Gard, Roger Martin du (23 March 1881 - 22 August 1958)
Roger Martin du Gard (23 March 1881 - 22 August 1958)
Catharine Savage Brosman
See also the Martin du Gard entry in DLB 65: French Novelists, 1900-1930.
BOOKS: L’Abbaye de Jumièges (Seine-Inférieure): Étude archéologique des ruines (Montdidier: Grou-Radenez, 1909);
Devenir! (Paris: O11endorff, 1909);
L’Une de nous: Étude (Paris: Grasset, 1910);
Jean Barois (Paris: Nouvelle Revue Française, 1913); translated by Stuart Gilbert (New York: Viking, 1949; London: Bodley Head, 1950),
Le Testatuent du Père Leleu: Farce paysanne (Paris: Nouvelle Revue Française, 1920);
Témoignage: In memoriam, as R. M. G. (Paris: Grou Radenez, 1921);
Le Cahier gris [part 1 of Les Thibault] (Paris: Gallimard, 1922); translated by Madeleine Boyd as The Gray Notebook in volume 1 of The Thibaults (New York: Boni & Liveright, 1926); translated by Stephen Haden Guest as The Grey Note-Book in volume 1 of The Thibaults (London: Lane, 1933);
Le Pénitencier [part 2 of Les Thibault] (Paris: Gallimard, 1922); translated by Boyd as The Penitentiary in volume 1 of The Thibaults (New York: Boni & Liveright, 1926), translated by Guest as The Reformatory in volume 1 of The Thibaults (London: Lane, 1933);
La Belle Saison [part 3 of Les Thibault], 2 volumes (Paris: Gallimard, 1923); translated by Boyd as The Springtime f Life in volume 2 of The Thibaults (New York: Boni & Liveright, 1926); translated by Gilbert as High Summer in volume 2 of The Thibaults (London: Lane, 1934);
Noizemont-les-Vierges (Liège: A la Lampe d’Aladdin, 1928);
La Gonfle (Paris: Gallimard, 1928);
La Consultation [part 4 of Les Thibault] (Paris: Gallimard, 1928); translated by Gilbert as Consulting-Day in volume 2 of The Thibaults (London: Lane, 1934);
La Sorellina [part 5 of Les Thibault] (Paris: Gallimard, 1928); translated by Gilbert in The Thibaults (London: Lane, 1939; New York: Viking, 1939);
La Mort du père [part 6 of Les Thibault] (Paris: Gallimard, 1929); translated by Gilbert in The Thibaults (London: Lane, 1939; New York: Viking, 1939);
Dialogue (Charité-sur-Loire: A. Delayance / Paris: Claude Aveline, 1930);
Confidence africaine (Paris: Gallimard, 1931); translated by Austryn Wainhouse (Marlboro, Vt.: Marlboro Press, 1983);
Un Taciturne (Paris: Gallimard, 1932; revised, 1948);
Vieille France (Paris: Gallimard, 1933); translated by John Russell as The Postman (London: Deutsch, 1954; New York: Viking, 1955);
L’Eté 1914 [part 7 of Les Thibault], 3 volumes (Paris: Gallimard, 1936); translated by Gilbert as Summer 1914 (London: Lane, 1940),
Epilogue [part 8 of Les Thibault] (Paris: Gallimard, 1940); translated by Gilbert in Summer 1914, enlarged edition (New York: Viking, 1941);
Notes sur André Gide, 1913-1951 (Paris: Gallimard, 1951); translated by Russell as Notes on André Gide (London: Deutsch, 1953); translation also published as Recollections of André Gide (New York: Viking, 1953);
Le Lieutenant-Colonel de Maumort, edited by André Daspre (Paris: Gallimard, 1983); translated by Luc Bré bion and Timothy Crouse (New York: Knopf, 2000);
Journal, 3 volumes, edited by Claude Sicard (Paris: Gallimard, 1992-1993);
Inédits et nouvelles recherches, 2 volumes (Paris: Gallimard, 1994, 1999);
Théâtre et cinéma (Paris: Gallimard, 2005).
Collection: Euvres complètes, 2 volumes, preface by Albert Camus (Paris: Gallimard, 1955).
PLAY PRODUCTIONS: Le Testament du Père Leleu, Paris, Théâtre du Vieux-Colombier, 6 February 1914;
Un Taciturne, Paris, Comédie des Champs-Elysées, 28 October 1931;
La Gonfle, Paris, Théâtre Malakoff, 1988.
TRANSLATION: Olivia [Dorothy Bussy], Olivia (Paris: Steele, 1949).
OTHER: Louis-Marie Michon, L’Abbaye de Jumièges, par Louis-Marie Michon et Roger Martin du Gard [based on Martin du Gard’s 1909 thesis, and including a note by Martin du Gard] (Paris: Henri Laurens, 1927).
When French novelist Roger Martin du Gard learned, in November 1937, that the Swedish Academy had awarded him the Nobel Prize in Literature, his first act was to pack his suitcase and leave his apartment in Nice so that he would not be assailed by journalists and photographers. He was especially wary of the latter: he characteristically refused to allow photographs of himself to be published. (The covers of the two-volume Pléiade edition of his works, published by Gallimard in 1955, reproduce a sketch by Bertold Mann and a sculpted bust by Gunnar Nilsson.) His attitude was not tactical, intended to whet public interest. Rather, he was jealous of his privacy; moreover, following the manners of his class, the upper bourgeoisie, he was anxious to avoid any display of his person, any appearance of what he called exhibitionism: “J’ai pour l’indiscrétion ce que les médecins appellent une ‘intolérance organique.’ Un homme qui livre au public, dans ses ouvrages, le meilleur, le plus intime de lui-même, a bien le droit de garder…le domaine de sa vie privée” (I have for indiscretion what doctors call an “organic intolerance.” A man who offers the public the best, the most intimate part of himself certainly has the right to keep…the area of his private life). Furthermore, he was then at work on the final volume of his magnum opus, Les Thibault (1922-1940; translated as The Thibaults, 1933-1941), and he needed to protect his working time. He stayed out of sight as much as possible during the following weeks.
He did, however, travel to Stockholm in December for the award ceremony. The presentation speech by Per Hallström, the permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, singled out for attention Les Thibault, stressing its value as a representation of French life during the ten years preceding world war I. Hallström summarized the organization of the work and its main plotlines, praised its portraits, and emphasized its truth. All that was well deserved, and his assertions were generally accurate, although some seem askew-for instance, his erroneous observations that the author was “little concerned with composition” and that “the theme of the opposition of youth to age is not specially treated here.” Hallström then concluded, quite accurately, that Martin du Gard had paid “homage to the idealism of the human spirit.” His selection for the prize was met with general critical approval.
There was no explicit mention in Hallström’s speech of what was almost surely a significant factor in the academy’s choice. The previous year, Martin du Gard had published, in three volumes, part 7 of Les Thibault, under the title L’Eté 1914 (translated as Summer 1914, 1940). A major plot line concerns the efforts of Jacques Thibault, a resolute pacifist, and his socialist colleagues to prevent the outbreak of a European conflict, by political agitation, pressuring governments, and finally, on Jacques’s part, a heroic, sacrificial gesture. (Martin du Gard pointed out to André Gide that he had been a member of pacifist organizations as early as 1912.) Not only was the tragic futility of these efforts, which provide great historical and dramatic irony, obvious; readers of the time could not be unaware that new conflicts had recently broken out, one in Ethiopia (1935), another in Spain (1936), another in China (the Sino-Japanese war, 1937), and that fascism threatened European and world peace. The sense of catastrophe pervading L’Eté 1914 surely struck readers in the late 1930s as familiar; whatever their political positions, many Europeans found the political horizon somber indeed. Thus, the cautionary note in the work, relieved by its idealism and especially its underlying pacifism, had wide appeal. Martin du Gard was in fact so well known as a pacifist that a right-Wing nationalist, Henri Massis, published a scathing article on him in La Revue Universelle (1 February 1938) titled “Du prix Nobel 1937 et d’un écrivain pacifiste” (On the 1937 Nobel Prize and a Pacifist writer), and a sympathizer of Massis, Léon Daudet, wrote that L’Eté 1914 Was a “navet couronné” (award-Winning lemon).
The author himself was mindful, at least, that the Swedish Academy might have had a special purpose in honoring him (although he stated that he was embarrassed to receive the prize when Gide, whom he considered more deserving, had not gotten it). Recalling, in his acceptance speech, his desire in L’Eté 1914 to portray the passivity of the European masses before the approaching cataclysm, Martin du Gard wondered whether the academy had not singled him out because his work appeared to defend humane values again threatened and to argue against what he called the evil contagion of the forces of war: “Je souhaite-sans vanité mais de tout mon coeur rongé d’inquiétude-que meslivres sur L’Eté 1914 soient lus, discutés et qui’ils rappellent à tous…la pathétique leçon du passé” (I wish—Without vanity but with my whole heart gnawed by worry-that my books on Summer 1914 Will be read, discussed and will remind everyone…of the pathetic lesson of the past).
