Drieu la Rochelle, Pierre (1893–1945)

views updated



French writer.

Along with Robert Brasillach (1909–1945) and Louis-Ferdinand Céline (pseudonym of Louis-Ferdinand Destouches, 1894–1961), Pierre Drieu la Rochelle is undoubtedly the French writer who best exemplifies certain French intellectuals' swerve toward fascism, anti-Semitism, and collaboration with the Nazi occupiers. Of the three, moreover, it was he who was the most prominent literary figure at the time, even though he could not lay claim to the talent and the posterity of a Céline, instead describing himself as an "uneven writer."

Drieu la Rochelle was born into a middle-class Paris family originally from Normandy. His hated father, although he practiced the honorable profession of lawyer, had nonetheless drawn his family into debt. Drieu's family and early environment in Normandy were central in his works, especially at the beginning of his literary career. État civil (1921; Civil status), Le Jeune Européen (1927; European youth), and above all Rêveuse Bourgeoisie (1937; Daydreams of the bourgeoisie) treat in their respective ways his love-hate relationship with this environment, which as an adult and a writer he would perceive as decadent.

In 1910 he enrolled at the École Libre des Sciences Politiques (ELSP; Free School of Political Science), but he failed his final exams in 1913. He then enlisted ahead of the draft to do his military service. The war of 1914–1918, in which he was wounded twice, was a formative experience for him. Exaltation and myth prevailed over horror and reality. It was at this time that he wrote and published his first book—the collection of poems Interrogation (1917)—at the prestigious Nouvelle Revue Française publishing house. After 1919 his wartime experiences were continually re-created and reused in his works, especially in Gilles, his autobiographical novel of 1939. La comédie de Charleroi (1934; The Comedy of Charleroi, 1973), published at the time of his definitive conversion to fascism, allowed him to portray himself as a warrior and a man of action and to present the war as a seminal moment.

In 1917, for reasons of convenience and money, he married a young woman of Jewish descent, Colette Jeramec, the sister of a schoolmate. After he became a fascist and an anti-Semite, Drieu stated that because of his wife's Jewish ancestry the marriage had never been consummated. More generally, this first marriage marked the beginning of a complicated relationship to women. His second marriage, in 1927, was scarcely more successful. Drieu was a misogynist lover of women, so to speak. Marriages, love affairs, and flings almost invariably ended—or even began—as fiascoes, even though he liked to pass himself off as a debauched seducer (L'homme couvert de femmes [1925; A man buried in women]).

From after the war until the beginning of the 1930s, Drieu established friendships and then quarreled with members of the Paris literary elite: he counted André Malraux (1901–1976), Emmanuel Berl (1892–1976), Louis Aragon (1897–1982), Jean Paulhan (1884–1968), and others among his friends, at least for a time. His social skills and reputation, along with his relations with Otto Abetz (1903–1958) Hitler's ambassador to Paris, enabled him to assume the editorship of the prestigious Nouvelle Revue Française (NRF) during the war and transform it into a showcase for literary collaborationism while attempting to maintain in it some semblance of quality. Meanwhile, this lover of theory had converted to an anti-Semitic fascism that he presented in Socialisme fasciste (1934, Fascist socialism). He had previously gone through phases of Nietzscheanism, Maurrasism, nationalism, Europeanism, and nonconformism, and had been tempted by dadaism and surrealism. He sought out other fascist intellectuals, such as Ernst von Salomon (1902–1972), and pursued a career as a militant journalist for various organs of the extreme Right. In 1936 he joined the Parti populaire français (PPF; French people's party), the fascist party of Jacques Doriot (1898–1945), with whom he quarreled two years later, then reconciled in 1942. Meanwhile, in 1940 he had chosen collaboration out of conviction while others did so out of opportunism. He thus agreed without hesitation to represent intellectual France in Nazi literary congresses in Germany.

In 1943 his life was again marked by failure when he decided to fold the NRF, which was a mere shadow of what it once had been. At the approach of the defeat, overcome by disgust, this writer who had enjoyed depicting his fascination with death and his suicidal tendencies committed suicide on 15 March 1945.

See alsoAragon, Louis; Brasillach, Robert; Céline, Louis-Ferdinand; Dada; Malraux, André; Surrealism.


Andreu, Pierre, and Frédéric Grover. Drieu la Rochelle. Paris, 1979.

Balvet, Marie. Itinéraire d'un intellectuel vers le fascisme: Drieu la Rochelle. Paris, 1984.

Desanti, Dominique. Drieu la Rochelle: Du dandy au nazi. Paris, 1978. Reprint, Paris, 1992.

Lecarme, Jacques. Drieu la Rochelle ou le bal des maudits. Paris, 2001.

Leibovici, Solange. Le sang et l'encre: Pierre Drieu la Rochelle: Une psychobiographie. Amsterdam, 1994.

Nicolas BeauprÉ