Posts tagged Henry de Montherlant
No one reads Henry de Montherlant (1895-1972), a French essayist, playwright, and novelist who ended his life by swallowing a cyanide capsule and then shooting himself—an excess in keeping with his personality.
Montherlant belongs to that class of writers one is forced to recommend in apologetic tones. (Other notable figures in this canon include Hamsun, Celine, Highsmith, and Pound.) Despite being a bestselling and celebrated novelist—Les Célibataires (The Bachelors, 1934) won the Grand Prix de Littérature de l’Académie Française and his tetralogy Les Jeunes Filles (The Girls, 1936-39) was translated into a dozen languages—Montherlant presents a trying case.
Yet, if you can make it past his haughtiness, cynicism, pederasty, “black-hearted misogyny” (B.R. Myers, in an appreciation published in The Atlantic), his collaboration with the Germans during the Occupation, and the withering criticism directed at him by Simone de Beauvoir in The Second Sex, you’ll find a writer of immense talent who has seen his star eclipsed by lesser—and dimmer—lights.
When the publisher of the only Montherlant novel still in print in English translation—the political satire and reckoning, Chaos and Night (NYRB)—describes the work as ”sardonic, bemused, [and] without hint of consolation,” it’s not surprising that he remains unread. But, as is the case with writers like Emmanuel Bove, the sheer gumption of being so resolutely contrary has its merits. All readers could do with such a challenge. Montherlant may be one of the most entertaining to undertake.