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This week, I’ve been reading essays by French Writer Henry de Montherlant. I admit to a comprehensive ignorance of his body of work, but find the collection into which I’ve dipped–an out-of-print Pléiade edition of his Essais–compelling: conversational, clear, rich in reference and wit. I’ll try to translate a little piece of what I liked in the coming weeks, because there’s pretty much nothing of his available in English online, with the exception of a largely unexceptional (though exceptionally self-regarding) essay on Henri Matisse.
Better still might be to take a peek at Louis Begley’s old piece on Montherlant from the dear departed New York Sun. It gives a more compelling reason to try to track down Montherlant’s work than Wikipedia can muster, and contains this bit of interesting news:
Montherlant’s biggest commercial success as a novelist was a tetralogy, “Les jeunes filles” (“The Girls”) which appeared in 1936–39. It sold millions of copies and was translated into 13 languages before the outbreak of World War II. Reviewing the English edition in 1979, Philip Larkin summed up saying
The Girls is both maddening and exhilarating, preposterous and acute, a celebration of the egotistical sublime and a mockery of it, a satire on women that is also an exposure of men, with a hero who, even as we reject him as make-believe, settles ever deeper into our consciousness.
On the road to Montherlant, read Begley as your light-work Weekend Read.
More from Wyatt Mason:
Conversation — October 2, 2015, 8:26 am
“By committing to the great emotional extremes demanded by Greek tragedy,” says Bryan Doerries, author of The Theater of War, “the actors are in effect saying to the audience: ‘If you want to match our emotional intensity, that would be fine.’”
Chances that an American knows the position of his or her senators on health-care reform:
Climate experts proposed creating a fleet of cloud-seeding yachts that will pump water vapor into the atmosphere to thicken global cloud cover, thereby reflecting more sunlight, in order to counteract the effects of global warming.
In San Antonio, a 150-pound pet tortoise knocked over a lamp, igniting a mattress fire that spread to a neighbor’s home.
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"It is an interesting and somewhat macabre parlor game to play at a large gathering of one’s acquaintances: to speculate who in a showdown would go Nazi. By now, I think I know. I have gone through the experience many times—in Germany, in Austria, and in France. I have come to know the types: the born Nazis, the Nazis whom democracy itself has created, the certain-to-be fellow-travelers. And I also know those who never, under any conceivable circumstances, would become Nazis."