Henry de Montherlant Biography


Henry-Marie-Joseph-Millon de Montherlant did not hide the details of his life. He spoke to interviewers, wrote numerous self-revealing articles, and published a diary entitled Carnets (1957) covering the years 1930-1944, as well as a second volume entitled Va jouer avec cette poussière (1966), detailing his life through 1964. From various essays published subsequently in magazines and newspapers, much is known about the years between this cutoff date and his death by suicide in 1972.

Montherlant’s upbringing was decidedly Catholic, first at the École Saint-Pierre and, as a teenager, at the École Sainte-Croix, from which he managed to get himself expelled because of a variety of small infractions. By the time he reached the age of twenty, both of his parents had died. It was then, in 1916, that he volunteered for front-line combat in World War I and was gravely wounded. Although he recovered, the experience left an indelible mark on him and pushed him toward cynicism. He began to practice all sorts of sports, as if to prove to himself that his physical abilities were still intact, and he enjoyed especially bullfighting, which he went on to pursue on numerous occasions, even though he was injured more than once. He wrote intermittently all this time, novels and essays, but it was at the request of a friend, Jean-Louis Vaudoyer, director of the Comédie-Française, that he embarked seriously on a dramatic career. Between 1942 and 1965, he was to write a dozen plays, three of which, Port-Royal, The Cardinal of Spain, and Brocéliande, were staged directly at the French national theater, a feat of considerable rarity.

In the late 1960’s, Montherlant began to watch his body decay more and more, a calamity which, as he stated often, he was neither able nor willing to endure. The proud physical being he had been all along refused to put up with slow movement, with blindness, with the humility of dependence on a part-time, and then full-time nurse. In the course of the morning of September 21, 1972, though he could no longer see at all, he put the finishing touches to his will and wrote a letter to the chief of his police precinct in order that his action not be doubted in any way; whereupon, he put a bullet in his head, opting to remain the master of his destiny, in full compliance with the tenets that he had always held.