (H. Lefebvre, Navelle etc.). Not completely extinguished is the echo of Alain’s generic radical socialism and Benda’s democratic rationalism. E. Mounier, in the magazine Esprit which has been published since the end of 1944, promoted a dynamic Christian communism (personalism) which he laid the foundations in some writings of 1936. It is still premature to formulate a judgment, while it seems clear, from a political point of view, which is not a matter of mediation or overcoming, but of adherence to Marxism.

In general, the orientation of the young French critic persists in the “essayistic” taste of the page and of psychological analysis but, thanks to the most recent currents of thought, it is acquiring a greater theoretical awareness, especially if ideological dogmatism does not intervene to jam the freedom of research, with the accentuation of one’s theses. This is the case with the pseudo-aesthetics inspired by Marxism. No less careless, at times, is a certain Catholic criticism that is held along the lines of Rivière and Du Bos but leads it to extremes. The moralistic cancellation of the distinction between the empirical person and the work, the avoidance of judgment in conceiving texts as mere stimuli of the sentimental autobiography of the critic, the tendency to assimilate each one in the same profession of faith, an acute but often isolated and generic impressionism are the limits and the most serious deviations of a non-fiction literature that varies from tones of false lyrical intimacy to a specious procedure of a juridical appearance. A real philosophical investigation that gives the means to aesthetic evaluation is currently in France, for contemporary writers, very rare and episodic, in contrast to the severe discipline of study that continues, in university environments, towards writers of the past. . Among literary critics, subtle ingenuity and a shrewd theoretical preparation combined with great psychological sensitivity, shows Georges Blin, although somewhat lacking in him an adequate philological education.

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