The Correspondence, 1899-1926, between Paul Claudel and Andre Gide

By Robert Mallet; John Russell et al. | Go to book overview

PREFACE

By JOHN RUSSELL

THE general course of this correspondence has been so carefully charted by Monsieur Robert Mallet that I need only refer the reader to his lengthy and illuminating Introduction. There are, however, certain aspects of the monumental exchange which may require some further elucidation for those whose first language is English. It is not only French literature, but French life, that is the enveloping subject of the book; and letters which, in themselves, might seem trivial or otiose may acquire a new pungency if placed in their historical context.

The letters run from 1899 to 1926, but it is in the first fifteen years of this century that they are most momentous. It was at that time that the great generation of 1870 began to transform the appearance of French literature. The disciples of Mallarmé are now so much the Old Masters of the literary Louvre that it is difficult to recapture the sensations with which their works were originally received. In the case of Claudel, professional etiquette forbade him, as a diplomatist, to publish freely the enormous works of his youth. (Those who have read the early diaries of Paul Morand will realize how remote was Claudel from the ordinary climate of the Quai d'Orsay.) In the case of Gide, the books, though available to all, moved only at glacier-pace for the first years of their existence. The study of both writers, therefore, was invested with that element of conspiracy which so greatly enhances the pleasure of the discerning reader. Their books were awaited, when they were awaited at all, with an irresistible transport of sympathy to which the relaxed habits of our own era can offer no parallel. One has only to plunge one's thermometer, for instance, into that other great Briefwechsel, the correspondence of Alain Fournier and Jacques Rivière, to note how the mercury bursts from its container at the mention of Claudel or Gide. In French literary life, moreover, personalities are of great account. Social exchanges are accompanied by a degree of formality which, though sometimes ludicrous

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