Henri de Montherlant Critical Essays


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Montherlant, Henri de 1896–1972

A French novelist, playwright, poet, and essayist, Montherlant extolled Spartan virtue, virility, and stoicism in his writings. Viewed by many as a "right-wing" novelist and falsely accused of collaborating with the Germans, Montherlant suffered a diminished literary reputation as a result. Interesting parallels exist between Montherlant and Hemingway. Both writers have been called egotists and both appear to exalt violence. Furthermore, both wrote about bullfighting: Montherlant quite authentically, since he actually had experience in the ring. Finally, both men shot themselves—Hemingway because he was physically ill and because he feared going insane, Montherlant because he was threatened by blindness. (See also CLC, Vol. 8, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 85-88; obituary, Vols. 37-40, rev. ed.)

Louis Kronenberger

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

M. de Montherlant's novel ["The Bullfighters"] is the first I know to raise bullfighting beyond either mere spectacle or mere study, and to put it in an absolute world of its own, with its own sensations of beauty and mysticism, terror and strength…. [To] read "The Bullfighters" is to drop out of life, to become bullfighter and bull and nothing else, to see Time drop away and immemorial ceremonies dominate and fire the blood. Here is not only the face of the bull and the mind of the bullfighter; here is the soul of bullfighting….

Having lived throughout the book in a merely technical and professional world of bullfighting, one suddenly sees into the soul of the spectacle, into the history of the...

(The entire section is 301 words.)

Elizabeth Bowen

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

In France, where the intelligent novel goes far, these books about women (women in love) [Montherlant's Les Jeunes Filles] have been widely enough read to rouse excitement and anger. Montherlant has been, I understand, accused of indecency on a rather subtle plane. He gets nearer the nerve of a matter—in fact, "our women"—than people, even in France, like. Now that translation is to widen his English public, what, I wonder, will be the reactions to him here? Very mixed: in some quarters, possibly, hostile. He is likely to displease women, to unnerve men. He has a ruthless touch on a good many illusions. But his drive, his clarity, his magnetic style are unlikely to be forgotten….


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(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Montherlant belongs to the long tradition of males who have adopted as their own the proud Manichaeism of Pythagoras. Following Nietzsche, he holds that only epochs marked by weakness have exalted the Eternal Feminine and that the hero should rise in revolt against the Magna Mater. A specialist in heroism, he undertakes to dethrone her. Woman—she is night, disorder, immanence…. According to him, it is the stupidity and the baseness of the men of today that have lent an air of positive worth to feminine deficiencies: we hear about women's instinct, their intuition, their divination, when it is in order to denounce their lack of logic, their obstinate ignorance, their inability to grasp reality. They are in fact...

(The entire section is 2237 words.)

Henri Peyre

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

["The Bachelors"] has no plot, no content, little characterization, only style and avid irony. Montherlant's hatred for these members of his aristocratic class is not relieved by pity; but it moves the reader, for it only half disguises the author's hatred of himself. Behind his Stendhalian technique of intervening in his descriptions and in his narrative and of commenting upon his sad weaklings for the reader's sake, one detects Montherlant's fundamental isolation and shyness. These pathetic noblemen reduced to insignificance might have been members of his family, or what he would himself have become, a misogynist bachelor, if he had not been saved by vitality, by talent and by a boundless and arrogant faith in...

(The entire section is 342 words.)

Gene Baro

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Henry de Montherlant is a moralist, this is to say a writer whose principal concern is how man ought to live. His essays, plays, and novels serve this inquiry; they record and analyze Montherlant's observation of human behavior; they are dialectical and rhetorical exercises in support of an essentially psychological interpretation of life.

For Montherlant, men are isolated creatures, responding to psychological imperatives. These are often at variance with the patterns of behavior sanctioned by society, which is in itself no more than an uneasy collective of individual consciousnesses…. (p. 704)

According to Montherlant, it is man's nature to be attracted by opposites; it is his...

(The entire section is 834 words.)

Lucille Becker

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Throughout Montherlant's dramatic production, there exists a striking similarity of thematic content. Virtually each play stresses the drive for self-realization and the resultant heroic stature achieved by the protagonist, as well as his final recognition that, as his destiny differs from that of common humanity, he is condemned to solitude and exile. Each dénouement reveals to the hero the vanity of all things, including his own achievements. In his anguish at the absurdity of man's existence. Montherlant's hero longs for death and oblivion.

This pessimism and nihilism in Montherlant's theatrical production are a logical outcome of his theory of alternation, a doctrine which has guided him...

(The entire section is 754 words.)

Stanley Kauffmann

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Chaos and Night is concerned with a relic of the war, a Spanish anarchist, now sixty-seven, who has been exiled in Paris for twenty years. The old anecdote tells us that, when a Frenchman was asked by his grandchild what he had done during the Revolution, he replied, "I survived." In effect, Montherlant examines this answer for his hero: to find out what survived and why and whether it was worth the effort. (p. 20)

Two themes run through this austere but rich novel, one explicit, one manifested through the book's shape and sum: the realities of political belief, and God's last laugh. As for the former, it becomes increasingly clear to Celestino that seemingly immutable principles are a matter...

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Jacques Guicharnaud

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

What interests Montherlant in Le Maître de Santiago is not the hero's struggle or relationship with God but the inner mechanism of the psychological phenomenon of faith, that phenomenon combined with intransigence, and the ambiguity of abnegation and pride…. [Montherlant] at no time treats the supernatural as such but describes an emotional and intellectual attitude toward it.

Another of Montherlant's concerns … is that of "the imitation of life." By that he means that no rule of composition, no pre-established principle of what a dramatic character must be, should turn the playwright away from the faithful reproduction of psychological flux, its surprises, even its incoherence…. For...

(The entire section is 1671 words.)

Leo Bersani

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Henry de Montherlant, that haughty aristocrat of French letters …, is at his best when he diverts psychological tension into a rather grand, sporty, occasionally risky farce. The hero of The Girls [Les Jeunes Filles] scores a point against the book's major villain (the villain is the institution of marriage) by making himself even more of a fool than he is. (p. 22)

There are many funny scenes in Montherlant's novel; I recommend it for its comedy. Unfortunately, The Girls … has a rather … banal thesis to push. Montherlant is—tirelessly, interminably—out to attack the myth of "the eternal feminine," the idealization of women and marriage, the "love-court" notion of relations...

(The entire section is 569 words.)

Allen Thiher

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Many have seen Montherlant's first play, L'Exil, as the key to his following theatrical works. It is true that Montherlant's tragic heroes are continually in a state of exile, but it is Pasiphaë who best illustrates the exile they must endure. Because of their desire they are in exile from others, from nature, and often from the deepest part of themselves. Like Pasiphaë his tragic heroes are constantly thirsting, though the waters that will fulfill their desire are always beyond this world. And thus like Pasiphaë they must affirm themselves in their exile as they affirm their desire…. Like Kierkegaard's Abraham, Pasiphaë can find no mediation through an ethical universal. For her the tragedy of eros is to...

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P. J. Norrish

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Most of [Montherlant's] dramatic heroes aspire to act in ways that are above those usually found at the common level of humanity. They believe in cultivating what they regard as the better or deeper part of their beings. But they are usually supermen with a flaw, and Montherlant makes drama out of their struggles to promote their ideals in the face of opposition not only from others but from themselves.

For Montherlant, just as there are two kinds of men, the ordinary and the extraordinary, so there are two kinds of happiness, one for the majority and the other for the minority élite. Happiness for most people is again love, the happiness of one individual in love with another and allowed to be with...

(The entire section is 842 words.)