Henri-Eugène-Guislain Michaux’s life, like his works, was cosmopolitan. He was born in Namur, Belgium, on May 24, 1899, and was reared in Brussels. Because of his delicate health and obstinate temperament, he was sent to a boarding school in Putte-Grasheide. After five years in the country, which was for him a time of solitude and refusal of societal norms, Michaux returned to Brussels in 1911 for the remainder of his formal education. He was graduated from his lycée in 1916, but because of the German Occupation, he could not immediately enroll in a university. During this period, Michaux studied literature voraciously, learning about the lives of the saints and discovering the writings of mystics such as Jan van Ruysbroeck, Leo Tolstoy, and Fyodor Dostoevski. Refusing to believe that literature alone held the key to the essence of life, Michaux, in 1919, enrolled in medical school, but he later abandoned his studies there as well.
At the age of twenty-one, Michaux embarked upon the first of a series of voyages that greatly influenced his life and writing. He first became a sailor on a five-masted schooner at Boulogne-sur-Mer; then he joined the crew of the ten-ton Victorieux at Rotterdam. He explored the civilizations bordering the Atlantic, including the United States and South America. Michaux stayed in Marseilles, France, for a year, then returned to Brussels, where his first volumes–Fables des origines (fables on origins) and Les Rêves et la jambe (dreams and the leg)—were published. He was, however, dissatisfied with life in Belgium, particularly with his family’s view of his “failure,” and had already moved to Paris when the two works appeared.
The Parisian artistic scene of the 1920’s had a...
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