His philosophy depends on an act of faith in the possible nobility of man. The descent into the abyss and the failure of the ideal are expressed in the novels written between the age of 35 and Knowledge is validated as the ultimate goal. Difference is ultimately denied in the work of Henry de Montherlant and, rather than write from the point of view of the other, to consider and respond to the problem of suffering, the writer, through concentration on the self, describes a philosophy of failure.
As might be expected, this type of relationship often forms the cornerstone in the structure of a specific novel or play. The elements of love and youth are inextricably intertwined. Faure-Biguet, J-N. Now, why is procreation the object of love? Because procreation is the nearest thing to perpetuity and immortality that a mortal being can attain. If, as we agreed, the aim of love is the perpetual possession of the good, it necessarily follows that it must desire immortality together with the good, and the argument leads us to the inevitable conclusion that love is love of immortality as well as of the good.
Montherlant never consciously recognizes desire for immortality; this is, nevertheless, the inevitable result of the love relationships, both real and imaginary, which constitute the subject matter of his literary creation. PE, The children of the pederastic love relationship, according to Plato, represent philosophical ideas discussed at his Academy, literary creativity, laws for governing a State; all these are immortal heritage, fruits of love: 3 18 Plato, The Symposium, translated by W.
Hamilton, Penguin, London, , pp. The pederastic love relationship is the primary means of betterment of the self. The group of young people form a solid unit to encourage, protect and improve its members. PE, —71 Socrates sums up the argument: This, Phaedrus and my other friends, is what Diotoma said and what I believe; and because I believe it I try to persuade others that in the acquisition of this blessing human nature can find no better helper than Love.
I declare that it is the duty of every man to honour Love, and I honour and practise the mysteries of Love in an 7 8 20 Faure-Biguet, op. Plato, op. The love a man has for a boy is improving and educative because it enables both of them to develop ideas and virtues which otherwise would never have been realized. The boy with whom the man falls in love is someone in whom the divine can be detected. Plato refers to divine madness, caused by possession by a god: This then is the fourth type of madness, which befalls when a man, reminded by the sight of beauty on earth of the true beauty […] and the conclusion to which our whole discourse points is that in itself and in its origin this is the best of all forms of divine possession, both for the subject himself and for his associate, and it is when he is touched with this madness that the man whose love is aroused by beauty in others is called a lover.
Montherlant differs from Plato in that there is, for him, no after-life, no heaven.
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Plato, Phaedrus, translated by W. Hamilton, Penguin, London, , p. Based on his adolescent love for a schoolmate, an affair on which he brooded for the next fifty years, it depicts love between young males both as burning sexuality and selfless purity. The concept of spirituality and the possibility of the divine in the human being is taken up by Montherlant and related to his heroic ideal represented by the young person. These notes and commentaries, which are too lengthy to quote in detail here, reveal that, for Montherlant, who believes neither in God nor in the afterlife, the young person is associated with a specific concept of the divine.
Since there is no life after death, the divine is to be encountered in the here and now; this means that the divine is defined in terms of human qualities such as intelligence, courage, beauty, authenticity. The young boy or girl [girls feature more frequently here than in other writings] is idealized as the divine hero or 13 14 Faure-Biguet demonstrates Les Enfances de Montherlant, op.
This may explain why Montherlant did not publish Thrasylle in his lifetime. Plato, Phaedrus, op. Montherlant appropriates the youthful being, who represents the divine in man, in the present time. The young person is taught and teaches. Throughout his plays and novels, as well as more theoretically, in the Essais, Montherlant constantly — either directly, or, more obliquely, by inserting a youthful character into a play or novel on another theme — highlights youth.
PE, Immortality is attained through the young person, both by the adult experiencing a divinity in the presence of the child, and by the adult renewing his own childhood experience, in each encounter with the young person. The child casts himself either in the role of the bastard or in the role of the changeling, found and adopted by ideal parents. With most adults, the story thus woven in childhood is largely forgotten, with only remnants enduring into maturity. The writer, on the other hand, deliberately recalls the story as his creativity prompts him to deal with unresolved conflicts.
While parents are too interfering to allow the king-child to rule properly, in the College, the king-child has other children as his subjects and fellow conspirators, creatures with the ability to communicate with the divine, once they are free from adult supervision and interference.
The ideal space of the College allows them this freedom. The bastard child, on the other hand, is an extrovert, who appropriates the world, acting on it, re-creating it to suit his own vision. This is not an inner world; it is microcosm within the outer world, that of the College, peopled with superior beings, children, and a few men who are set apart from other adults, as communicators with the Divine, educators of the children.
PE, 18 Ibid.
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The tendency to run ideas and images into one another reinforces the separateness of the world created in these texts. There is an opposition throughout between the universe of the child [perfect, divine, containing suffering but engendering images of light and life] and the world of the adult [corrupt, noisy, evil, where famine and death reign].