Given the author’s concern for privacy, it is not surprising that he was chary with details of his life, but he did draw up his Souvenirs autobiographiques et littéraires (Autobiographical and Literary Souvenirs) for the Pléiade edition. In these pages, the emphasis was on literary, not intimate, autobiography. The publication of major correspondences and his Journal (1992-1993) shed further light on the man and his career. He was born on 23 March 1881 at his paternal grandparents’ home in Neuilly-sur-Seine, a near suburb of Paris. His only sibling, Marcel, was born in 1884. Their parents were Paul Martin du Gard, a lawyer, and Madeleine wiry Martin du Gard, the daughter of a stockbroker. The family, who lived in the second arrondissement of Paris, thus belonged to the bourgeoisie de robe (magistrates, attorneys, financiers), a class with great cohesion. While judging the bourgeoisie and its political shortcomings, the author retained its mores and values, including thrift, although he later made excessive expenditures on property.
The boy attended the Ecole Fénelon in Paris, then took courses concurrently at the Lycée Condorcet. In 1896 he began boarding with a professor from the Lycée Janson-de-Sailly, Louis Mellerio, whose tutoring helped him enter that school a year later. Martin du Gard earned two baccalaureate degrees from the Lycée Janson-de-Sailly. Mellerio and his wife opened their library to him, widening his intellectual horizons. Martin du Gard credited Mellerio with having taught him a feeling for composition—sensitivity to the construction of any writing and the ability to structure his own. The student was likewise encouraged by Marcel Hébert, a priest and the director of the Ecole Fénelon, who gave him Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace (1865-1869). Hébert remained an important figure in the author’s personal pantheon. The writer never ceased to admire Tolstoy and paid him homage in his Nobel speech. Earlier an indifferent student, the boy by then had acquired a taste for study; he passed his baccalauréat examinations in 1897 and 1898.
Martin du Gard enrolled at the Sorbonne, where he failed his licence examination in 1899. He was shortly admitted to the Ecole des Chartes, a school of historiography and paleography, to which he had applied without his parents’ knowledge, as a stopgap until he could do what he really wanted—Write. After his compulsory military service (1902-1903), he enrolled and took his degree as an archivist-paleographer in 1905 with a thesis on the abbey of Jumièges, in Normandy. The training proved useful by obliging him to pay close attention to the past, respect facts, and acquire discipline and methodology. Historical thinking became an important dimension of his literary imagination. As he wrote in “Souvenirs autobiographiques et littéraires,” an auto biographical segment of his 1955 Euvres complètes, “II m’était devenu impossible de concevoir un personnage moderne détaché de son temps; de la société, de l’histoire de son temps” (It had become impossible for me to conceive a modern character detached from his time, from the society, the history of his time). Nearly all his works are based on research and documentation, whether linguistic, sociological, or historical. He characteristically drew up detailed outlines, collected information on note cards, composed dossiers on major characters, and began writing only when this foundation was ready. He noted in “Souvenirs auto biographiques et littéraires,” “Le soin maniaque avec lequel j’ai préparé certains de mes romans, ou du moins certaines de leurs parties, n’est pas, toutes proportions gardées, sans rappeler l’application du chartiste aux prises avec un ouvrage d’érudition” (The maniacal care with which I prepared certain novels of mine, or at least parts of them, is not, keeping everything in proportion, without connection to the chartist’s application dealing with a learned work). He acknowledged that his historian’s habits might have led him into error, by adding a disproportionate amount of historical explanation in relation to the narrative. If this characteristic was indeed a flaw, it was offset by his search for exact truth, ability to deal with masses of material, and rigorous standards in selection and arrangement of data.
In February 1906, Martin du Gard married Hélène Foucault, the daughter of a lawyer. They spent four months in the French-occupied territories of North Africa before settling in Paris. Their only child, daughter Christiane, was born in July 1907. The marriage was not a happy one. Martin du Gard’s Journal reflects his dissatisfaction with his conjugal state, less through his wife’s direct fault than by the very nature of the relationship, which brought together for a lifetime two peo ple ill-suited to each other, “deux forçats, liés au même boulet, aussi étrangers de nature qu’il est possible” (two convicts, tied to the same ball and chain, natural strangers as much as can be). She was stiff and officious, discouraging spontaneity: “La qualité même de ses vertus la rend inhumaine, insociable” (The very quality of her virtues makes her unhuman, unsociable), he wrote. She was also quite pious. He, in contrast, had lost, at school, his shallow childhood belief. His mentor Hébert, who was himself undergoing a religious crisis that led, finally, to his defrocking, had tried to revive the boy’s faith but had not succeeded. The novelist remained thenceforth an atheist. He and his wife did not agree, either, on the method of raising their daughter; in the 1930s, Hélène Martin du Gard accused him of having “stolen” Christiane. Yet, the couple was genuinely devoted to each other.
Martin du Gard was liked and respected widely as a man of integrity and admired as a literary craftsman. His correspondence consists of at least 2,550 letters, excluding extensive exchanges with figures such as Gide and Jacques Copeau, a drama critic and director. Gide noted that though his friend denied morality could exist without a religious foundation-that is, the fear of a policeman-god-he was himself so naturally honest that he disproved his own thesis. Albert Camus, in his introduction to the Pléiade edition, calls Martin du Gard “homme de pardon et de justice, notre perpé tuel contemporain” (a man of pardon and justice, our enduring contemporary). Emmanuel Berl, editor of the periodical Marianne in the 1930s, testified that none of his friends had inspired in him more confidence, none was less capable of complacency and imposture, and none loved truth more than Martin du Gard. Romain Rolland wrote to him on 10 June 1922: “Vous êtes un des rares écrivains en qui-en l’avenir de qui j’aie une confiance absolue d’artiste et de frère homme” (You are one of the rare writers in whom-in whose future I have absolute confidence as an artist and brother man).
The year of his marriage, Martin du Gard began what was to be a multivolume novel, “Une Vie de saint” (A Saint’s Life), concerning a priest; it was abandoned in 1908. To gather material and increase his understanding of human behavior, he attended lectures by psychiatrists and neurologists in various Paris hospitals. In 1909 his first novel, Devenir! (Becoming!), was published at his expense. He then undertook a new novel, “Marise,” also abandoned; only one episode, L’Une de nous (1910, One of Us), was published (again, at the author’s expense) by Bernard Grasset, who had just launched his distinguished publishing career. The author later had the unsold copies destroyed and never reprinted the work, because of what he considered its bad taste and outdated naturalism; but it furnished an occasion for adumbrating themes (evil, suffering, unbelief, sexuality, death) and character types (the doctor; the suffering, embittered wife) that figure prominently in later works.
The fact that Martin du Gard destroyed these two manuscripts, as well as earlier ones, attests to his devel opment as a craftsman; he could not be satisfied with work that he quickly came to judge as inadequate. Despite little evidence of accomplishment, he was continually at work studying life with a view toward depicting it. His remark about Gide in Notes sur André Gide, 1913-1951 (1951; translated as Notes on André Gide, 1953) nearly fits him too: “Pas une minute de sa journée, pas un moment de ses insomnies, où la pensée soit en vacance, où le cerveau cesse de produire de la matière à livres…Le seul but de sa vie: l’enrichissement de l’oeuvre (ou de l’homme, mais de l’homme pour l’oeuvre)” (Not a minute of his day, not a moment of insomnia, when his thought is inactive, when his mind ceases to produce material for books…The only aim of his life: the enrichment of the work [or of the man, but of the man for the work]).
Devenir! Was composed quickly, contrary to the novelist’s habit. Little research was needed; his own experiences furnished much of the material. It sets the model for later work: “Chacun de ses grands romans est le récit d’un apprentissage” (Each of his great novels is the story of an apprenticeship), wrote an anonymous critic. It is divided into three parts: “Vouloir!” (To will!), “Réaliser” (To Carry Out), and “Vivre” (To Live). It relates the unhappy experiences of André Mazarelles, who wants to embark on a literary career, contrary to his parents’ wishes. Mazarelles grapples with ideas and has visions of creating a new kind of novel, a collage-like assemblage of journalistic materials, diary entries, and sketches; he speaks of resuscitating individuals with the help of documents and making, as he said, “avec de l’histoire, du roman psychologique” (With history, psychological fiction). This ambition reflects the author’s own early interest in fictional form.
Mazarelles is ineffectual and accomplishes nothing. (The character may be cathartic; Martin du Gard confessed in “Souvenirs autobiographiques et littéraires” that he hoped, by portraying failure, to suggest his own success.) Mazarelles dissipates his energies, first with intellectual and artistic friends, whose milieu the author evokes well, then with women, including Parisian prostitutes. His courtship of a beautiful girl of his class ends when his parents oppose the marriage on grounds that she is impecunious. (He also realizes she is stupid.) His solution is to court her cousin, less attrac tive but wealthy. In part 3, he and the cousin have married and gone to live on her country estate. At considerable cost, he launches various improvement projects and throws himself into farming, but he is lethargic and incapable of concluding them and increasing his revenue. His wife’s death after childbirth is followed by the infant’s. Mazarelles is left alone, with no accomplishments, no family, and a mortgaged estate; there is a suggestion, however, that he will be consoled by a young servant.
Those familiar with American or French naturalistic fiction recognize in this work its kinship with naturalism, which characteristically dealt with failures and the blows of fate. But Martin du Gard wished to explore also the psychological vein. His success was only partial: the portraits tend toward the superficial, and the hero is insufficiently self-aware. The work foreshadows his major fiction by its emphasis on fate, failings, and death, and by its composition, combining authorial summary and description with dramatic (scenic) presentation. Critic Gaëtan Picon’s remark that Devenir! is interesting chiefly because its author would later write Les Thibault is just, for though the early novel is not without merit on its own—Camus admired it—it was principally a laboratory for its young author.
