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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:
Chance that a civilian who died in a 20th-century war was American:
A physicist calculated that mass worldwide conversion to a vegetarian diet would do more to slow global warming than cutting back on oil and gas use.
“All I saw,” said a 12-year-old neighbor of visits to the man’s house, “was just cats in little diapers.”
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“I hope that after reading the following pages the leaders of the Y. M. C. A. will start a campaign to induce good young men to do nothing. If so, I shall not have lived in vain.”