Romains, Jules (Pseudonym of Louis Farigoule)
Romains, Jules (Pseudonym of Louis Farigoule) 1885–1972
Romains was a French novelist, dramatist, poet, and essayist. He is noted for his central doctrine, unanimism, the mystic power of the group, and for his capacity to render the essential spirit of the city. Les Hommes de bonne volonté (Men of Good Will), originally published in twenty-seven volumes, is his vision of France. (See also Contemporary Authors, obituary, Vols. 37-40.)
The gifted Frenchman [Romains] is trying to do for the twentieth century what Goethe strove to do for the nineteenth, find a way of life for the individual, satisfying to the full the intellectual, physical, and moral nature of man; and at the same time gain for himself in its satisfaction that serenity that made Goethe for all time an example of achieved culture. Jules Romains is striving to express, out of 'all the disorderly growth' and 'zigzagging effort' of the world today, 'the ideal of an epoch'—an interesting effort and stupendous.
Huxley approached the task by an exposure of some of the trends of science, the efforts of biologists, psychologists, and efficiency engineers to standardize humanity. And he shakes his head at the melancholy spectacle of the neglect of the imaginative and spiritual side of human nature. Romains begins with a new study of what science is revealing. To study and solve the problem raised by science we must know more of science and correct its errors by better knowledge. And of all the sciences Romains selects those that Huxley most feared, biology and psychology. These are the newest, offer most to the sensitive imagination, and may carry the largest promise for the future. (pp. 194-95)
He became a member of a small literary group, fired by a common purpose, of whom Duhamel was another, who gave to this spirit the name Unanimism. It became their purpose to make a scientific study of this theme, for the cultivation of the right unanimisms may and should be a means 'to discover a spiritual meaning in the apparent meaninglessness of life.' And many in France, where they take literature seriously, took up with fervor the new doctrine.
It is more than a doctrine, it is an experience, and not quite so novel as the new name for it would suggest—this going out, as it were, of one's own personality so as to embrace the wider horizon…. Wordsworth was similarly uplifted into a consciousness of oneness with nature. But he was a rural poet with a rural background. Romains is a child of the city. And what Wordsworth felt in the presence of Nature, Romains feels in the throb of the life of the city. (p. 199)
The great tradition of European literature from the Greek on, with the possible exception of Rome, has been built upon the ideal of a firm and self-sufficient individualism. Homer, Sophocles, Montaigne, Shakespeare, Milton, Goethe—yes even Dante—have seen the individual in relation to himself and his conscience—his god, if you will. 'To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man'. (p. 203)
Now that these later days, with more scientific insight into the social needs of man, and the social unrest caused by war and new disorder, and the apparent chaos and ugliness of efforts at new adjustments, have made us a trifle suspicious of old ideals, it is not unexpected, it is in fact a necessary phase of the contemporary revolution, to turn from the individual, who has proved himself so inadequate, to the group; perhaps in it we can discover something that may 'keep us safe from fear.' It is quite to be expected that this new philosophy should accompany, and be a comment and criticism of, the efforts made in every country to find some substitute, whether in the ideal of the totalitarian state or the metaphysics of communism, for the rusty and declaredly ineffective machinery of individualistic democracy.
The 'spirit' that creates the community, the unanimism, may be trivial and transitory, it may be powerful and enduring: it may be malevolent and devastating, it may be beneficent and creative. For very early Jules Romains realized that all these creative powers that inspire and give life to our actions and bring people into accord are not of the same complexion and value. Above all they can be a means of creating God—they can by the contrary be the means of evoking the Devil. Devil or God, each is the spirit that gives life and motion and meaning to conduct. (pp. 204-05)
Men of Good Will is an epic of a lost Europe, an Odyssey, where everyone is a Ulysses, and significance or its lack attaches to the adventures only as some seem directed to a good end and others come to merited censure. As it started and as it progresses one is driven more and more to the conclusion that its only adequate conclusion can be either the perfect society that Huxley describes in his Brave New World, a society such as Karl Marx conceived and Lenin tried to make prevail, or on the other hand the medieval Day of Judgment when the great gathering shall take place and the assessment of rewards and punishment. For the one the author is not yet prepared, for he speaks none too enthusiastically of the 'Marxist collectivism with all its barrack yard bureaucratic drabness'; and the idea of a god sitting in judgment over the embers of a burnt-out world is hardly in keeping with unanimistic theology. (p. 209)
It is our epic and we its characters, with our conflicts of ideas. There are many men of good will, and they work, even they, at cross purposes. It is the epic of an idea. Which special brand of 'good will' the author will ultimately choose as his own, that will have to wait until the chapters begin to approach our own day. And the story of their emergence will mark the conclusion of the novel—if ever it will have a conclusion. It is the epic of an idea, and the idea, as it passes from shadowy anticipation into more and more concrete realization, is the hero. (pp. 209-10)
The various ideas that Europe has been living by in the past generation and is living by today, and their significance as they pass in review, and receive willy-nilly the reader's praise or censure, this is the grand theme of this epic of contemporary Europe. These ideas are the contemporary deities, quite apart from any professed religion, and allow no partial worship. Contemporary Europe has many gods and many Mammons. Can men of good will be discovered who will discover in turn a true God?…
All the gods or devils that Europe is setting up in perplexed search for freedom from fear; and the way that communities, little and big, form and dissolve as the painful search goes on: Such is the ambitious theme of the novel. To all this is joined a perfect use of all that the new science of psychology has offered in the study of behavior. (p. 211)
[It] is the story of the conflict of ideas that makes our world, and this is a conflict that will never, so long as humanity remains fluid, see an end. Always it will be the story of communities dissolving into a mob and then reforming into new communities. We live so close to the special color of the problem of our own age that often we fancy its pain and bewilderment to be unique. But there is little new under the sun, and there has been little since the wise old Hebrew composed the proverb.