In 1909 Martin du Gard and his wife moved to a country property, Le Verger d’Augy (Cher), in the Berry region, and there he began, the following year, Jean Barois (1913; translated, 1949), his first major work. While the contract for Devenir! called for Grasset to publish the author’s next novel, Grasset, though consenting, found Jean Barois so unwieldy (reasonably, in view of its form) that he predicted its failure. Not knowing whether to pursue publication, Martin du Gard spoke of his quandary to Gaston Gallimard, a friend from the Lycée Condorcet who was then engaged in publishing the recently founded monthly La. Nouvelle Revue Française (NRF). Gallimard submitted the manu script to his committee, which included Gide and Copeau. Gide, then others, heartily recommended its publication. Though the journalistic reception was cool, such eminent figures as Charles Péguy and Paul Desjardins praised it, thus vindicating the Gallimard readers’ judgment; it was, furthermore, the occasion of the novelist’s entry into the literary circle of the NRF, the most distinguished such group in Paris.
Like Devenir! and Les Thibault, Jean Barois is a comprehensive novel, aspiring to depict whole lives in a “vaste fresque” (vast fresco). It constitutes a formal challenge as well, for it is written almost entirely in dialogues, like a play or movie script. Henry James had wanted to give his novel The AWkward Age (1899) “the divine distinction of the act of the play…its guarded objectivity,” but Martin du Gard went much farther in eliminating narrative. Only sketchy indications about place, time, weather, and other circumstances furnish background information; at times, the novelist indulges in psychological notations: “Mais it a brusquement senti croître en lui, malgré lui, malgré les mots qu’il dit, une ivresse nouvelle” (But he has suddenly felt growing within himself, despite himself, despite the words he says, a new intoxication). Occasionally, letters and other documents are included, further breaking the theatrical illusion. The dramatic method was intended to offer the immediacy of the theater and its focus on crucial moments. It suited the author’s imagination, as he described it more than once to Gide in a 13 June 1932 letter and elsewhere thus; “Je dessine, je peins, des gens, des scènes, que mon imagination me pose devant moi comme un modèle de dessin d’après nature; et je copie servilement ce que je vois devant moi” (I draw, I paint, people, scenes, which my imagination places before me like a model in live drawing; and I copy slavishly what I see before me). Martin du Gard later wrote several motionpicture scenarios, including one for Emile Zola’s 1890 novel La Bête humaine (translated as Human Brutes, 1890) that was directed by Jean Renoir in 1938 (though Martin du Gard was uncredited).
To compose a novel using chiefly dialogues was a noteworthy achievement; the author considered it successful, though believing ultimately that it was too heavily ideological. In practice, however, the work reads like fiction, not drama, since the reader cannot long sustain the effort of the imagination required to visualize it. Moreover, as the story unfolds over years, the reader’s sense of observing characters is replaced by that of living with them.
Consisting of three parts, the work is a novel of ideas, though not a roman à thèse concocted to prove a point. One major theme is religion, the treatment of which led to placement of the work on the Vatican’s Index of Prohibited Books. In a circular trajectory, the hero, as an adolescent, rejects religious belief and adopts intellectual and political liberalism, only to return to his faith during his decline. Political forces, which become historical agents, furnish another theme; politics have become, as André Malraux later wrote, the twentieth-century tragedy. At the center is the Dreyfus Affair, the most traumatic political event in France between the end of the Franco-Prussian War (1871) and world war I. This scandal erupted in 1891 when Alfred Dreyfus, an army captain of Jewish extraction, was accused of passing military secrets to German agents. In 1894 he was found guilty of treason and sentenced to imprisonment on Devil’s Island. Evidence that came to light soon afterward indicated that there had been a miscarriage of justice; yet, the army refused Dreyfus a new trial. French society was torn apart, with conservatives (the army and most Catholics) aligned against liberals, who pressed for a new trial. Ultimately, after the real criminal confessed and was convicted, but with extenuating circumstances, Dreyfus was pardoned (1899) and finally exonerated (1906). The social and political wounds created by the affair remained open for years.
Part 1 concerns Jean’s childhood and young manhood. In the opening pages, he is ill. His father, a positivistic doctor, insists upon the role of the will in recovery; his pious grandmother has taken him to the shrine of Lourdes, in vain. The two represent warring beliefs: science (the naturalistic view) versus faith (the otherworldly view). (Jean’s mother is dead; maternal figures are rare in Martin du Gard’s fiction.) Later, as a young man, Jean, experiencing religious doubts, seeks to reconcile science and religion, before rejecting belief. He becomes engaged to a childhood friend, Cécile, a believer, at the bedside of his dying father, who, ironically, has returned to his childhood faith. But the marriage turns acrimonious, since neither spouse can accept the other’s views; after their daughter, Marie, is born, Jean leaves.
In part 2 politics invade the novel. Jean edits a small liberal magazine, Le Semeur (The Sower), whose guiding spirit is an older man, Luce (certainly a symbolic name, referring to light, hence enlightenment, from Latin lumen, a light). His character loosely recalls the nineteenth-century liberal luminaries Anatole France and Ernest Renan; it was also inspired in part by Hébert. The magazine contributors agree on the bankruptcy of Christianity and the truth of scientific determinism as well as the need to reform society; they espouse generally a non-Marxist socialism derived from the French humanistic tradition. When it is rumored that Dreyfus, imprisoned on Devil’s Island, is innocent, the magazine staff joins the struggle to determine the truth and fight for the victim: “Le devoir strict de chaque génération est donc d’aller dans le sens de la vérité, aussi loin qu’elle peut, à la limite extrême de ce qu’il lui est permis d’entrevoir,–et de s’y tenir désespérément, comme si elle prétendait atteindre la Vérité absolue. La progression de l’homme est à ce prix” (The strict duty of every generation is to go as far as it can in the direction of truth, to the extreme limit of what it can glimpse, and hold on there desperately, as if it were reaching absolute Truth. This is the price of human progress). Luce, though participating in the campaign for justice, recognizes the damage that the Dreyfus Affair is doing to France and fears its aftermath. His desire that justice prevail is also shaded by experience. His misgivings are borne out by obstacles raised continually to Dreyfus’s exoneration. Jean and others will live long enough to see the failure of the liberal reformist spirit and the rise of a militant, reactionary nationalism.
In part 3, Jean, disappointed in politics and aging, is ill. Marie, who wishes to join a religious order, comes to visit him, to test her vocation. Faith, he realizes, is not of an intellectual order but rather is connected to deep needs and feelings. He is reconciled with Cécile, who, pious though she is, deplores her daughter’s vocation (because it would limit family contact and rule out grandchildren). While Luce dies unbelieving, lucidly and calmly (as Hébert had wished for himself), Jean is reconverted to belief, partly because of the Christian promise of immortality. Cécile finds and burns a testamentary statement written years earlier in which Jean had disavowed any deathbed conversion. The preponderant evidence of the novel is, however, in favor of rationalism, not belief. The author suggested elsewhere that those who feared contact with doubt not read his work, adding that there were burning topics where impartiality was beyond human capacities.
In autumn 1913 and winter 1914 Martin du Gard was involved in theatrical life, especially Copeau’s Théâtre du Vieux-Colombier, on the Left Bank. He also met two brilliant actors, Louis Jouvet and Charles Dullin; in February 1914 Dullin acted in Martin du Gard’s first play, at the Vieux-Colombier, Le Testament du Père Leleu (published 1920), a “farce paysanne” (peasant farce) written in a colorful Berrichon dialect. Paul Léautaud, a critic of the time, suggested, perhaps facetiously, that it might be the author’s best work. The plot turns on money, death, and relations between the sexes. A servant, La Torine, who hopes to inherit her master’s property, is furious when he dies before making out his will. She persuades a neighbor to dress up like the deceased and dictate his testament to a notary before the death is announced. More wily than she, he does so, saying that Père Leleu’s property should go to his neighbor–that is, himself. Traditional jokes about cuckoldry and death recur, in a tone of good humor.
When war began the following summer, Martin du Gard was recalled into the military and was assigned to the First Cavalry Corps, remaining with it throughout the hostilities. His responsibility was overseeing logistics. When he was demobilized in February 1919, he began working again with Copeau. In January 1920 he conceived an idea for a novel concerning two brothers, quite different in temperament. Wishing to isolate himself, he found a house at Clermont (Oise), an hour’s distance from Paris, where he joined his wife and daughter on weekends. He drew up a complete plan of what would become his masterwork, Les Thibault, established an extensive documentation, discussed it with Gide, and began composing. Conversations with Gide were highly useful, although the two writers’ views on fiction varied considerably. While Martin du Gard asserted in Notes sur André Gide, 1913-1951 that no book by Gide had been for him a model, he also wrote in his Journal: “Merveilleuse influence de Gide…. Il exalte la fièvre de chacun…en poussant chacun dans le sens qui est le véritable et profond sens de chacun” (Marvelous influence of Gide. He exalts the fervor of each… by pushing each in the direction which is his true and deep sense). Three parts appeared in quick succession (all translated as part of Les Thibault): Le Cahier gris (1922; translated as The Gray Notebook, 1926); Le Pénitencier (1922; translated as The Penitentiary, 1926); and La Belle Saison (1923; translated as The Springtime of Life, 1926).
