By ROBERT MALLET
THIS is doubtless the first occasion on which two writers--and, what is more, two writers of quite exceptional standing--have agreed to the publication in their lifetime of the letters which have passed between them. Certain critics might see in this decision the triumph of unrestrained impatience over modesty; but this would be a frivolous interpretation. If this grave confrontation is to be really understood, we must study it with the weightiest and most objective attention.
We are not concerned here simply with a long exchange of letters in which the two correspondents have noted all the fluctuations of their material and moral existence. Every correspondence has its mirror-letters. Those which are published here have more to offer: milestone-letters, letters which mark out an itinerary and give exact details of places and distances, letters which need to be read not merely "between the lines" but also between the intervals which separate them, letters which illuminate as much by what is said as by what is left unsaid, and letters in which, thanks to the continual play of opposition and attraction, reticence and candour, we can discern how two consciences moved steadily away from each other towards what each considered to be his appointed goal.
We are concerned, in fact, with a dialogue that cannot be kept within the limits of a correspondence, any more than it can be bounded by the personalities of the two correspondents. That is why Paul Claudel and André Gide, convinced that they have both played symbolic rôles in which many contradictory aspirations are fused and summarized, have consented to hand over these letters; they have generously understood that already it is for others to interpret their transcendent significance.
The correspondence lasted for just over a quarter of a century, and it is now twenty-five years since it came to an end. The publication of this book may thus be said to celebrate the jubilee of the inaugural letters. Old age has procured for Claudel and