Saint-Pierre, Michel de 1916-1987
SAINT-PIERRE, Michel de 1916-1987
PERSONAL: Born February 12, 1916; died June 19, 1987; son of Louis (a military man and historian), and Antoinette Sainte-Pierre; children: Richard. Education: Attended Saint-Jean-de-Bethune Catholic boarding school, Versailles, France; attended the Sorbonne until 1935; Religion: Catholic.
CAREER: Novelist. Military service: Served in French navy.
AWARDS, HONORS: Grand Prix du Roman, Société des Gens de Lettres, 1951, for La mer a boire.
Vagabondages, Aubanel (Avignon, France), 1938.
Contes pour les sceptiques, Henri Lefebvre (Paris, France), 1945.
Ce monde ancien (title means "This Old World"), Calmann-Lévy (Paris, France), 1948.
Montherlant, bourreau de soi-même Gallimard (Paris, France), 1949.
La mer à boire (title means "Different Assignment"), Calmann-Lévy (Paris, France), 1951.
Bernadette et Lourdes, Table Ronde (Paris, France), 1952, translation by Edward Fitzgerald published as Bernadette and Lourdes, Farrar, Straus, and Young (New York, NY), 1954.
Les Aristocrates, Table Ronde (Paris, France), 1954, translation by Geoffrey Sainsbury published as The Aristocrats, Dutton (New York, NY), 1956.
Dieu vous garde des femmes, Denoel (Paris, France), 1955.
Les ecrivains, Calmann-Lévy (Paris, France), 1957, translation by Peter Green published as Men of Letters, Hutchinson (London, England), 1959.
Les murmures de Satan (title means, "Satan's Whispering"), Calmann-Lévy (Paris, France), 1959.
La vie prodigieuse du curé d'Ars, Bonne Press (Paris, France), 1959, reprinted, Gallimard (Paris, France), 1973, translation by M. Angeline Bouchard published as The Remarkable Curé of Ars: The Life and Achievement of St. John Mary Vianney, Doubleday (Garden City, NY), 1963.
Les nouveaux aristocrates, Calmann-Lévy (Paris, France), 1960, translation by Anthony and Llewela Burgess published as The New Aristocrats, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1963.
La nouvelle race, Table Ronde (Paris, France), 1961.
L'école de la violence (title means "The School for Violence"), Table Ronde (Paris, France), 1962.
Plaidoyer pour l'amnistie (title means, "A Plea for Amnesty"), Esprit Nouveau (Paris, France), 1963.
Les nouveaux prêtres, Table Ronde (Paris, France), 1964, translation published as The New Priests, Herder (St. Louis, MO), 1966.
Sainte colère (title means "Holy Anger"), Table Ronde (Paris, France), 1965.
Ces prêtres qui souffrent (title means "These Suffering Priests"), Table Ronde (Paris, France), 1966.
J'étais à Fatima, Table Ronde (Paris, France), 1967.
Le drame des Romanov, two volumes, Laffont (Paris, France), 1967, 1969.
La jeunesse et l'amour, Plon (Paris, France), 1970.
Le milliardaire (title means "The Billionaire"), Grasset (Paris, France), 1970.
L'accusée (title means "The Guilty Woman"), Grasset (Paris, France), 1972.
Eglises en ruine, église en péril (title means "Churches in Ruin, Church in Peril"), Plon (Paris, France), 1973.
Je reviendrai sur les ailes de l'aigle (title means "I Shall Return on the Wings of an Eagle"), Table Ronde (Paris, France), 1975.
Les fumées de Satan (title means "Satan's Smokescreen"), Table Ronde (Paris, France), 1976.
Monsieur de Charette, chevalier du roi, Table Ronde (Paris, France), 1977.
La passion de l'abbé Delance, Table Ronde (Paris, France), 1978.
Laurent, Grasset (Paris, France), 1980.
Docteur Erikson, Grasset (Paris, France), 1982.
Lettre ouverte aux assassins de l'école libre (title means "Open Letter to the Assassins of the Private Schools"), Albin Michel (Paris, France), 1982.
Le double crime de l'impasse Salomon (title means "The Double Crime in the Impasse Salomon"), Plon (Paris, France), 1984.
Sous le soleil de Dieu, Plon (Paris, France), 1984.
Les cavaliers du veld, Albin Michel (Paris, France), 1986.
La source et la mer, Table Ronde (Paris, France), 1986.
La milieu de l'été (title means "The Height of Summer"), Albin Michel (Paris, France), 1987.
ADAPTATIONS: The novel Les ecrivains was adapted for the stage by Pierre de Calan, Grasset (Paris, France), 1959.
