Critical Context

Appearing two years after Malraux’s novel, Les Conquerants (1928, 1949; The Conquerors, 1929, 1956), a work also dealing with the tragic destiny of the European adventurer in Asia, The Royal Way belongs to the early phase of the novelist’s career. Its will-to-power motifs and pessimism reflect both the particular influence of Friedrich Nietzsche, an author much admired by the young Malraux, and the general impact of World War I, which shook the spiritual and intellectual, as well as the social and political, foundations of Europe. Initially regarded by many critics as an inferior work, The Royal Way was subsequently appreciated for its merits—thanks to a more general acceptance of nonlinear but thematically and metaphorically coherent plot structures. Another factor contributing to this shift of critical opinion was the realization that Malraux’s novels have only one plot: man’s fate.

Later novels, such as his masterpiece, La Condition humaine (1933; Man’s Fate, 1934; also as Storm in Shanghai), and L’Espoir (1937; Days of Hope, 1938; also as Man’s Hope), sounded at times a more positive note, as Malraux dispensed with the adventurer and linked the actions of his heroes to the more laudable and tangible goals of political revolution against tyrannical regimes. Yet, to a considerable degree, these other works merely embroidered on the novelist’s fundamental themes and stylistic devices as revealed in The Royal Way. Even their optimistic aspects were related in part to a strain of hope already marginally present in The Royal Way, the strain of hope implicit in the fact that Claude does survive the physical and metaphysical endurance tests of his jungle adventure.