In 1924 Martin du Gard completed a farce, La Gonfle (published 1928; the word is a dialect term for dropsy, from gonflé, swollen). Two years later, he purchased a country property called Le Tertre, near Bellême (Orne), and continued there his work on Les Thibault. During the 1920s he also participated in Les Décades de Pontigny, colloquia organized by Desjardins. These prestigious gatherings brought together authors and other intellectuals to discuss problems of the day in politics, society, and literature. The deaths of the novelist’s father in April 1924 and of his mother nine months later, after a long, painful illness, which he witnessed, were a great trial to him. Using a military metaphor, he said repeatedly afterward that he felt himself on the front lines.
In 1929 Martin du Gard suffered one of the worst blows of his life. His daughter, Christiane, married Marcel de Coppet, the novelist’s contemporary and long his closest friend. He was shocked, dismayed, furious, and afraid (Coppet was tubercular); he felt betrayed by both, especially by Coppet, as his Journal indicates. Hélène Martin du Gard blamed her husband for Christiane’s choice. Coppet, who was in the foreign service, had just returned from Africa (Which figures sometimes in Martin du Gard’s works); the couple went back on various assignments. It took many years for Martin du Gard to accept the union with any equanimity, and relations between him and Christiane were often tense. The year of his death, he wrote to a friend that they had broken off all contact. Despite the fact that his daughter and Coppet had told Martin du Gard before the wedding that they would not have children-a relief to him-in fact two were born: Daniel in 1933, and Anne V-éronique in 1935.
Les Thibault is a brilliantly executed eight-part panorama novel, the work of a “concepteur post-balzacien, à l’aise dans les vastes projets” (a post-Balzacian inventor, at ease with vast projects), as Claude Debon remarked in his introduction to a 2003 volume of Martin du Gard’s letters. It belongs to the subgenre called roman: leuve, or river-novel, in which the parts are artistic wholes, but characters, plots, and themes recur-other multivolume examples include Rolland’s Jean-Christophe (1905-1912; translated, 1910-1913), a model that Martin du Gard acknowledged; Marcel Proust’s A la recherche du temps perdu (1913-1927; translated as Remembrance of Things Past, 1922-1930); and Jules Romains’s Les Hommes de bonne volonté (1932-1946; translated as Men of Good Will, 1933-1946). Les Thibault is at once a psychological novel, a social novel, and a novel of manners; that is, like all Martin du Gard’s works, it aspires to realism, with naturalistic features (the close study of death, for instance) but without naturalism’s focus on the sordid. What André Daspre called “la réalité repensée, réorganisée” (reality rethought, reorganized)—that is to say, life illuminated by the novelist’s art—is the great accomplishment of Les Thibault. The Marxist critic György Lukács spoke admiringly of the balance achieved between its inner and outer worlds; Camus praised the density and three-dimensional quality of the characters.
Though during World War I the author had written to his cousin Pierre Margaritis that he did not wish to burden his work with ideas, Les Thibault is in fact a novel of ideas, as well as what he called a spectacle of life, swarming with living beings; the original title was “Le Bien et le Mal” (Good and Evil). The author admitted he was attracted to ideological works, books with sociological and philosophical theses, adding that he was preoccupied by all the great contemporary problems. Nor was Les Thibault to be a confessional novel. He told Gide he wanted to create his characters outside of himself, detached, almost foreign to him. His approach remained basically objective; he had trained himself, starting at the Ecole des Chartes, to achieve balance in depicting reality by dispassionate accounts in an impersonal authorial voice, enriched by scenes in which characters express their subjective points of view. But objective does not mean always neutral: emphasis on certain themes and the voices of principal characters do, ultimately, indicate the author’s preferences, concerns, and beliefs.
Weighing methods of composition, Martin du Gard experimented by drafting an episode in two versions: the scenario form of Jean Barois, and conventional narration by an omniscient authorial voice. The experience revealed how much more flexible and practical the conventional method was, leading him to adopt it. He did not discard the dramatic advantages of dialogue presentation, which he used to great effect, combining narrative summary (overview) with scenes in which conversation carries the exposition, advances the action, and reveals character.
The work is built principally, as planned, around the two brothers Thibault: Antoine, a young doctor, and Jacques, still in secondary school, “un violent, un inquiet…un visionnaire” (a violent and troubled person, a visionary), as Antoine says. Critics have long admired the evenhandedness with which Martin du Gard treats the brothers, so different from each other. He acknowledged that they corresponded to two aspects of his own nature. While Antoine may speak more frequently for him—to the degree that his characters, distinct from him, still express his viewpoints—readers have discerned some preference for Jacques, whose internal logic, though only glimpsed in the early volumes, is central to the whole. The father, M. Thibault, plays a major role; there is no mother. A housekeeper, Mademoiselle de Waize, and her ward, Gise, complete the Thibault household in Paris and their summer residence. A second family, who are Protestant, includes Daniel de Fontanin, Jacques’s friend; Daniel’s sister, Jenny; his mother, Thérèse; her cousin Noémie, and Noémie’s daughter, Nicole; and, on occasion, Daniel’s errant and irresponsible father, Jérôme. Many other characters appear, including women with whom Antoine and Daniel become involved. Major themes include adolescence; religion; heredity, the family, and its generational conflicts; medicine, illness, and death; sexuality and love; social rebellion; politics; and war. Varying points of view on these topics and others are provided by the multiple foci of characters and plot.
The action of Le Cahier gris, which Rolland praised, takes place around 1905. Jacques and Daniel, both adolescents, have disappeared; M. Thibault and Antoine are frantic, as is Thérèse de Fontanin. Investigations at Jacques’s private school reveal that he had been caught with forbidden books and that the director, a priest, had confiscated from him a notebook including correspondence with a certain “D.” The priest intimates that the friendship is suspect, impure. He and M. Thibault—sanctimonious, irascible, and authoritarian—assume that Daniel is at fault; after all, he is a Protestant. As a flashback shows, the boys have fled, after confiscation of the notebook, to Marseilles, where they hope to embark for Africa. Jacques, the more rebellious, looks upon both the priest and his father as enemies. Daniel is happier at home and feels guilty for having left his mother. They do not succeed in hiding on a ship, and shortly the police pick them up and return them to Paris. Whereas Thérèse de Fontanin welcomes her son back, without reproach, Jacques must endure his father’s ire. The gulf between them is never crossed. Antoine tries to show affection and give reassurance, but he is too different to slip into easy comradeship with his brother. Le Cahier gris ends with M. Thibault’s announcement that Jacques will be incarcerated in a reformatory, which M. Thibault himself had founded.
In Le Pénitencier, which the eminent Communist critic Claude Roy called an admirable portrait of the awkward age, Antoine plays a more important role, though Jacques remains at the center of the book. Camus singled out for praise the depiction of his humiliation. After nine months, M. Thibault has scarcely seen his son, and Antoine knows little of the situation. Through a chance meeting with Daniel, Antoine learns that Jacques has concealed from him his real circumstances. Suspicious, Antoine investigates the institution. What he learns is not dramatic: there is no institutionalized sadism, no significant deprivation. But Jacques has been in near-solitary confinement, and his physical and emotional well-being have suffered. Moreover, two guards have engaged in unsavory conduct, one by showing him obscene pictures, the other by pederastic gestures. Antoine resolves to get his brother freed, although Jacques says that he would rather remain in detention than return home. With a priest’s intervention, Antoine persuades M. Thibault to permit Jacques to come live in Antoine’s newly established quarters, both home and medical office in the same building.
Jacques has his first love affair with Lisbeth, the concierge’s niece, visiting from Alsace. While at first, suffering from timidity and idealized yearning, he has no thought of consummating his desire, ultimately he does so. Another difference between the brothers becomes clear: for Antoine, who also has had sexual relations with Lisbeth, sex can be just a clinical matter. Another plotline involves the Fontanins. Though M. Thibault has forbidden Jacques to have any contact with Daniel, Antoine consents to take his brother to visit the Fontanin home. The meeting between Jacques and Daniel is unsatisfactory; they are, ultimately, too different. A Christian Science reader called Pastor Gregory is there with a message of repentance from Jérôme, perennially unfaithful (he has had an affair with his wife’s cousin, Noémie), irregular in supporting the family, and presently living elsewhere. Jérôme has sent a plea that his wife not pursue divorce proceedings; her agreement to pardon her husband reveals her sensuality. Though the portrait of Gregory, intransigent, even fanatical, is coolly objective, it conveys the novelist’s dislike for religion, as does Antoine’s declaration to Thérèse about his lack of belief and his scientific view of the world.
La Belle Saison, the title of which suggests the high summer of youth as well as actual summer, is centered around contrasting love affairs. At the bedside of a little girl whom he has tended in an emergency, Antoine meets a beautiful red-haired woman named Rachel. Their affair is passionate; he loves her as he has not loved others, and she is responsive. As she gradually reveals to him her past, he realizes that she is far more liberated in sexual matters than he; she was, moreover, the mistress of a sadist and murderer named Hirsch, a connoisseur of sexual perversions, including incest with his own daughter. Rachel spent time with Hirsch in Africa, where the freedom whites enjoyed allowed him to mistreat natives. After she and Antoine go to Normandy to decorate the grave of her dead infant–a child about whose existence he was long ignorant–she announces that she will return to Africa. The volume ends as Antoine, in deep distress, sees her off at Le Havre.