The Christ figure in the first passage is the priest, the educator, who suffers because of the children, but who is happy in his suffering. The young hero in the second passage is crowned with good fortune. The very fact of his youth sets him above the rest of mankind. Around him is the vast space of the world, above which he reigns and behind him the evil noise of the town, where corrupt adults dwell.
The old king in the third text represents man, the adult, who looks to the child to save him from himself and the trappings of the world. The themes contained in this naive text, composed by the twentyyear-old author, recur throughout his work. PE, Death inspires the individual to live for the pleasure of being alive. Y verra-t-on seulement un tour de passe-passe? Je ne pense pas. If we deny the existence of a host of states, both within man and within nature, we are deluding ourselves and failing to recognize truth.
The human being at his most godlike is capable of feeling and acting on desire for an object of beauty which is not necessarily human, and, if human, not necessarily of the opposite sex. The notion of a being who is not so much superior to but different from most men, one who is close to the gods, is related to the capacity for desiring many different creatures. Et pourquoi les hommes? Non, non, pas de limites! According to Montherlant, we tend to disavow the very consciousness of anything unpleasing, perceived both from within and without ourselves.
PE, Montherlant sees Nature as containing all the contradictory elements which exist in man and in society. He advises us to accept the reality of Nature and not to repudiate the existence of evil or destructive phenomena. Il est mobile et tout lui est possible. The ageing heroes of the plays and later novels achieve nobility through their very humanity and weakness. But mere acknowledgment is not enough; it must be acted on. PE, Morality only exists in relation to the self. The individual has a sense of his self, on which all his actions and reactions are based.
PE, Some of these values would seem to contradict the concept of serving the self, in that they advocate a sense of social duty. The implication is that we have to draw up codes of behaviour because we live in a social milieu, but that we would do just as well without this milieu. Montaigne, Essais, lib. I, cap.
Saint Jean de la Croix. III, cap. PE, God has been replaced by the self. Christ, when speaking to Martha, states that the believer only need concern himself with the Father and all 33 else will fall into place. Montherlant replaces Christian teaching with his belief that the individual should be preoccupied with the self and that all else will fall into place once this perception of the self — together with adherence to the virtues listed above — is established.
Montherlant argues that this so-called selfish attitude is in fact a healthy one. Est-ce tout? These explore the time of death as a moment when the individual gains absolute knowledge. In fact, by this construction, suicide is the ultimate pleasure for the individual: it constitutes the apotheosis of his life. Through his interaction with the other, he obtains knowledge. In the late novels the hero enters a nihilistic state and through affirmation of himself, he transforms himself yet again, at the point of death.
Characteristically, Montherlant destroyed numerous texts. The ultimate pleasure for the author is to write; writing, as well as all other occupations, is considered to be a form of play. The self comes into closest contact with its own reality when it plays. There is no falsity: the aim of the game is pleasure; no role is adopted, no pose is necessary. The player acts solely for his own pleasure and is, therefore completely natural. The game, according to Montherlant, has a quality of purity; it cannot be discussed or doubted because its meaning is not to be found in anything outside or comparable.
The point of playing a game is not, according to Montherlant, to take part or, indeed, to win. Blanc, op. War, like any other human activity, is viewed as a game, in which the individual gambles his life on a daily basis. This interpretation may seem to imply that Montherlant has scant respect for life. PE, The enactment of the game is a mark not of nonchalance to life, but of the wish to take life as seriously as possible, precisely because the individual is the only one who can take responsibility for his own life: 28 Golsan, Richard J.
PE, The world and life are there for man to re-create in his own image; the world is worthy of man, the creator. It is sensible, therefore, to affirm that man should create his world to please himself. Montherlant invariably replaces the Christian idea of God with Man, the individual. The human supplants the divine in his philosophy, but the divine is present in the human being. Existence must be pleasurable if it is to be meaningful.
Play, because it is pleasurable, is a serious occupation, denoting a belief in life as a gift, to be lived only once, with no hope of immortality or of a second chance. Make-believe is essential, because of the cult of the self. The adult engages in a game whose aim is to dominate life. The element of risk and gambling shapes the game. The game is dangerous. PE, The Montherlantian game-player takes risks, but has a youthful companion who minimizes these risks.
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The essential Other is youth, because Montherlant espouses a youthful philosophy and these writings are a paean to happiness. PE, Thus, motivation for the game is happiness. Montherlant attaches no guilt to happiness and sees suffering as serving no purpose. Que ces trois mots vont loin en moi! Montherlant loves to cheat in the literary game, by ignoring the conventions, whereby the reader generally takes what he reads at face value. Accordingly, the quartet of novels, Les Jeunes filles, must be read as an elaborate series of games played by the author with his reader.
In other novels the ludic element consists of concealing secrets of sexual identity, leaving a trail of clues for the astute reader to interpret. In playing, the writer demonstrates his domination over life; he proves, by living and creating in the spirit of play, that he has acted as creator of his own life and, in the case of Montherlant, of an elaborate 29 30 Blanc, A. Les Critiques de notre temps et Montherlant, Garnier, Paris, , p.