But Jules Romains has given us a new name for an old recipe, Unanimism. And in giving it a new name he has also given a new fervor to the search for the spirit that binds and at the same time sets man free. (pp. 216-17)
Philo M. Buck, Jr., "Go to the Ant: Jules Romains," in his Directions in Contemporary Literature (copyright © 1942 by Oxford University Press, Inc.; reprinted by permission), Oxford University Press, 1942, pp. 193-217.
It is in the lyricism of this early poetry, La Vie Unanime, that Romains states the initial impulse of his sensitivity which has grown into a complicated verbalism in his mature writing. "Unanimism" is his own word, his own formula, the theme of his early poetry and the key to his recent prose. The unanimist feels the poetry of the whole: of the whole street, of the whole city, of all humanity. He is not an individual looking at the world and being moved by it; rather, he is a part of the whole and feels the movement of the whole because he is so closely merged with it. He feels the reality of the street and the city and the group because his personal feelings have been absorbed in them. If he remains one, he will be unlimited—like the sponge which never bursts through soaking up an infinity of water. His intimate thoughts and his heart are worthy to be scorned when he contrasts his own dream with the profounder dream of the city. The height of his lyricism is reached when he seizes the happiness of non-being: "Je connais le bonheur de n'être presque pas"; and his soul becomes the street in its various postures of meditation: "Mon âme c'est la rue au soir qui se recueille." (pp. 63-4)
There were two … masters who inspired the lyrical movement of the young Romains and whose influence is perceptible throughout Les Hommes de Bonne Volonté. These masters were Victor Hugo and Paris. They might be coalesced into one: the Paris of Victor Hugo.
The French temperament is periodically assailed by one form or another of preciosity. The most constant is perhaps the lyric expression the French give to the beauty of the city, to the beauty of the parts, of the things of the city: the light of its sky, the form of its trees, the architecture of its buildings, the grace of its evenings. The poetic eye sees this so intensely that the stature of man in the city is diminished. This is not true of the greatest artists. Villon and Baudelaire do not sacrifice the drama of man to his habitation. But Victor Hugo and his disciple Jules Romains have made their creatures indistinct one from another in their meditation before the collective force of the city and the collective beauty of its murmur and its color. Their creatures are subdued and live mechanically as under the direction and spell of a very mysterious but omnipotent power. In both Hugo and Romains, the theme may shift from that of the city to that of humanity, but the total effect is the same. The vastness of the power admits an unlimited flow of expression. The poem (or the novel) grows and grows, almost rapidly, without ever striking against an obstacle, without ever seeing a living person. The culminating phrase of Romains' most recent poetry is "ô République Universelle." Victor Hugo had dreamed of the same hope for humanity.
Romains may incline his reader to believe that man is not real, but what he sees, is. Each one of us is dead, he will tell us, and the unanimist life is our sepulchre. During the long course of the novel, Romains has not been unfaithful, in any philosophical sense, to his earliest writing. Les Hommes de Bonne Volonté is the application, elaborate, complicated, symmetrical, of the lyric Hugoesque message in La Vie Unanime. The poet has made himself into a novelist without relinquishing any of his particular poetic vision of the world. (pp. 64-5)
In trying to discover what philosophy of man Romains incorporates in his work, we are forced to admit that unanimism tends to destroy the possibility of any philosophy because it tends to destroy the individual. (pp. 66-7)
What remains of an individual when subjected to such treatment is an over-simplified characterization, a picturesque one, usually pathetic and almost always sexually motivated. M. Romains is obsessed with the sex impulse and the sexual adventures of his characters. If some have no real carnal adventures, they have dreams and thoughts of physical possession. Even the dog Macaire, who serves as one of the most humorous motifs in the work, has a dramatic although abortive love escapade. But if sex is the permanent basis for Romains' psychological dissertations, it also is treated as though it were a unit in the unanimistic régime, implacable and commanding. An overwhelming portion of the literary work is consecrated to erotic didacticism. Sex is monotonously the same experience with a countess, a student, a dog, and a minister of foreign relations. The pattern of courtship and amorous capitulation is stated over and over again with no psychological variations. (p. 67)
But from [the] various leading characters, will one emerge as hero? Perhaps not. The hero may be the humanity of France in our century. Perhaps it will be a double hero; the two students who meet at Normale in 1908: Jallez from Paris and the provincial Jerphanion. In their conversations and letters Romains has done some of his best writing. Perhaps in their dual portraits he has put himself most faith-fully on paper. Together they approach the dimensions of a hero, because together they represent a conflict which is the requirement for heroism: Jerphanion, the submissive man who is teacher, husband, father, soldier, the man who has his designated place in the unit; and Jallez, the dreamer, the poet, the pacifist, the one who is faithful to an ideal love and who fears attachment to anything real. However, the psychological acuteness in this double hero is sacrificed to the neatness of the pattern and ideal of the two diverging natures.