Jacques, who has passed the entrance examinations to the Ecole Normale Supérieure, the most eminent French school for the humanities, spends his vacation at the Thibaults’ country house, and there becomes better acquainted with Jenny de Fontanin, a neighbor. Both suffer from pride, timidity, and awkwardness; each is attracted to the other. Jenny struggles against the attraction; she has seen firsthand the damage done by erotic love, which frightens her. Meanwhile, Daniel has discovered Gide’s Les Nourritures terrestres (1897; translated as Fruits of the Earth, 1949)–which Jacques calls a glorification of cynicism–and uses it to justify his new amoralism. Like his father, Daniel is a philanderer; women, including a former mistress of his father, are greatly attracted to him. Jérôme also reappears, summoning his wife to Amsterdam to assist him financially and emotionally, as Noémie is dying. Afterward, he returns home, ostensibly repentant, but Thérèse recognizes the pattern: he will leave again, eventually, in pursuit of other women.
After seeing these three volumes through the press, Martin du Gard interrupted his roman-leuve to compose La Gonfle, another earthy “peasant farce.” It belongs to a long tradition of coarse literature dating from the Middle Ages, with crafty peasants, cuckolds, cheats, and tricksters. The play features Andoche, one of the writer’s most vivid characters, both a sacristan and the employee and companion of La Bique (the name means “female goat”), who has dropsy. The other characters are her mute serving girl, who is pregnant, and Armand, the veterinarian, La Bique’s nephew. Both Andoche and Armand hope to inherit La Bique’s property when she dies, which may be soon. With his great peasant cunning and mastery of language, displayed in brilliant monologues like those of a stand-up comedian, Andoche manipulates the others–by suggestion, blackmail, and logic–in such a way that he will get the inheritance. Crude jokes concerning priests and other notables complement those on cuckoldry and physical functions. The play was not staged until 1988, doubtless in part because it was written in a salty language, which, according to Daspre, the playwright devised, based on Berrichon dialect, with archaisms, provincial terms and pronunciations, and aberrant grammar, difficult to reproduce on stage.
Three more parts of Les Thibault appeared toward the end of the 1920s: La Consultation (1928; translated as Consulting-Day, 1934); La Sorellina (1928; translated, 1939); and La Mort du père (1929; translated, 1939). La Consultation takes place in a fourteen-hour period on 13 October 1913. Organized around Antoine’s professional activity that day, it includes many characters, who form a social tableau. For the first time, the theme of politics is introduced, by conversations between Antoine and his patient Rumelles, who occupies a position in the foreign office. Antoine’s ethics, both professional and personal, are based on the a priori value of life, to which all other values are posterior; medical science is the supreme human pursuit because it improves and prolongs life. Faced with the dying child of Nicole, married to a young doctor, Héquet, Antoine refuses to consider euthanasia. Jacques, meanwhile, has disappeared nearly three years before; Antoine has searched for him, fruitlessly, and M. Thibault believes he committed suicide. Gise, believing that a basket of roses sent anonymously from London must have been from Jacques, resolved to learn English and spent a summer in England trying vainly to trace him. It is clear that she loves him; the sentiment may have been reciprocal. Antoine also feels attraction for Gise; but she thinks only of Jacques. The volume ends as Antoine meditates on morality and its connection to psychology. He recognizes that the notions of good and evil are, to him, merely practical and utilitarian; despite his rejection of euthanasia, there is no absolute moral standard.
The title of La Sorellina refers to its frame story, a piece written by Jacques. It comes to Antoine’s attention when a professor at the Ecole Normale Supérieure, Jalicourt, sends written congratulations to Jacques on the story, which he discovered in a Swiss magazine. Although only long excerpts, not the whole, are reproduced, Martin du Gard composed, painstakingly, the entire story, written from Jacques’s viewpoint in what is intended to be his style, to impart authenticity to each excerpt; he later agreed with Gide that such labor had been unnecessary. Antoine opens the letter, of course, and immediately looks up Jalicourt, who gives him the magazine, relates his last conversation with Jacques, and shows him a letter in which Jacques quoted Walt Whitman on the lure of the open road and the rejection of libraries and critics. The semi-autobiographical story sheds light on Jacques’s disappearance: the hero Giuseppe’s quarrel with his father following a visit to the “Powells,” the father’s curses, and Giuseppe’s threat to kill himself. It also deals with “the two faces of love”: Giuseppe’s idealized sentiment for “Sybil” (Jenny), who agrees to be his but remains cold, paralyzed by fear of physical love; and his strong erotic attraction to “Annetta” (Gise). In the story, Annetta is his blood sister; the physical relationship they have is thus incestuous (Whereas Gise is not really related to Jacques).
Antoine leaves for Geneva to find Jacques, so that he can return to visit his father, who is dying of kidney failure. Whereas, except for the printed story, hereto fore the reader has seen Jacques chiefly through others’ eyes, Martin du Gard has recourse here to authorial omniscience to provide insight into his hero. Jacques also reveals much through conversations; he informs Antoine that he and Gise had shared only one passionate kiss and gives a different version from Jalicourt’s of their last interview. Jacques’s statements have been read by many as the quintessential expression of youthful rebellion:
Je lui ai expliqué…que je sentais en moi une force, quelque chose d’intime, de central, qui est à moi…! Que, depuis des années, tout effort de culture s’était presque toujours exercé au détriment de cette valeur profonde! Que j’avais pris en aversion les études, les écoles, l’érudition…et que cette horreur avait la violence d’un instinct de défense, de conservation.
(I explained to him …that I felt in myself a force, something intimate, central, which is mine.. ! That, for years, every cultural effort had almost always been exercised to the detriment of this profound value! That I felt aversion for studies, schools, learning…and that this dread was as violent as an instinct of defense and preservation.)
Jacques agrees to return to Paris, feeling estranged from his brother, his home, and even himself.
La Mort du prère offers a clinical description of the old man’s death, emphasizing both physical decay and extinction of consciousness. Antoine, like the author, finds death to be a metaphysical scandal and a central fact of existence—absurd, irrefutable, defeating ultimately all human projects. M. Thibault is supposed to take comfort in religious belief, but when he realizes he is dying (he had long denied it to himself while pretending to be reconciled to his end), he cannot resign himself and frantically blasphemes against God. But Christian practice does, finally, assist him, by the soothing effect of priestly ministrations and the Church’s time-honored formulas of consolation and reassurance. As the physical agony is prolonged, Jacques asks Antoine whether it cannot be ended; this time, Antoine agrees to euthanasia and administers a fatal dose of morphine. Antoine muses on the struggle between generations, the burden of heredity. Letters and notebooks found after the funeral paint a different picture of the tyrannical, irascible man, one given to tender feelings, doubts, anguish, and sinful pride, which, through self-discipline, he attempted to control. Jacques, it appears, is more like his father than anyone suspected; neither can accept life simply, in its demands and its physicality. Jacques rejects Gise when she attempts to express her love for him. The volume ends with a dialogue between Antoine and a priest concerning religious belief. “Mon athéisme s’est formé en même temps que mon esprit” (My atheism was formed at the same time as my mind), says Antoine. He then adds, “Je n’aijamais vu Dieu, hélas, qu’à travers mon père” (I have never seen God, alas, except through my father).
At the end of the 1920s, after six volumes of Les Thibault had appeared, Martin du Gard began to question his plans for its continuation, partly because it would require a dozen additional volumes—too many, he thought—and would be excessively psychological. He told Jean Tardieu, moreover, that he felt he had already gone beyond his project. His friend Jean-Richard Bloch even encouraged him to change the rhythm of his novel. Nevertheless, the next part, “L’Appareillage” (Setting Sail), was completed. On New Year’s Day 1931—the year of the publication of Confidence africaine (translated, 1983), a long story—the author and his wife were severely injured in an automobile accident that left them both hospitalized for nearly two months. Upon leaving the hospital, where he had reflected on his project, he burned almost all of “L’Appareillage.” During the following months of convalescence, he reconsidered his original plans for Les Thibault, and, as a diversion, wrote Un Taciturne (1932, A Quiet Man), his third theatrical work. In spring 1932 he composed a volume of naturalistic sketches, one of the works that satisfied him most, Vieille France (1933; translated as The Postman, 1954). Then, settling into a hotel near Marseilles in 1933, he established a new outline for the remainder of his roman-fleuve and gathered the documentation for it. In 1934 he moved to Nice. Throughout the 1930s he followed closely international developments and French politics. He deplored the egoism of the ruling classes and understood how the idea of a classless society, as the Soviet Union claimed to have constituted it already, was appealing; but he was convinced that human nature made such aspirations chimerical, and he was wary of the communist vision.