Non, je me rebiffe. The reader, in turn, is expected to do the same. Je me suis fait plaisir Lyautey, Lettres du Tonkin. Montherlant believes that life is to be taken seriously, but that the individual must take life seriously, primarily by being true to himself. The only authentic self as far as Montherlant is concerned is that encountered in the state of play or in the experience of pleasure.
The pleasure principle is the only one, according to Montherlant, that can be relied on. Perhaps more than his contemporaries, this writer emphasizes human relationships.
The later novels depict an ageing character and trace the web of his relationship with a youthful figure. The plays frequently represent the betrayal of an old man by a younger man, an act of treason deliberately provoked by the ageing hero. From this starting point, Montherlant develops his system of values, which is influenced by the young person and promotes an initially positive response to the problem of the absurd.
Belief in the ideal is erroded with the experience of two wars. The tragedy of World War II is examined through the father—son relationship in the plays Fils de personne and Demain il fera jour, which imply that Montherlant regrets his criticism of France and his pro Nazi writings of the early war years. These plays conclude with the contention that the father figure has betrayed his country and his family, whereas the son has acted with honour and nobility.
The philosophy proposed by the Essais and Carnets is essentially joyous. Nihilism takes over in the later novels, when the ageing hero is finally cut off from contact with other human beings and particulary with the youthful companion who accompanies the Montherlantian hero. Quels que soient les bouleversements et les ruines, il y aura toujours des enfants parmi nous. The self-obsessed adolescent hero first appears in the literature of Romanticism and later, most famously, in the poetry of Rimbaud.
In the early twentieth century, writers created adolescent characters who were not expected to grow up and whose very irresponsibility, frivolity, refusal to conform and disrespect for authority constituted a form of heroism. At the beginning of the century social perceptions of young people began to change dramatically. Suddenly the young had new psychological rights, new authority.
A new mythology developed 1 Hall, G. The adolescent male of 13 or 14 is the ideal human being for Montherlant. The author writes these novels in a state of anguish because his appropriation of the youthful other is ever more elusive as he grows older. All three novels contain the story of a love relationship between the adolescent hero and a younger boy and the themes are youthful heroism, sacrifice, perfection of the self and achievement of divinity, all interrelated: 2 46 Robinson, Christopher.
The ideal proponent of this heroism is an adolescent; he aims to win his goal by engaging in sport, war and love. Surely this being, perfect in every way, should also succeed in friendship and love? He is unsuccessful because as a highly idealized creature he does not need other people. Perfection depends on isolation. To this extent, the early novels are puerile and immature, although beautifully written, a fact which Montherlant readily acknowledges in later writings.
There is no doubt that he is pompous, self-seeking and, at times, unscrupulous, but his writings also reveal vulnerability in relation to his own sexuality, as well as remarkable sensitivity to the adolescent experience and to the experience of living. The fact that the young author is unable to bring the ideal, heroic existence of the adolescent hero to a satisfactory conclusion is indicative of failure, failure which drives Montherlant to re-form his philosophical position in the light of his perception of reality.
Life is absurd; there is no God and no force for good in the world, except in the person of the child and young adolescent. Life, therefore, must be borne with courage, stoicism and service inutile. The imaginative experience of adolescent heroism normally includes an impulse to return to an idealized past. Authors such as Proust make a deliberate and conscious effort to connect with the past and with childhood, whereas Montherlant relives and recreates his youth as an art form, on an everyday basis, even in pieces written in the months before his death. The heightened sense of self is manifest in communion with nature where the life of the adolescent hero is instinctively linked to the rhythm of the seasons, to the life of plants and animals, engendering a sense of deep satisfaction and happiness which revels in a relationship with nature rather than with other human beings.
The relationship between the natural environment and the adolescent reinforces an enhancement of adolescent values which are natural and, therefore, desirable. In this pantheistic universe, the young hero is the god who invades nature and the material world. Michel, op. The adolescent has privileged access to both the unsullied nature of the child and the corrupt knowledge of the adult.
Much of the tension in these three novels stems from the delicate balance between the two worlds. The adolescent is more precious than the child is because he is aware of what is about to be lost and is all the more anxious to preserve it. For 15 months [from August to December ] the author was an auxiliary soldier. The novel is constructed around a triangular relationship, made up of Alban, Dominique, an athlete who becomes a nurse, and a fellow soldier, Prinet, who is killed in the offensive against the Germans.
Sipriot, op. PRI, cf. Sipriot op. A second woman, Douce, mentioned in the novel, never appears. She is antithetical to Dominique and is described in terms of water imagery. She is the womanly woman, with whom Alban has a sexual relationship. Douce is the opposite of Dominique, in that, as her name implies, she is docile, receptive, totally feminine, in traditional terms, whereas Dominique has more masculine characteristics.
PRI, 11 Montherlant composes Le Songe not as an adult looking back on adolescence, but as someone who is still very young; he writes from inside his own experience. Le Songe is a heroic fantasy, a product of the imagination based on lived experience serving the purpose of wish fulfilment. The author may be writing from his own experience, but the adolescent protagonist is cast in a fictionalized heroic role. There are several narrators; at times, Alban is the narrator and, at other times, a more distanced narrator recounts events from a sympathetic perspective.