SIDELIGHTS: Novelist Michel de Saint-Pierre was a popular French realist whose novels sold millions of copies. Saint-Pierre considered his best-known work, Les nouveaux prêtres, his most important. David O'Connell wrote in the Dictionary of Literary Biography, "Using meticulous documentation a là [Honoré de] Balzac as the basis for his novels, he wrote books that are easy to read and highly persuasive."
Born into a rural aristocratic family in 1916, Saint-Pierre attended Saint-Jean-de-Bethune Catholic boarding school, and these formative years at private school affirmed his Catholicism. He lost interest in his studies while at the Sorbonne; instead of slogging through schoolwork, he took a job as an unskilled laborer in the shipyards at Saint-Nazaire in Brittany, and witnessed a significant labor struggle.
His experience at the shipyards—witnessing the rise of Leon Bloom's Popular Front coalition of communists, socialists, and radicals and the fierce struggle for workers' rights—inspired material for his first novel, Ce monde ancien, a bildungsroman about a young man revolting against privilege. The young writer supported his fellow laborers' goals but was ultimately turned off by their methods, including the workers' strike and the pomp and ceremony the left organized in direct imitation of Catholic proceedings.
Saint-Pierre signed on for four years of naval service in 1936 but served longer than expected when World War II broke out. His next novel, La mer à boire, received the Grand Prix du Roman from the Société des Gens de Lettres.
Saint-Pierre's fiction mirrored his life. His first big commercial success came in 1954, when he published his novel Les aristocrates. The novel, translated into six languages, portrays an aristocratic family in Burgundy. O'Connell said, "By the end of the novel, the reader gains a sense of the web of contradictions that constitute aristocratic life in France."
Les ecrivains tells of a successful writer, Alexandre Damville, obsessed with keeping a tight, hyperproductive schedule, and Alexandre's twentysomething son Georges, an aspiring writer with little yet to show for his dreams. In Les murmures de Satan protagonist Jean Dewinter, a self-made businessman, attempts to live the teachings of the Gospel in contemporary France. Dewinter builds a Christian commune of several families in a manor house and regularly confront an atheist neighbor. The church hierarchy eventually disbands the group, but the residents have by now learned important lessons.
Les nouveaux aristocrates followed Les murmures de Satan, both works fitting within the tradition of the French Catholic novel. Les nouveaux aristocrates features Denis Prulle-Rousseau, a spoiled, faithless young man who tortures his teachers at school. The novel examines the concept of Christian happiness and concludes that religious belief does not always produce it.
Two forces are at odds in Les nouveaux prêtres: progressisme and intégrisme within the French Catholic Church. The progressive priests think of demolishing the traditional parish church and begin holding Mass in a rented apartment, wearing jeans and collaborating with local Communists. On the other side is protagonist Paul Delance, who, according to O'Connell, represents a personal brand of spirituality from an earlier period. Saint-Pierre aimed to investigate and define the role of the priest within the church, and within political circles. In doing so, he caused a stir in France and the book sold exceedingly well.
Le milliardaire deals with social issues, non-religious in nature, as do many of Saint-Pierre's subsequent novels. L'accusée follows a female character through her divorce as she proceeds through the male-biased French legal system. La passion de l'abbé Delance, a sequel to Les nouveaux prêtres, invites the reader back inside the French Catholic Church. Laurent, by contrast, shows young characters adapting to consumer society. Saint-Pierre's son, Richard, who took his own life, inspired the main character.
Docteur Erikson journeys inside the French medical industry as it refuses to experiment in fighting cancer. Le double crime de l'impasse Salomon accuses the French judiciary of leniency, while Les cavaliers du veld chronicles French Huguenots settling in South Africa. Saint-Pierre delivered his last novel, La milieu de l'été, a tale of religious conversion, to his publisher the day before he died. It was published in 1987.
O'Connell included among Saint-Pierre's notable works: La nouvelle race; l'école de la violence, which chronicles the beginnings of juvenile delinquency in France; Plaidoyer pour l'amnistie, an open letter to President Charles de Gaulle asking him to pardon those men who tried to overthrow him during the Algerian War; Sainte Colère; Ces prêtres qui souffrent; Eglises en ruine, église en péril; Les fumées de Satan, which express Saint-Pierre's disappointment over Vatican II, and his pamphlet Lettre ouverte aux assassins de l'école libre, a petition against French President François Mitterand's plan to nationalize Catholic schools.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 83: French Novelists since 1960, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1989.
O'Connell, David, Michel de Saint-Pierre: A Catholic Novelist at the Crossroads, Summa Publications (Birmingham, AL), 1990.*