Although he is best known as a playwright, Henry de Montherlant also had an extensive career as a novelist and essayist. He excelled more in the genre of the former than in that of the latter, for his essays, though often brilliant, never arrive at objective conclusions.
Robert B. Johnson, the American scholar who knew Henry de Montherlant best, remarked that the author’s plays are poetic statements on the human condition, transcending time, and therefore likely to endure. This view is shared by the French critic Michel Mohrt, who also pointed out the quality of Montherlant’s pessimism that led him to the notion of people’s total freedom: from God, from their fellow human beings, even from their own makeup. Hope, the invention of the coward, makes one walk on crutches and live in the future, instead of stepping serenely on one’s own feet and existing in the present. If God is posited as absent; if dependence on others is viewed as useless; and if one refuses to excuse anything by invoking one’s physical and intellectual limitations, freedom is immediate and complete. Montherlant’s plays, then, focus on his characters’ struggle to come to terms with the awesome liberty of humankind.
The dramatist was not popular at first because the majority of his spectators questioned the value of freedom at the cost of retreat from God, from others, and from oneself. Montherlant’s answer, that the ensuing lucidity was worth any price, no matter how high, pleased the elite theatergoers, but not the rest. His plays were and are considered too cerebral. In the post-World War II era, however, when existentialism burst on the literary scene and attracted a popular following, Montherlant’s plays benefited from the similarity...
Becker, Lucille Frackman. Henry de Monttherlant: A Critical Biography. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1970. A biography of Montherlant that covers his life and works. Bibliography.
Gerrard, Charlotte Frankel. Montherlant and Suicide. Madrid, Spain: J. Porúa Turanzas, 1977. A critical analysis of the works of Montherlant, with emphasis on his attitude toward suicide. Bibliography and index.
Golsan, Richard Joseph. Service Inutile: A Study of the Tragic in the Theatre of Henry de Montherlant. University, Miss.: Romance Monographs, 1988. This study examines the tragic elements in the dramatic works of Montherlant. Bibliography.
Johnson, Robert Borwn. Henry de Montherlant. New York: Twayne, 1968. A basic biography of Montherlant that covers both his life and works. Bibliography.