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Alban does not reject adult values; like a small child, he is only aware of the adult world in terms of his own interests. Rather than try to find a place in the adult world, the adolescent protagonist creates a space of his own. He manipulates the adult world [as the young Montherlant did, through his grandmother] to glorify himself. PRI, Alban succeeds in having himself evacuated and then changes his mind, returning to the front at the end of the novel.
The letters, which Mme de Courcy received from her grandson, inform us that nothing restrained the young Montherlant from using influence to obtain what he wanted. The intention of the adolescent is essentially ludic, with the purpose of selfaggrandizement.
Montherlant creates pairs of characters, to this purpose. Spacks, op. The hero is denied female characteristics; Montherlant conceives of the hero as male, virile, isolated. Human relations are sacrificed to the interests of heroism; the adolescent believes himself to be pure only when he is alone; he aims for perfection, as close as possible to divinity. Dominique is perfection itself as long as her sexuality remains hidden.
The female is held within a fixed framework, like a photograph; once whole-hearted feminity is expressed in an evolving character, the woman is rejected. Dominique is part of Alban, his female self, which, in the end, he rejects, favouring the virile milieu of life amongst soldiers at the front.
PRI, The relationship between Alban and Dominique demonstrates the growing and finally articulated refusal of the female to suppress her own nature and the resultant rejection of a female disposition by the male. Dominique is, in fact, the feminine part of Alban and of Montherlant, who regularly uses classical myth to illustrate a personal event and his emotional reactions to it. By sacrificing Dominique, Alban allows his masculinity to prevail. Artemis represents the athletic Amazonian woman, the image so loved by Alban. Once Dominique betrays this heroic ideal by loving Alban in a sexual sense, as a woman, she refuses to act out the role of virginal sportswoman and platonic friend, and is repudiated.
Tuer la femme, la masquer aussi. The mature vision fails, nevertheless, to accept difference and he continued throughout his life and work to expect the other, as well as the self, to live up to certain ideal standards of behaviour. The secluded, sylvan space brings the lovers into communion with each other and with the divine. These domains allow normal social order to be shifted, class barriers to be overcome, the gap between adult and child to be bridged, the distance between human being and animal removed.
PRI, — The chapter evokes the beauty of a night spent in the open as well as the terror inspired by the dropping of shells. The presence of the animal, the quietness of nature and the warm intimacy of the companions are contrasted with the destruction and violence around them. The resulting intimacy forms a frightening but nonetheless privileged idyllic experience, located in the dark and in the earth [the friends are showered by soil and they cannot see each other]. Their attraction for one another lies, nonetheless, in their difference.
On the death of Prinet, Alban realizes that his own reliance on this friendship was greater than he imagined. This essay is not published in its entirety in Essais ; it appears in the Grasset edition of Le Solstice de juin While Prinet was alive and afraid of war, Alban could be strong and pretend that the war was a game. As soon as the younger boy dies, previous conceptions of heroism are brought into question, as the would-be hero is obliged to confront his own fear.
Il coula un regard circulaire, comme pour chercher du secours. Il eut peur. He wills the friendship with Dominique to be static, to remain in a state of order, controlled by him. PRI, Concurrently their companionship evolves to a state of intimacy, knowledge and acceptance of one another. Alban rejects his friends and lovers because he perceives strength in the state of isolation. Life must be lived and we are asked to live according to a set of values, which involve striving for perfection by being heroic, being selfish in the pursuit of pleasure and, above all, recognizing that we are ultimately alone.
War is at once a manifestation of the absurdity of existence and the means by which the human being confronts the meaningless of his state. Duroisin, Pierre. The casualties are all very young. PRI, — Through these experiences Alban evolves, changing from a young man enamoured with the notion of war to someone sickened and degraded, on behalf of humanity, by what he has seen, his whole being taken over by the need to escape from this horror, to save himself. PRI, The shock caused by the Great War forces Montherlant, like many other inter-war writers, to review pre-war idealistic notions of reality and to construct a system of values, which take into account the apocalyptic experience.
PRI, Montherlant is aware, perhaps more so than any other literary figures of his generation, of the miraculous gift of life. The constant presence of death in both his personal experience at the front and in bullfighting heightens this awareness. The broken bodies of Le Songe are reconstituted in Les Olympiques. Montherlant relates the horror of war, evoking fear and shame in the adolescent hero, but also making him fully aware of the precious gift of life.
War experience is a point of departure for a system of values based on the full realisation that there is only one life and it should be lived in the best possible way, by relating honestly and with integrity to the self. This text, published in , is essential as accompanying reading to the early novels because it is presented as a truthful account of the real persons on whom the characters of Le Songe and Les Olympiques are based.
