André Malraux Biography


(History of the World: The 20th Century)
ph_0111206373-Malraux.jpg André Malraux Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Article abstract: Malraux was a multifaceted twentieth century intellectual who had significant accomplishments in three worthy pursuits: As a novelist he produced some of the best fiction written in French during the century; in politics, he functioned successfully as a right-hand man to French President Charles de Gaulle; as an art critic, collector, and theorist, he also made noteworthy advancements.

Early Life

Georges André Malraux was born in the Montmartre section of Paris on November 3, 1901, to Fernand Malraux and Berthe Lamy Malraux, middle-class parents who were ill-matched. When Malraux was four years old, his parents permanently separated and later divorced. At that time, the child and his mother went to Bondy to live with Andrienne Romania, his Italian maternal grandmother. Generally, he was reared by these two women and had minimal contact with his father. Perhaps the best part of his childhood was his frequent visits to Dunkerque, a coastal town in northern France, where he visited his grandfather, Alphonse Émile, a working-class industrialist with various seafaring business interests.

His education was received almost entirely in Bondy. Reportedly, he was quite bored most of the time in school, finding little in the curriculum to challenge his acute mind. In 1915, he applied for a scholarship at a private institution, the École Turgot, in Paris; this pursuit was successful, and he attended school there until 1918. Again, he was not entirely happy, although he did rather well. His interests, aptitudes, and energies were usually directed toward the study of literature and art, and he displayed a fascination with world history, civilizations, and cultures as well. Perhaps his dissatisfaction with educational institutions explains why he did not attempt to obtain a college degree.

Between 1918 and 1923, he worked for a bookseller in Paris, an activity that gave rise to his later editing and publishing, which, in turn, accounts for his early contact with numerous influential writers in Paris at the time, such as André Gide. During these years, he often attended lectures, visited and studied at museums and art galleries, and began to circulate in literary and art circles. In 1921, he published his first book, Lunes en papier (1921; paper moons), a work of fantasy written as a prose poem. During this same year, he married his first of three wives, Clara Goldschmidt, a well-to-do Jew who was in many respects his intellectual equal; subsequent to the marriage they traveled to Italy.

Life’s Work

In 1923, Malraux and his wife traveled to Indochina, where they expected to find artifacts of the ancient Khmer civilization. During their search in Cambodia, Malraux, following the example of accepted precedent and practice, removed several figures from ancient stone ruins. The action was illegal and, as it happened, Malraux was caught by local authorities before the remnants were removed from the country. The twenty-two-year-old Malraux was arrested and went through a series of trials and appeals before the matter was finally dropped some six to eight years later. During this first trip to Indochina, Malraux learned about more than the ancient ruins that he sought: He saw at first hand the corruption of the French in their control of Indochina, and in 1925 he helped found a short-lived newspaper, L’Indochine, which was quite severe in its criticism of those in power in the colony.

For the rest of his life, Malraux displayed success after success in his pursuits of literature, art, and politics. To him, these areas were all different focuses of an overriding belief about the nature of man. Discovery of an existential self required expression in literature and art as well as action to right social wrongs and corrupt, even faulty, systems of government. He lived primarily as a radical and revolutionary yet almost always at the center of the influential figures and powerful leaders, not only in France but also throughout the world.

In retrospect, it is clear that his most outstanding contributions are in literature. His greatest novels were recognized as such at their initial publication: Les Conquérants (1928, 1949; The Conquerors, 1929, 1956), La Condition humaine (1933; Man’s Fate, 1934; also as Storm in Shanghai, 1934), and L’Espoir (1937; Days of Hope, 1938; also as Man’s Hope, 1938). In each of these novels, he deals with the connection between identity and meaning for mankind in a context of revolution, which becomes the means of self-expression and assertion that can possibly transform one’s life from being meaningless to meaningful. Collectively, these three novels established Malraux as chief communist spokesman in Europe, although he later renounced and abandoned communist social and political theory. These novels were never communist propaganda pieces, as their conception and execution transcend matters of the state so as to dwell on the individualistic purposes of the main characters; specifically, characters try to escape their mortality by coming to terms with it—thus revolution in China, for example, as is the case for Man’s Fate, provides an appropriate setting and backdrop. Malraux never received the Nobel Prize, but he was awarded the Prix Goncourt in 1933 for Man’s Fate.

In matters of art, Malraux, while deeply engrossed in contemporaneous productions, was more caught up with accomplishments of earlier civilizations. He joined or conducted several archaeological explorations, wrote numerous reviews, and befriended the most important artists of his...

(The entire section is 2339 words.)

André Malraux Biography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

The French novelist, art theorist, and essayist Georges André Malraux (mahl-roh) was born in Paris to parents who separated a few years after his birth. He was reared by his mother and maternal grandmother, proprietors of a grocer’s shop in suburban Bondy. At the age of seventeen Malraux was on his own in Paris, working as a book dealer and editor and educating himself in literature and the arts. He lived among writers and painters and wrote surrealistic stories.

His life changed in 1923 when he and his wife, Clara, sailed for French Indochina to seek treasure in the ruins of ancient temples. His project succeeded, but he was prosecuted for theft by the colonial administration and barely escaped a prison sentence. Defiant and hostile after this experience, Malraux published an anticolonial newspaper in Saigon and sympathized with the local nationalists and the revolutionaries who were beginning to take action in China. In 1926 he returned to Paris to become an editor at a publishing house and to write novels.

Malraux’s novels, which won him almost immediate acclaim, reflect his developing views not only of politics but also of the human condition in his time. His first three novels are notable for their ideas and their violent actions as well as for brisk, tense narration and pictorial imagery. The Conquerors describes a revolutionary uprising in Canton in 1925. The Royal Way narrates a quest for treasure and power in the Cambodian jungle. The protagonists of these novels are European adventurers somewhat like Malraux himself, strong-willed but solitary, who struggle against their sense of the absurdity of life and the menace of death. They exemplify the collapse of...

(The entire section is 704 words.)

André Malraux Biography

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

André Georges Malraux was born in Paris, France, on November 3, 1901, the only child of young working-class parents. When Malraux was about eight years old, his parents separated, and his mother took him with her to live with her mother and sister above a grocery store in Bondy, a northeastern suburb of Paris. One of Malraux’s favorite pastimes was reading, and the close proximity of Paris and the Louvre allowed him to discover art at a fairly early age. For a time, Malraux commuted to school in Paris. He was judged to be an exceptionally good student, but, when he turned eighteen, he abruptly lost interest in formal education. He dropped out of school and rented an apartment in Paris. To supplement the allowance given him by...

(The entire section is 765 words.)