Confidence africaine, greatly admired by the American critic Henry Peyre, is a frame narrative, in which the putative author, or authorial persona, addresses a letter to a magazine editor, who had invited a contribution. The letter consists of explanatory material and the confession made to “Monsieur du Gard” by Leandro Barbazano, whom he met in southern France when both were visitors at a sanatorium. Leandro was there with his nephew, Michele, a handsome boy dying of tuberculosis. The author subsequently met Leandro again in North Africa. The confession was made during their return shipboard crossing to France. The device of the two narrators, “Monsieur du Gard” and Leandro, each using the first person, may have been chosen to give credibility to what Leandro relates—an incestuous relationship. Adumbrated in both La Belle Saison and La Sorellina, incest is here at the heart of the work. That the novelist succeeded in making the story plausible is shown by readers’ reactions; many refused to believe that, as the author told Gide, the plot was entirely imagined. (To another correspondent he wrote that he dreamed it.) His attitude toward incest, which violates one of the most widespread of social taboos, is dispassionate: “Monsieur du Gard” merely acts as a recorder for the story, passing no judgment.
Leandro tells his tale to show that critics accuse novelists unjustly of violating verisimilitude by including the extraordinary; life, he says, often consists of the exceptional. Michele was in reality his son, born of his passionate relationship with his sister Amalia in late adolescence. Because her old, tyrannical father expected her shortly to marry his assistant, Amalia decided to conceive a child with Leandro, who then left for his military service. When he returns years later, he finds her settled in domestic routine, with other children. The past is dead for her, and he finds her so changed that he too no longer feels desire. Michele is part of the family, but visibly different. Leandro, who lives with them, loves him; but after the boy’s death Leandro acknowledges it is a relief.
The 1931 “querelle du veau à cinq pattes” (quarrel of the five-legged calf) between Gide and Martin du Gard was sparked by Confidence africaine. The phrase was used by the two friends as a shorthand reference to their disagreement about whether fiction writers should deal with highly unusual human types and behavior (that is, the human equivalent of a five-legged calf) or with specimens and conduct belonging to normal ranges. In this heated epistolary dispute, Gide upbraided his friend for yielding to social prejudice; he would have preferred that the child of incest be robust and healthy. This occasion was not the only one when Gide contended that his friend was too concerned with the normal and that his work failed thus at suggesting the entire spectrum of human behavior, its anomalies, its horrors. Martin du Gard replied that a novelist’s charge was to deal not with freaks but with what is representative—the vraisemblable (true-to-life) rather than the exceptional. He simply depicted, he said, what he observed. In fact, it is a matter of degree, not kind: Rachel’s story, Leandro’s, and others show his interest in the anomalous and willingness to depict it; he wrote of wishing to “atteindre jusqu’au trouble fond des êtres” (reach the troubled depths of beings). But he did not wish to overemphasize it.
Un Taciturne, a well-constructed psychological drama, treats what was then another scandalous topic, homosexuality. The principal character, Thierry, is a respectable middle-aged businessman who took over his father’s business after the latter’s suicide. His sister, Isabelle, who stabbed a fellow schoolgirl, Wanda, in a dispute with lesbian overtones and spent time in a reformatory, now assists him; she and Wanda, also associated with the business, affect a warm friendship. An ambitious young man, Joë, persuades Thierry to hire him as secretary. When Joë, who has courted Isabelle despite her past, announces that she has agreed to marry him, Thierry flies into a rage, for, without realizing it, he has fallen in love with Joë. wanda also is jealous. Thierry, having become aware of his passion, shoots himself. Like Greek fatality, heredity presides over the play. When it was produced in 1931 by Jouvet (who played Thierry), there were expressions of indignation from the audience over the subject matter. Paul Claudel, an eminent Catholic poet and playwright, wrote to Jouvet to denounce the work and its author, whom he called an “écrivain immonde dont je ne veux pas même me rappeler le nom” (revolting writer whose name I don’t want even to recall); he also withdrew permission for Jouvet to stage one of his own dramas. Because of Un Taciturne, Claudel likewise refused to contribute to the NRF unless the articles were submitted to priestly censure.
A collection of sketches furnishing a few simple intrigues, Vieille France does not have a unified plot; unity is provided by place (a village), time (a single day), tone (sarcastic and bitterly satirical), and the characters’ outlook. Some unity comes also from the figure of the postman, a manipulating, unscrupulous, lecherous mischiefmaker. As he makes his rounds, he meddles in others’ lives for his own gain, or gratuitously. Except for the priest (ineffectual but not corrupted), a senile recluse, and the schoolteachers, his fellow villagers are nearly as rapacious and immoral as he, practicing adultery, incest, and prostitution (not depicted directly). Vieille France is more sardonic even than La Gonfle; it is truly an antipastoral. The author told his friend Marcel Arland that what he felt when contemplating such people was not hatred but desperation; as the schoolmistress asks, is there not some flaw in human character that makes people turn on others, go to war, sabotage their own aspirations?
L’Eté 1914, a long and complex panorama of Europe during the six weeks from 28 July until 10 August, appeared in 1936; the final part, Epilogue, begun at Le Tertre in 1938, was finished in Martinique in 1939 and published the following year. The two parts constitute roughly one-half of Les Thibault. The imbalance between the eighty-five chapters of L’Eté 1914 and each previous part was noted by critics; so was the change in emphasis from family matters to the fate of Europe. Claude-Edmonde Magny, in her Histoire du roman français depuis 1918 (1950, History of the French Novel Since 1918), was one of the authorities who argued that the invasion of the long work by politics and history created rupture and disequilibrium. However, the altered scope can be explained. Though the author remained pacifistic and isolationist in temperament, it was clear by the 1930s that for Europeans there could no longer be a uniquely individual destiny, self-determined, separate; World War I had been both agent and proof of this change. With the rise of fascism, war again threatened the Continent. It was reasonable, thus, for the novelist to place historical action in the foreground, elucidate it, and show its effect on his characters’ lives. Without the war, the destinies of all the younger generation—Antoine, Jacques, Daniel, Jenny, Gise—would be different.
Unlike Romains in Verdun (1938; translated, 1939), one of the volumes of Les Hommes de bonne volonté, Martin du Gard did not depict major events in the war itself; instead, he focused on its outbreak, to shed light on the mechanism that led inexorably to fifty months of massive destruction. As Picon observed, Martin du Gard displays an extraordinary command of facts and the ability to re-create complex political situations in which he was not involved, giving a powerful impression of “choses vues” (things seen). Rolland, asserting that his friend’s work would last, praised the characters as belonging to “l’histoire de ce temps” (the history of this time). An anonymous critic wrote: “Jamais romancier ne tenta plus soigneusement d’imposer à ses personnages leur contexte historique et social” (Never did a novelist try more carefully to impose on his characters their historical and social context).
Jacques has come to socialism out of conviction; his background is that of individualistic humanism, not class struggle. He is not so radical as his collaborators in his Geneva cell. He finds it chimerical, for instance, to propose eliminating all national boundaries; he accepts Karl Marx’s theses on the internal contradictions of capitalism and the oppression of the bourgeoisie, but he cannot admit that men are infinitely malleable. When the Austrian archduke Franz Ferdinand is assassinated by a fanatical Serbian nationalist on 28 June 1914, Jacques is sent on missions to Austria, France, and Belgium. In Brussels he receives papers stolen from an Austrian officer in Berlin. They show clearly how the German and Austrian governments wish to provoke Serbia and Russia sufficiently to force them to war. The plan is to expose these documents, thus revealing the AustrianGerman warmongering and undermining German claims to a defensive war. A colleague of Jacques nicknamed “The Pilot” destroys the documents, since he believes that the only hope for socialist revolution is fullscale war. Dismayed, Jacques realizes that the destruction was deliberate; furthermore, European socialists appear increasingly ready to abandon their policy of resistance to conscription and support their governments against any aggressor.
The novelist skillfully picks up other threads of his story. Antoine, involved in a liaison with a married woman, who probably poisoned her first husband, is, as usual, reluctant to think that circumstances could impinge on his life. Jérôme, having been caught embezzling funds, has shot himself in Vienna; Jenny, seeing Jacques again, finds her hard-won equilibrium destroyed, but finally yields to him, both in mind and, later, in body; Nicole Héquet, her cousin, has seen both her children die and can never have another.
After the assassination of the socialist leader Jean Jaurès (who is quoted as saying, “Maintain the International, no matter what the cost”) and Germany’s declaration of war on 1 August, Jacques, who has long maintained that action must validate belief, resolves on an attempt to arrest the war machinery. Returning to Geneva, he asks “The Pilot” to teach him to fly enough to reach the front lines and drop pacifist leaflets on both sides, urging soldiers to abandon their arms in the name of working-class solidarity. (The act resembles that of the historical Lauro de Bosis, the Italian poet who distributed pamphlets over Rome in 1931.) Believing, for private reasons, that his career is over, “The Pilot” decides to take the controls so that he, too, may give meaning to his death. Jacques’s deed is genuinely political, but it also expresses the death wish of one whose intransigent idealism cannot accept compromise. The act is a failure: the plane crashes and burns before the tracts are dropped. Jacques, burnt, wounded, and unable to speak, is rescued by some French troops, but they resent him as a burden as they retreat, and he is deliberately finished off.
With his death, the trajectory that began in Le Cahier gris is complete, as the title of the remaining volume, Epilogue, suggests. Jacques appears both typical, exemplifying gifted and idealistic youth dissatisfied with the unimaginative goals of the bourgeoisie and revolted by injustice, and exceptional, carrying his beliefs to their logical extreme at the cost of his life, reaching thereby almost mythic proportions. Following Jacques’s death, Antoine will regret not having understood him sufficiently, not having granted the legitimacy of his dream. Despite his conservatism, the novelist was obviously attracted to his young hero’s rebellion and impractical idealism.