The letters to his grandmother published by Sipriot contain no further mention of this person, but these letters are incomplete. MA, 61 Montherlant describes making love to Dominique and mocks the idealized notions propounded by his younger self. These false myths are not significant in themselves, but they show how the protagonist and the author are constantly involved in a process of refusal, of questioning and turning back upon themselves. MA, 63—64 63 Montherlant constructs artificial ideals in order to rationalize a refusal or denial.
In other words, the adolescent hero in Le Songe, for example, treats Dominique in a certain way because of a set of principles, which are recognized as false by the older author. There are two authorial voices here, one proposing a certain system of values, and, the other constantly holding these up to question and evaluation.
The older Montherlant refutes the model of athletic heroism, the Dominique of Le Songe, as an impossible ideal, a creation of the adolescent mind. Consequently, Alban [and, by extension, Montherlant] discovers, evolves and then destroys difference in the self. Her very femininity, in terms of difference, makes Douce superfluous to Le Songe, except as a counter-point to Dominique. The essence of Le Songe is the conscious or unconscious decision by the hero to turn away from difference and to concentrate on his perfecting of himself in accordance with his particular, adolescent notion of heroism.
The movement towards perfection involves distancing himself from the feminine, the weak and the childlike. Dominique demands more than this; she requires Alban to give of himself intellectually, physically and emotionally. The work is a confession made just weeks before his suicide, but this is no reason to believe all that he tells us. The characters use sport as a means of achieving the heroic ideal. The text is striking initially because of its multiformity. The whole was published for the first time in The action takes place over a period of two years marked by the difference in age of Peyrony in the first and second half of the text.
Both dialogues contain authorial interventions, which are similar to stage directions, indicating how and why the action is taking place. Although, like La Rose de sable and Le Songe, Les Olympiques has two parts, it is more varied in form than these novels and makes up a collection of different genres. Les Jeunes filles is the only other Montherlant text comparable to Les Olympiques as it is composed of letters, conventional narrative, journal extracts and newspaper advertisements.
The author may have adopted this disparate composition in order to appeal to a public more interested in sport than in literature, which 66 would find self-contained portions of text more accessible. Montherlant became interested in sport in before enlisting. Il alla voir le Dr de Martel qui permit le foot et la course courte The reader is at times irritated, as the older author also confesses himself to be, by the pretentiousness of youth, but cannot help but be impressed by the confidence of the writer, who, even at 25, is 24 25 26 Raimond, Michel Les Romans de Montherlant, Sedes, Paris, , p.
PE, Such statements in Le Solstice de juin are procollaborationist, but also constitute an attempt to inculcate a sense of values in the young French person, who is encouraged to strive, through sport, to form a sense of quality and an awareness of what is right, which will serves him in later life.
PRI, The land as an image of the human body is not arbitrary. Sport is a means of breaking the body down into its constituent parts because it emphasizes certain muscles or limbs. Beauty represents the divine on earth. The human body and the land are 68 intermingled and the heroic body is a map defined as a specific country, France. Athletics, football, boxing allow the narrator and author to re-enter the privileged environment where the young person exists. In this milieu, integrity, love and the most excellent part of the self are to be found.
Just as the privileged space created by war and military life allows the narrator to pass from an adult macrocosm to the purer, more lucid regions of a microcosm populated by adolescent soldiers in Le Songe, in Les Olympiques, the stadium is the enclosed idyllic space within which the privileged relationship between older and younger adolescent occurs.
PRI, — The narrator of this passage yearns for order and finds it in the school, the battlefield and the sports stadium. The heroic state can be attained only within strictly determined confines. In this arrangement, the individual is separate from and yet together with his companions. The team allows the isolated individual to have company without emotional demands.
The class, the platoon and the team offer Montherlant the ideal 69 environment for congenial company, which keeps its distance. The Montherlant hero pits himself against his fellows and, through competition, betters himself. Sport is one means of reaching a perfect or almost perfect state of being, which, contrary to the scenario envisaged in Le Songe, may, in Les Olympiques, be achieved with a companion.
I am indebted to Pierre Sipriot for presenting me with a copy of this rare publication. In fact, betrayal, profound sadness at the thought of decline and death are states through which the narrator passes. They explain a point, but are also used to denote the end of an old way of being and the start of a new period. It is a notion in keeping with the concepts of love, growth, learning and a higher state of being. For Montherlant, the body means more than physical presence, especially if the body concerned evokes the perfect beauty of youthful form; Montherlant believes in a spiritual body, which is not the vessel of a divine presence, but is, in itself, divine.
In one of the short essays of Les Olympiques, the nature of the spiritual body is examined. Montherlant perceives that for the child, the artist and the lover, the spiritual body is fathomed by examining separate parts of the physical body, as if each had a life of its own. God, for Montherlant, is Man. In the above passage, the author appeals to humanity to recognize its own divinity in the loveliness of this young man.
The propensity for divinity lies in man, both in terms of his physical beauty and in the higher form of being described above, where, through communion with nature and with each other, the adolescent sportsmen and women achieve heroism and are thereby elevated to the realm of the gods. Montherlant is, above all, concerned with the real, the elements of perfection which are available to us in the here and now. Peyrony has sacrificed heroism by betraying his sports club and wanting to join another where his chances of becoming a national player are greater. Ses bras glissent comme des bielles.
