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Henry de Montherlant

(1896—1972)


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(1896–1972)

French novelist and dramatist. He was elected to the Académie Française in 1960.

Montherlant was born in Paris of aristocratic Catholic parents. He saw active service in the latter half of World War I, which inspired the semiautobiographical novel Le Songe (1922). His early works exalt physical prowess and manly courage: Les Olympiques (1924) centres on the competitive atmosphere of the athletics track and Les Bestiaires (1926) is about bullfighting. In 1934 Montherlant published what was to become one of his best-known novels, Les Célibataires (translated as Lament for the Death of an Upper Class, 1935), a satire based on the inability of two impoverished aristocrats to adapt to modern society. This was followed by a series of four novels, Les Jeunes Filles (1936–39; translated as The Girls: a Tetralogy of Novels, 1968), in which Montherlant's misogynistic outlook and the arrogant virility of his hero alienated the author from female contemporaries, such as Simone de Beauvoir. Le Chaos et la nuit (1963), the finest of Montherlant's late novels, returns to the subject of bullfighting.

Montherlant began writing for the theatre in 1942. His plays are set at various points in history and have elements of classical tragedy; his heroes and heroines illustrate recurrent themes of austere isolation, personal pride, and refusal to compromise or surrender. La Reine morte (1942) takes place in fourteenth-century Spain, Malatesta (1946) in Renaissance Italy, Le Maître de Santiago (1947) in Spain's Golden Age, Port-Royal (1954) in seventeenth-century France, and La Guerre civile (1965) in ancient Rome. For La Ville dont le prince est un enfant (1951) Montherlant recreated the Catholic college of his own schooldays. His dramas of contemporary life were less successful. In 1972, afraid that he was losing his sight, Montherlant committed suicide.

Subjects: Literature.


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