The plot of L’Eté 1914 tends toward the conclusion that war is inevitable; there is a sense that the historical process, dispersed among concurrent and competing actions in various national capitals, involving many agents, cannot be known or controlled. This somber view constitutes a denial of nineteenth-century claims that history can be directed toward rational ends. Lukács argued, however, that the author’s analysis revealed instead Marxist truth: apparently uncontrollable events follow their own rationale toward the end of history; one stage is the fated destruction, furthered by the war, of the bourgeoisie.
Part 1 of Epilogue is a third-person narrative from Antoine’s viewpoint; part 2 is his first-person journal. What has happened between the outbreak of war and the time of narration (1918) is filled in progressively. Gassed the previous November, Antoine has undergone detoxification and is convalescing in the south. He travels to Paris for Mademoiselle de Waize’s funeral and there sees again figures from the past. The family finally ascertained that Jacques had crashed in a plane; the precise way he died is unknown to them. Gise and Jenny, both devoted to his memory, work together, not without jealousy, in the hospital Thérèse de Fontanin has established in her country house. Jenny is the mother of a little boy, Jean-Paul. Antoine later offers to marry her by a purely formal contract to give the child the Thibault name, but she refuses; she assumes wholly Jacques’s rejection of the bourgeoisie and is proud that the child is illegitimate. Daniel, whose leg was blown off during a battle at the front, has lost his joie de vivre. Later his lethargy is explained: he also lost his virility in the explosion. The theme of sterility is everywhere: neither he, Antoine, nor Gise, who will never love another, will have children; Jenny will have no more.
Antoine, who has supposed he will recover, reads on the face of his old friend Dr. Philip, which he glimpses in an unguarded moment, that he is doomed. His diary is devoted to watching death approach. His meditations on history and human life in the vast universe can be read, if one wishes, as expressing the author’s own mixture of optimism and pessimism. He places some confidence in the nascent League of Nations and hopes that, over time, human society will evolve toward a better organization. Personally, however, facing extinction, he experiences rage and despair. As the armistice is signed in November, he is so weak that he cannot continue his diary. On the eighteenth, he manages one last line, mentioning Jean-Paul, after which he takes his own life. His hopes for the boy and for Europe are fraught, for author and readers, with historical irony: in 1940, when the book appeared, France was again at war, and young men of Jean-Paul’s generation were dead or dying.
When World War II was declared, Martin du Gard and his wife were in Martinique. Following a cruise in the Gulf of Mexico and three weeks in the United States (financed by part of his Nobel Prize money), they returned home. As France fell in June 1940, they abandoned Le Tertre just before the Germans arrived, and, after delays, they settled in Nice, in the zone occupied by Italy. Martin du Gard disliked strongly the collaborationist government of Vichy and resented the German occupation of much of France. Without participating himself, he assisted friends engaged in clandestine activity. In April 1944 he and his wife fled when he was warned that he was on a list of suspects. Until December, they remained near Figeac (Lot), near Christiane and her husband, who directed a group of maquisards (members of the regional Resistance). After the war, the author and his wife wintered in Nice and spent summers at Le Tertre or in Paris. Hélène Martin du Gard died suddenly in 1949; they had both suffered from wartime malnutrition, and their constitutions may have been weakened.
When Martin du Gard’s fragmentary posthumous novel, Le Lieutenant-Colonel de Maumort (translated, 2000), appeared in the Pléiade series in 1983, superbly edited by Daspre, admirers of the author were greatly interested. He had worked on it assiduously from 1941 until his death seventeen years later. He intended it to be another exhaustive study of a life and times and to serve as a testamentary work, expressing his understanding of life after long experience. It cannot achieve, however, the popularity of his masterpieces. Because there is no inexpensive edition, it is not generally available to young readers, who for generations devoured Le Cahier gris and other volumes of Les Thibault; and, in its unfinished state, it does not have the structure, the polish, or the sustained drama of the author’s previous works. He hesitated over choice of form. The main section is composed of Maumort’s incomplete memoirs, which he writes as a septuagenarian, after what he calls a happy life. There are also nine long letters to a friend. Many of what were to be later episodes are simply outlines and sketches. The volume also includes preparatory dossiers, full of historical interest and revealing of authorial concerns, but not fiction.
In view of Martin du Gard’s pacifism and antimilitarism, the decision to make his hero a career officer may seem surprising. It may be explained in two ways: first, the author’s desire-one may almost say compulsion-to view life through another’s eyes, place himself in another’s skin; second, the fact that the work, begun after the defeat of France, was to deal with war and occupation. The close self-examination practiced by Maumort recalls that of Michel de Montaigne in his Essais (1580), which Martin du Gard read in its entirety and admired greatly. Martin du Gard emphasizes Maumort’s youth and treats sexuality frankly, though not coarsely-wishing, it would appear, to compensate for having glossed over the topic generally in his previous novels.
In addition to working on Le Lieutenant-Colonel de Maumort throughout his last years, the author also spent time putting his voluminous papers in order before they were deposited in the national library. He was with Gide at the latter’s death in 1951; he continued seeing and writing to other friends. In a few rare instances he signed political petitions, breaking a lifelong habit of refusing to make public statements on controversial issues. He died on 22 August 1958, some days after suffering a heart attack, and was buried in Cimiez, near Nice, beside his wife.
Changes in taste and reading habits have resulted in a decline in Martin du Gard’s popularity. To many American postgraduate students in French, his name is barely known. This decline is owing to altered views on literary training and the underlying trends in criticism and fictional form-radicalization of criticism by postmodern theory and other developments after 1960 or so. These developments include the questioning of language as a meaningful system, skepticism concerning fictional projects that aspire to mirror large segments of reality, formal preference for the fragmentary over the whole, for flashes of light over steady illumination-that is, what Roland Barthes called “le degré zéro de l’écriture” (zero degree in writing). Modernism and postmodernism consist greatly, moreover, in a quest for novelty; Martin du Gard himself told a friend, “Je ne suis pas un départ, mais un aboutissement” (I am not a departure, but an arrival).
Yet, his work still has admirers, as cheap editions and scholarly publications indicate. For those who can overcome the prejudices of the hour, he remains a great writer. Tardieu assured him that his work would survive, “solide et souple comme l’acier, de style pur et exempt de tout ce qui date et démode” (solid and flexible like steel, of a pure style and free of everything that dates a work, makes it unfashionable). Camus praised him as the only novelist of his generation following in Tolstoy’s line, having “le goût des êtres, l’art de les peindre dans leur obscurité charnelle” (a liking for human beings, the art of painting them in their carnal obscurity). He disdained aestheticism totally; his aim, in both fiction and drama, was not to create beauty but reality. Fanatically devoted, however, to his craft (so successfully that the craft is barely visible), he put his art at the service of what he considered truth. In his Nobel speech, he spoke of having discovered while still young, in a Thomas Hardy novel, the observation: “The real value of life seemed to him to be less in its beauty than in its tragedy.” The statement, he added, corresponded to a deep intuition: that the principal object of fiction is to express the tragic quality of life-even more, of an individual destiny being accomplished. This understanding-close to Malraux’s view of the novel as a privileged means of expression of human tragedy-led Martin du Gard to adapt nineteenth-century realism to contemporary concerns. His brilliant portrayal of individual destinies against a background of philosophical angst and historical unrest makes him, as Claude Roy wrote, one of the greatest novelists of the twentieth century.
“Lettres á un ami,” Nouvelle Revue Française, new series 6, no. 72 (December 1958): 1137–1165;
“Correspondance Jean-Richard Bloch-Roger Martin du Gard, 1909-1946,” Europe, 41-43 (September 1963-April 1965);
Correspondance André Gide—Roger Martin du Gard, 2 volumes, edited by Jean Delay (Paris: Gallimard, 1968);
Lettres de Roger Martin du Gard à un jeune écrivain, 1953-1958 (Paris: A. Sernin, 1969);
Correspondance Jacques Copeau—Roger Martin du Gard, 2 volumes, edited by Claude Sicard (Paris: Gallimard, 1972);
Correspondance générale, 8 volumes, edited by Maurice Rieuneau, André Daspre, Sicard, Jean-Claude Airal, Pierre Bardel, and Bernard Duchatelet (Paris: Gallimard, 1980-1997);
Eugène Dabit, Roger Martin du Gard: Correspondance, 2 volumes, edited by Bardel (Toulouse: Editions du C.N.R.S., 1986);
Témoins d’un temps troublé: Roger Martin du Gard—Georges Duhamel, correspondance 1919-1958, edited by Arlette Lafay (Paris: Lettres Modernes/Minard, 1987);
Correspondance Georges Duhamel—Roger Martin du Gard, edited by Lafay (Paris: Minard, 1987);
Romain Rolland et la N.R.F.: Correspondances avec Jacques Copeau, Gaston Gallimard, André Gide, André Malraux, Roger Martin du Gard, Jean Paulhan, Jean Schlumberger et Fragments du Journal, edited by Duchatelet (Cahiers Romain Rolland) (Paris: Albin Michel, 1989);
Lettres de confiance à Jean Morand: 1938-1957, edited by Bernadette Morand (Saint-Lambert des Bois: Franc-Dire, 1991);
Correspondance croisée, ou, L’histoire d’une amitié manquée: Roger Martin du Gard et Robert Honnert, edited by Jean José Marchand (Dolhain, Belgium: Editions Compléments, 2000);
Correspondance 1922-1958 Roger Martin du Gard—Jacques de Lacretelle, edited by Alain Tassel (Paris: L’Harmattan, 2003);
Lettres croisées (1923-1958) Roger Martin du Gard —Jeana Trdieu, edited by Claude Debon (Paris: Gallimard, 2003).