Comme elles, il est tout musique. The broken body of Le Songe is reconstructed in Les Olympiques by re-constructing each constituent part and watching this part function independently. The pleasing harmony evoked above is likened to the mathematical balance of the movements of the planets. The miracle of the re-created human body is related to the miracle of the universe, all represented in one Rodin-like male form. Throughout Les Olympiques the pre-eminence of the youthful body is emphasized.
PRI, The former perception is external and the latter internal, but both express a feeling of awe before the wonder of the human body related to musical harmony. The narrator is filled with reverence at the metamorphosis he feels taking place within himself when he runs. The human body in its youthful perfection is divine for Montherlant. Les Jeunes filles is not the only novel to portray women. They are represented, albeit briefly, in Les Olympiques, where, by participating 74 in sport, women cease to be marginalized and dependent emotionally and economically on husbands, fathers, brothers, lovers.
The woman is rejected in Le Songe, but accepted in Les Olympiques, as she achieves heroic status through sport. PRI, — Through sport, this daughter of a Breton aristocrat is transformed from a plain, uninteresting girl, for whom marriage offers the only possible alternative to a life of crippling poverty on her father's manor near Morlaix, into a heroine, a goddess, who runs as if she flies, who is the conduit of the gods.
The story of her short-lived salvation from this fate is a sad one, tenderly recounted. This act of hope ends in despair when she is 24 seconds over the record. The narrator claims kinship with this exiled aristocrat as she makes a futile attempt to regain her form. As with Peyrony, the narrator takes on the role of parent when witness to courage and sensibility in another human being, male or female. Montherlant is ever anxious to educate parents, to correct his own parents, to take on the role of his perpetually absent father, to become husband to his mother and save the son [his beloved companions] from disastrous parenting.
The father—son paradigm reveals more of Montherlant than any memoir could have done, in that it throws light on a sensibility still haunted by childhood. The novels read as manuals to good parenting; the protagonist or narrator is frequently cast in the role of the parent to his 75 younger, beloved companion, urging him towards self-improvement. Montherlant, in constantly re-enacting the role of ideal parent, fails to accept the other as separate and fails to accept difference in himself; the repressed is refused as an integral part of identity and, therefore, wholeness is forever allusive.
Heroic Friendship: Maturation and Degeneration Inevitable degeneration of friendship results from the innate destructiveness of the heroic enterprise. Virile friendship is played out in the interchange of values between the narrator and Peyrony. Peyrony has in fact learnt from his older friend, who has also absorbed a lesson from their friendship.
The narrator admits, in a dramatized final conversation with Peyrony, that he cannot face the seriousness of life. In loving his companion, the narrator has gained entry into the world of the body, of the senses.
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He deliberately turns away from reasoning, since there is no rational way of explaining life, to embrace the domain of the game, where the senses may be satisfied. PRI, — Montherlant criticizes his youthful concept of heroism. Peyrony is a person of quality, aware of his intellectual and spiritual responsibilities in life. Yet, the narrator accuses him of treachery. The words encapsulate stoicism in the face of danger and inevitable death, but they also acknowledge the pain felt by the author on his day of reckoning.
Montherlant recognizes that nothing lasts in life and, knowing this, conduct is all-important. It is not living or dying that counts, it is the way one lives and dies. The end of intimate friendship between two young men or between an older man and a younger boy is accepted with stoicism as a fact of life. The recurring theme of abandonment and rejection is allied to that of renunciation. The youthful Montherlant hero seeks fulfilment in a loving friendship, but considers solitude to be an inevitable stage in his progress towards the ideal.
On the other side of the sublime state is the untouchable entity, which is either too pure [Dominique] or too defiled [Peyrony]. In the travel writings [Moustique, Encore un instant de bonheur and La Rose de sable], the older hero encounters younger companions, falls in love with them and their ensuing absence leads to his evolution. In the later novels, abandonment and separation are permanent. Finally, the Montherlant protagonist is unable to reach the 30 78 Duroisin, op. The phrase occurs in Sienkiewicz, Henryk, Quo Vadis? It is achieved momentarily in loving encounters, treasured and yearned for by the ageing hero of the later plays and novels.
When the possibility of intimate encounter with the beloved is removed, the hero is finally isolated and enters a realm of nihilism where absolute knowledge is possible. The heroic enterprise is doomed because the Montherlant self deforms identity by displacing weakness, desire, cowardice onto the other. The opposite face of divinity, to be attained through heroism, is the forbidden, the outlawed.
Repression produces rejection and abandonment of the beloved, played out in the paradigm of renunciation. A young man who re-creates his recent past in search of an ideal heroic state writes Les Bestiaires. Montherlant cherishes above all, the preciousness of youth, knows this period will soon be lost and is anxious to fix it in time. The vegetable world is just as essential to Les Bestiaires as it was to Les Olympiques but, whereas animals occur infrequently in Le Songe and Les Olympiques, Les Bestiaires is the novel most concerned with animals, not only with bulls, but with a greyhound dog, pigeons, cats, and horses.
