Malraux, (Georges-)André (Vol. 13)
Malraux, (Georges-)André 1901–1976
A French novelist and critic, Malraux unceasingly pursued the possibility of the individual's transcendence of his mortal fate, his triumph over silence and death, and his subsequent ennoblement. He viewed Art as man's dynamic search for absolutes. His fiercely intelligent novels of ideas are considered among the world's most important contemporary works. (See also CLC, Vols. 1, 4, 9, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 21-22; obituary, Vols. 69-72; Contemporary Authors Permanent Series, Vol. 2.)
Everything [in The Conquerors]—its dense and beautiful style, the keen eye of the artist, the original and daring observations—contributes to making this a novel of exceptional importance. If I speak of it at this time, it is not because the novel is filled with talent, though this is not a negligible fact, but because it is a most valuable source of political lessons. Do they stem from Malraux? No, they emerge from the story itself, unbeknown to the author, and testify against him, which does honor both to the observer and to the artist in him, but not to the revolutionary. However, we are justified in appreciating Malraux from this point of view: neither in his own name, nor, and above all, in the name of Garine his second self, is the author stingy with his judgments on the revolution.
The book is called a novel. What in fact we have before us is a fictionalized chronicle of the Chinese revolution during its first period, the Canton period. The chronicle is incomplete. It is in some cases deficient in its grasp of the social reality. By contrast, the reader sees not only luminous episodes of the revolution, but also clearly delineated silhouettes that engrave themselves in one's memory like social symbols.
By little touches of color, in the manner of the pointillistes, Malraux paints an unforgettable picture of the general strike, not, of course, as seen from below, as it is carried on, but as...
(The entire section is 1120 words.)
[La Condition Humaine (Man's Fate)] develops in a more explicit way the ideas implicit in Les Conquérants. La Condition Humaine is a much more ambitious and a more remarkable book than Les Conquérants. In the latter, Garine pretty well holds the spotlight, and there is an "I" who plays the role of Dr. Watson, deeply agitated by his hero's every utterance and standing by, indefatigably wide-eyed, while Garine receives portentous telegrams. He also plays the role of Conrad's Marlow. He is, in fact, our old friend the fictional observer who, from a more or less conventional point of view, looks on at a mystery or a moral problem. In [La Condition Humaine], however, the novelist gets rid of his European observer and, meeting Trotsky's challenge [see excerpt above], attacks the revolution directly. Dealing with cultures the most diverse, moral systems the most irreconcilable, he establishes a position outside them which enables him to dispense with the formulas alike of the "academic mandarins" and of the orthodox Communists. I do not know of any modern book which dramatizes so successfully such varied national and social types. Beside it, even E. M. Forster's admirable A Passage to India appears a little provincial; you even—what rarely happens nowadays to the reader of a French novel—forget that author is French…. The personalities of Malraux's characters are organically created and thoroughly explored. We not...
(The entire section is 731 words.)
W. M. Frohock
[André Malraux] is often called a "tragic humanist," because in novels like Man's Fate, in particular, he was obsessed with the inherent tragedy of the human predicament. His characters were trapped by our common inability to transcend our human limitations, beginning with our mortality. But in later years his emphasis has changed somewhat: our metaphysical situation, as he sees it, remains tragic in essence, but his way of feeling it is less dramatic and he no longer writes tragic novels. He prefers to think of himself as a kind of "witness." (pp. 3-4)
The meaning of "witness" appropriate here emerges from a consideration of the Anti-memoirs. Nothing else explains the juxtaposition of brilliant passages from The Walnut Trees with accounts of interviews with Nehru, Mao, and de Gaulle, with a report of Malraux's own somewhat harebrained search for the lost capital of the Queen of Sheba…. (p. 4)
[In Man's Fate] Malraux uses an unidentified narrating voice that is free to assume various points of view as need arises. The action is concentrated in two spaces of time measurable in hours, with a lull separating them while the leaders go to Hangkow, so that the episodes take place either simultaneously or so nearly so that no single eye could plausibly observe them all. For a novel in which each character's "destiny" is equated with his particular Angst, Malraux's strategy permits him to...
(The entire section is 1288 words.)
R. J. North
[All Malraux's] novels, with the possible exception of La Voie royale, are set in contemporary history, telling of revolution and war. Malraux seems to rival the news reporter, indeed he uses reportage techniques. Incidents and scenes are dated: 5 June Shanghai, Madrid, Teruel, Guadalajara and so on. (p. 10)
The detail and the march of events may prove confusing at first reading—and this has been seen as a weakness in Malraux's narrative technique. He is not concerned with reporting or history; though some of the events happened, the actors are imagined and the testimony is not that of the eyewitness but of the analyst. While it has been said that Malraux's story offers the best account of the 'feel' of the Civil War, this can be true only for one side and for the early days of the campaign. In fact the matter of the novel is invention based on some personal experience.
The topical gives to character and situation in the novels a certain authenticity and a certain dramatic tension. The quality of lived experience is communicated and the realistic presentation seems to guarantee the reality of the problems, to make them real-life rather than philosophical issues. Action and situation reveal not only character but choice; it is not the factual which ultimately counts but the meaning for the protagonists of the alternatives available to them or the forces which crush them…. Together with this reportage...
(The entire section is 783 words.)
André Malraux wrote about men and places. The men were larger than life and the places distant. Women scarcely figured in his books, and when they did they functioned as backdrops which reflected and glorified their men….
[For] Malraux, the novelist and the man, political controversies have always provided the pretext to confront larger, more metaphysical problems. The French title for Man's Fate is La Condition humaine, and this phrase, gleaned from Pascal, bespeaks a concern with broader issues than what political group would take over China. This novel's real theme is alienation; which Malraux highlights by having each character, no matter what his nationality, somehow bifurcated…. Like most novels that purport to be "philosophical" in nature, the political ramifications, if any, are profoundly conservative. At the end of Man's Fate the political situation has altered for the worse, but that is a detail. What has not changed is the human condition; man's fate remains one of alienation occasionally alleviated by the experience of fraternity.
The theme of Man's Hope, as well as that of The Conquerors and The Royal Way, is fraternity. Struggle, be it against men or nature, leads to the discovery of fraternity. Hence struggle is much sought after, and becomes at times an end in itself….
Malraux claimed he discovered fraternity in Asia, and certainly...
(The entire section is 1851 words.)