Maria van Rysselberghe, Les Cahiers de la Petite Dame, volumes 4-7 of Cahiers André Gide (Paris: Gallimard, 1973-1977);
Claude Sicard, Roger Martin du Gard: Les Années d’ apprentissage littéraire: (1881-1910) (Lille: Atelier Reproduction de Thèses, Université Lille III, 1976).
Bernard Alluin, Martin du Gard romancier (Paris: Aux Amateurs de Livres, 1989);
Charlotte Andrieux, L’Ecriture de la politique chez Roger Martin du Gard (Villeneuve d’Ascq: Presses Universitaires du Septentrion, 1999);
Denis Boak, Roger Martin du Gard (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1963);
Clément Borgal, Martin du Gard (Paris: Editions Universitaires, 1957);
Jacques Brenner, Martin du Gard (Paris: Gallimard, 1961);
André Brincourt, Messagers de la nuit: Roger Martin du Gard, Saint-John Perse, André Malraux (Paris: Grasset, 1995);
Catharine Savage [Brosman], Roger Martin du Gard (New York: Twayne, 1968);
Brosman, “André Gide and Roger Martin du Gard: For and Against Commitment,” Rice University Studies, 59 (Summer 1973): 1–8;
Brosman, “The Ethics of Ambiguity in Les Thibault,” Folio, 13 (Autumn 1981): 24–42;
Brosman, “Roger Martin du Gard, Les Thibault et Les Nourritures terrestres,” in Retour aux “Nourritures terrestres,” edited by David H. Walker and Brosman (Amsterdam & Atlanta: Rodopi, 1997), pp. 87–105;
Bulletin des Amis d’André Gide, special Martin du Gard issue, 9 (October 1981);
Cahiers Roger Martin du Gard (1989);
Florence Callu, Françoise Bléchet, and Michel Brunet, eds., Roger Martin du Gard (Paris: Bibliothèque nationale, 1981);
Albert Camus, “Roger Martin du Gard,” Nouvelle Revue Française, 34 (1955): 641–671;
Sylvie Caucanas and Rémy Cazals, eds., Traces de 14-18: Actes du Colloque International tenu à Carcassonne du 24 au 27 avril 1996 (Carcassonne: Les Audois, 1997);
Haakon Chevalier, “French Literature Before the Wars; Two Attitudes: 1914 and 1939,” French Review, 16 (January 1943): 197–205;
Peter M. Cryle, Roger Martin du Gard, ou, De l’intégrité de l être à l’intégrité du roman (Paris: Lettres Modernes/ Minard, 1984);
André Daspre and Alain Tassel, eds., Roger Martin du Gard et les crises de l’histoire (Nice: Presses Universitaires de Nice, 2001);
Daspre and Jochen Schlobach, eds., Roger Martin du Gard: Etudes sur son oeuvre (Paris: Klincksieck, 1984);
Harald Emeis, L’Ame prisonnière: Analyses de l’oeuvre de Roger Martin du Gard (Albi: Editions de la Revue du Tarn, 1983);
Emeis, L’Euvre de Roger Martin du Gard: Sources et significations, 2 volumes (Essen: Die Blaue Eule, 2003);
Emeis, Présence d’André Gide dans Les Thibault de Roger Martin du Gard: Essai de décryptage, 2 volumes (Essen: Die Blaue Eule, 2006);
Europe, special Martin du Gard issue, no. 762 (1992);
Trevor Field, “The Internal Chronology of Jean Barois,” Studi Francesi, 50 (May-August 1973): 300–303;
René Garguilo, La Genèse des “Thibault” de Roger Martin du Gard (Paris: Klincksieck, 1974);
Robert Gibson, Roger Martin du Gard (London: Bowes & Bowes / New York: Hillary House, 1961);
John Gilbert, “Symbols of Continuity and the Unity of Les Thibault,” in his Image and Theme: Studies in Modern French Fiction (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1969), pp. 124–148;
Irving Howe, “Martin du Gard: The Novelty of Goodness,” in his The Decline of the New (New York: Harcourt, Brace & world, 1970), pp. 43–53;
Stuart H. Hughes, “Martin du Gard and the Unattainable Epic,” in his The Obstructed Path: French Social Thought in the Years of Desperation (New York: Harper & Row, 1966), pp. 107–120;
R. Jouejati, The Quest for Total Peace: The Political Thought of Roger Martin du Gard (London &Totowa, N.J.: F. Cass, 1977);
Grant Kaiser, “Jacques Thibault: Masque et mythe,”in Fiction, Form, Experience, edited by Kaiser (Montreal: Editions France-Québec, 1976), pp.114-127;
Kaiser, “Roger Martin du Gard devant la critique,” Studi Francesi, 59 (1976): 248–262;
Kaiser, “Roger Martin du Gard’s Jean Barois: An Experiment in Novelistic Form,” Symposium, 14 (Summer 1960): 135–141;
György Lukács, Realism in Our Time: Literature and the Class Struggle, translated by John Mander and Necke Mander (New York: Harper & Row, 1964), pp. 55–59;
Claude-Edmonde Magny, Histoire du roman français depuis 1918 (Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1950);
Nouvelle Revue Française, special Martin du Gard issue, new series 6 (December 1958);
Martha O’Nan, “Form in the Novel: André Gide and Roger Martin du Gard,” Symposium, 12 (SpringFall 1958): 81–93;
O’Nan, “Lettre autographe et bibliographie,” Folio, 13 (Autumn 1981): 70–76;
O’Nan, ed., Roger Martin du Gard Centennial, 1881-1981 (Brockport: Department of Foreign Languages, State University of New York College, 1981);
Gaëtan Picon, “Portrait et situation de Roger Martin du Gard,” Mercure de France, no. 1141 (September 1958): 16;
Revue d’Histoire Littéraire de la France, special Martin du Gard issue, 82, no. 5-6 (1982);
Réjean Robidoux, Roger Martin du Gard et la religion (Paris: Aubier, 1964);
Leon Roudiez, “The Function of Irony in Roger Martin du Gard,” Romanic Review, 48 (December 1957): 275–286;
Robert Roza, “Roger Martin du Gard: Master Builder of the Novel,” American Society Legion of Honor Magazine, 38 (1967): 73–88;
Claude Roy, Descriptions critiques (Paris: Gallimard, 1949), p. 61;
Angels Santa and Montserrat Parra, eds., Relire “L’Été 1914” et “L’Épilogue” de Roger Martin du Gard (Lleida: Universitat de Lleida/Pagès, 2000);
David Schalk, Roger Martin du Gard: The Novelist and History (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1967);
Sonia Spurdle, “Tolstoy and Roger Martin du Gard’s Les Thibault,” Comparative Literature, 23 (Fall 1971): 325–345;
Susan M. Stout, Index de la Correspondance André Gide-Roger Martin du Gard (Paris: Gallimard, 1971);
Stout, Index des noms et des titres cités dans la correspondance André Gide, Roger Martin du Gard (Bron: Université Lyon II, Centre d’Etudes Gidiennes, 1979);
Michael John Taylor, Martin du Gard: Jean Barois (London: Arnold, 1974);
Philip Thody, “The Politics of the Family Novel: Is Conservatism Inevitable?” Mosaic, 3 (Fall 1969): 87–101;
John Vrolyk, Le Temps et la mort dans l’oeuvre romanesque de Roger Martin du Gard (Paris: La Pensée Universelle, 1974);
David Priestley Wainwright, “The Theatrical Temptation: Jacques Copeau’s Influence on Roger Martin du Gard, 1913-1920,” dissertation, University of Southern California, 1985;
Eugene Weber, “The Secret world of Jean Barois, “in The Origins of Modern Consciousness, edited by Ed weiss (Detroit: wayne State University Press, 1965), pp. 79–109;
Renée Fainas wehrmann, L’Art de Roger Martin du Gard dans “Les Thibault” (Birmingham, Ala.: Summa Publications, 1986);
W. Donald wilson, “Martin du Gard’s Epilogue: A Problem of Closure,” in Perspectives on Language and Literature: Essays in Honor of William Mailer, edited by J. Michael Dash and Bridget Jones (Mona, Jamaica: University of the West Indies, 1985), pp. 144–160;
Wilson, La Structure du dédoublement: objectivité et mythedans “Les Thibault” de Roger Martin du Gard (Birmingham, Ala.: Summa Publications, 1997);
Wilson, “The Theme of Abdication in the Novels of Roger Martin du Gard,” Neophilologus, 59 (April 1975): 190–198;
John Wood, “Roger Martin du Gard,” French Studies, 14 (April 1960): 129-140.
Most of Roger Martin du Gard’s papers are deposited at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris. Some letters are at the IMEC (Institut Mémoires de l’édition contemporaine), Paris.
"Gard, Roger Martin du (23 March 1881 - 22 August 1958)." Nobel Prize Laureates in Literature, Part 3. . Encyclopedia.com. 17 Nov. 2018 <https://www.encyclopedia.com>.
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