The narrator of Les Olympiques achieves heroism on the sports field and through communion with nature as he pushes his face into the grass and totally immerses himself in the vegetable world. Alban of Les Bestiaires achieves heroism through the integration of his body into that of the bull. Union with the beast transforms man into a god, in an act of sacrificial bloodletting. The text is formally more coherent than Les Olympiques or even Le Songe. It consists of eight chapters and an epilogue. As usual with Montherlant there is some confusion over ages and dates.
Raimond puts his age at 16 and situates the action over a period of 6 weeks. Pierre Sipriot gives the year as , which is incorrect. MA, The subject of the novel is the body, the body of the animal and of youthful man. Des corps? Quand 31 32 33 80 Raimond, op. MA, — For Montherlant, the youthful human body is eternal as it is passed on from generation to generation; the miraculous workings of the human body personify the divine in man.
The sexual act ultimately celebrates the body and regenerates it where possession consists of energy being given from one partner to the other. Looking at the youthful body or possessing it is a source of life, as we shall see when Alban possesses the bull; here the sexual act and the act of killing are one and the same. Les Bestiaires recounts the game of erotic love in human [Soledad and Alban execute a dance of love according to the rules of the courtly love tradition] and in animal terms [the dance of death executed by bull and matador].
Eroticism and death are closely allied. The symbol of blood is ever present, the spilling of blood being interpreted as a sacrifice which will cause the youthful body to be fruitful in a spiritual sense. PRI, A series of to and fro movements, electrified by passionate energy, are then executed by Alban and Soledad. PRI, The final partner in this intricate dance of sexual desire and death is, of course, the bull. The bull dance is an act of love, compared to which the intricate steps executed by Alban and Soledad are a mere reflection of this more real and passionate exchange.
The game of bullfighting is transformed into the reality of living; the pleasure principle governs the movement of the lovers and this is the high point of the novel as it is of life.
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This passionate exchange in the act of love is what makes life worth living. Through their bodies, the bull and the man accomplish a spiritual apotheosis, which can only culminate in the death of one or other partner. For Montherlant, as for Duras, death represents the ultimate satisfaction of desire.
Mithra, Hero and God Montherlant re-works the classical legend of Mithra in Les Bestiaires, using this non-Christian figure to depict the achievement of the heroic ideal so long sought by the adolescent protagonist, Alban. Montherlant used the well-known work of Franz Cumont as a source for information on the Mithraic religion. Les Bestiaires is a reenactment of the Mithra legend, both in terms of the actions of the hero, Alban, who represents the god Mithra, and in the roles of secondary 36 Cumon, Franz.
Lamertin, Brussels, , There are crucial reasons why this particular set of religious beliefs and practices appeal to the author. Most significantly, Mithra is a god who is eternally youthful; this is an essential element for Montherlant. In Les Bestiaires as well as in other works [Moustique, La Rose de sable and Les Olympiques for example] Montherlant demonstrates sympathy for ordinary people, as opposed to those of his own class. They rated strength higher than gentleness, and preferred courage to lenity.
The Mysteries of Mithra includes plates portraying ancient statues of Kronos or Mithraic Saturn, who represents boundless time. These youths bore the enigmatic epithets of Cauti and Cautopati, and were naught else than the double incarnation of his person. The renewal of life, taking place after the death of the bull, is an essential feature of the novel. Thus, through the sacrifice which he had so resignedly undertaken, the tauroctonous hero became the creator of all the beneficent beings on earth; and, from the death which he had caused, was born a new life, more rich and more fecund than the old.
PRI, This gesture re-enacts the pledge of brotherhood amongst the youths of ancient Greece. The Mithraic religion is thought to stem from contemplation of the Orion constellation portraying the warrior god with the constellation of the bull and the dog nearby. The chapter, set apart from the rest of the text, introduces new characters. Alban is presented as a novice priest, being tutored by a chief priest; they are sun worshippers and also Christians, members of the Saint-Georges and Notre-Dame de Montserrat monasteries, designating an imagined integration of pagan and Christian religions.
There is a small company of young men, led by the chief priest whom Alban calls his cousin. The piece evokes spirituality and highlights the theme of love between man and animals. Montherlant believes that communion with animals is necessary for man to live healthily; he further propounds that the violent death of an animal, killed by man, can be a source of good, provided that the death is swift.
Heroism may only be attained in an idealized fantasy world, where perfect harmony between fellow human beings, between man and beast and between ancient and modern religions is enacted in a format which bears no relation to the real world. The protagonist is always aiming for selfimprovement, working his way towards an ideal of heroism.
The relationship evolves to a certain degree in the direction of amelioration and then disintegrates, leaving, nevertheless, the sense that some growth has been achieved. The conclusion of each friendship lies in renunciation, followed by abandonment and finally rejection, but in a spirit of acceptance by the hero that the particular conclusion is somehow right. The killing of the bull constitutes the only act of consummation in this series of early works.
Desire in these novels functions according to the youth and beauty of the object, which is finally repudiated for fear of disruption of the self. The phrase imparts a nihilistic isolation of the self when confronted with the forces of darkness or death, associated with loss of self. Montherlant uses this mantra, as noted above, in times of adversity or to strengthen himself in the last few weeks of his life [at the time of writing Mais aimons nous].
The History of Sexuality, vol. In this context, the phenomenon of renunciation occurring in each of the three novels discussed here is related to the conception of love as a quest for truth and heroism, for lover and beloved: it becomes apparent that Platonic erotics [ The young protagonist achieves transcendence in conjunction with his companion. Renunciation of sexual gratification is an essential part of the evolution towards a higher state of being.
Throughout the novels, the hero is primarily concerned that he and his beloved should recognize reality and truth. Through this knowledge, they will each, separately, achieve self-knowledge and spiritual advancement. Thus betrayal, abandonment and rejection may either be seen as a nihilistic movement towards further and further isolation of the subject or as a movement of ascendance, through loving, learning and parting, as circumstances and growth dictate.
Both pessimistic and optimistic tendencies have informed the evolution of the love relationship between younger beloved and older lover in these novels depicting the mythic adolescent hero. The adolescent is concerned with the spiritual progress of his beloved only for a brief period of time. Alban is more taken up with his own reaction 38 Ibid. The protagonist is ultimately concerned with his own progress or movement towards the mastery of truth, which will result in spiritual improvement and achievement of heroic status.
The essays refer frequently to reaching down into the depths of the self to bring the essence to the surface. These metaphors of mining the self refer to authenticity, to seeking the truth of the self as part of the heroic enterprise. PE, In knowing and being true to the self, the individual is asked to live authentically and, therefore, according to principles of quality.
The fatal flaw in Montherlant system of values is lack of relativism; difference is rejected and, therefore, true knowledge of the self cannot be achieved. Les Bestiaires is the only one of these three novels in which the protagonist does achieve heroic transcendance through association with the god, Mithra. Heroism is an unattainable prize, which Montherlant keeps in view throughout his work. Recognizing not only the absurdity of life but also the futility of striving for the ideal, the Montherlant protagonist sets up a set of principles according to which he lives, as if heroism were possible.
PE, The Montherlant protagonist is guilty of mauvaise foi because, although wholeness is sought through the heroic enterprise, repression and denial of multiplicity in the self leads to delusion and failure to recognize truth. The early novels, in their very attempt to define an ideal of heroism, indicate failure by the author to put his theoretical argument about truth into practice. It deepens like a coastal shelf. The heroic enterprise of his early novels underwent a profound change, as the writer matured in the climate of insecurity and fear engendered by the events taking place in Europe during the s and 40s.
The inspiration for his plays came from Greek classical drama, combined with his personal preoccupations relating to sexual orientation, familial conflict and the continued elaboration of a philosophical reaction to the pervading atmosphere in France, with the onset of the second apocalyptic conflict of the century. Montherlant is still primarily concerned with the improvement of the individual, but acknowledges the futility of heroism as conceived by his younger self. In the plays, the multiplicity of the individual is painfully acknowledged; the playwright, unlike the novelist, can no longer deny alterity, in an attempt to create the hero.
The prefaces and postfaces are supplemented by notes made during rehearsals and by reactions to critical and audience assessments. Each play is, therefore, a continually expanding artistic creation, whose interpretation extends over a period of years. Je ne le vois pas ainsi.
PT, Montherlant portrays the plural nature of the human being, stressing that multiplicity is typically human. The individual achieves his salvation through acknowledging the truth of his complex and contradictory nature. The early novels are twodimensional, portraying an adolescent hero, who rejects alterity, whereas the plays provide examples of the individual who is capable of good or evil acts and who displays the gamut of human qualities and faults between these two extremes.
The human flaws examined in this theatre are revealed in a paradigm of familial relations, usually structured around the Greek concept of the eraste—eromane relationship. Nobility of the human spirit is attained when the tragic hero reaches the ultimate point of suffering, either through external forces, or, more often, through the weaknesses in his own nature, he becomes closer to the divine.
By experiencing tragedy, man is exalted beyond his human nature and achieves, through suffering, purity akin to that of the divine. PT, Montherlant allies himself with the Greek classical playwrights and distances himself from the drama of action, which he sees as a characteristic of modern theatre. God is dead and, as a virtuous, heroic being, so is man. PT, Montherlant sets his writing apart from that of previous centuries and from that of his contemporaries, but his philosophy, like that of Malraux, Camus and Sartre, is centred on man.
His vision is darker than those of other writers and thinkers of the same generation. The hero sacrifices himself or those he loves not to a set of ideals imposed from outside, but rather to his own weaknesses. User name: Please enter a user name Password: Stay signed in on this computer. Forgotten password.
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