If no hero gives a guiding action and order to Les Hommes de Bonne Volonté, the mode of composition gives the work a form of artistic unity. At first one may be confused by the number of lives and scenes which are unrelated, but this rapid cinematographic technique, when prolonged, may end by developing a charm in the very diversity of characters, in the unforeseen freedom of movement with which an entire city is encompassed. (pp. 68-9)
As in the life of comets, there must be a pathos in the dispersal of human life, in the insignificance and monotony of human life, in the appearance and subsequent vanishing of a face. (p. 69)
The unanimist style is felt above all in the endless brief portraits and silhouettes of the novel, in the intimate scenes between two people, in the many scenes of larger groups where the writing of Romains concentrates upon delineation and unimportant but familiar action. Here his art is alert, clear and humorous, or pathetic according to the situation. It is skill in narration, success in a well-turned exercise. (pp. 69-70)
The effect of words and sentences accumulating and propagating themselves is perhaps the major effect of this long work. The motifs are all of some interest and the language used is always accessible to a large public, but the pure verbal pressure which comes from the persistence and steadiness and flow of words outweighs characters, scenes, debates, and perceptions. The innumerable small touches are forgotten in the general movement and sweep which are "livresques," that is, which seem to be created by the power of words and the intoxication of sound. The mode of composition in Les Hommes de Bonne Volonté represents a kind of debauchery in rhetoric. It is not the painstaking, poignant exploration of Proust. Nor is it the abundant but unified vision of Zola. It is an application of an innate skill with words on subjects too diversified, too loosely chosen, too half-heartedly felt. (p. 71)
We must watch the character Pierre Jallez in his future appearances. There is much of both Louis Farigoule and Jules Romains in him. (For Louis Farigoule was once a student at Normale and then became the writer Jules Romains; and Jules Romains remembers that once he was called Louis and perhaps rolled a hoop through the streets of Paris.) Nothing can be prophesied about this "work in progress," but let us continue to follow Jallez who in his very detachment from the characters around him—even from those he loves, and in his philosophical attitude toward events and ideas and matters of the heart, is perhaps destined to succumb as a hero or conquer as a hero. From the susceptible soul of Pierre Jallez we may see the emergence of a hero, or at least the thoughts of a hero, while around him and under him will continue to agitate the hundreds of episodes which he will bring together in some way, at some time. (p. 75)
Wallace Fowlie, "Jules Romains: The Novel of Good Will and the World of Evil," in his Clowns and Angels: Studies in Modern French Literature (copyright, 1943, by Sheed & Ward, Inc.), Sheed & Ward, 1943, pp. 62-78.
The most thorough and consistent effort to interpret the positive and the negative values of contemporary European society in terms of fiction has been made by the philosopher-novelist Jules Romains. The threads which Romains has been slowly weaving in his long series of novels are now drawing into a tight pattern. The question, still unanswered, is this: Does a man deceive himself when he attempts to work "in terms of the eternal," or can "the rational will of mankind" influence its destiny and affect its history? (pp. 230-31)
Several men in our time have attempted to write series of novels which dramatize the great movements and impulses of whole societies. The Forsyte novels of Galsworthy and the Lanny Budd books by Upton Sinclair were inspired by the same brave concern with the fate of society. Neither of these other writers, however, had either the mentality or the vitality to carry the project through to genuine success. Galsworthy's books dwindled off into trifling drawing-room drama and Sinclair's into bustling, naive melodrama. Only Jules Romains has had the intellectual hardihood to give real dignity and spaciousness to his tremendous project. (pp. 233-34)
James Gray, in his On Second Thought (© 1946, the University of Minnesota), University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 1946.
"Unanimism," according to its creator, was not merely another label for a literary group. It was the key to the understanding of the modern world. It offered man a new psychology, a new ethics and a dynamic new code of action…. Romains had always seen the individual, not as a separate unit, but as an integral part of a complex organism, be it a city street, the city itself or the entire nation. In general, however, he considered the twentieth century individual to be unconscious both of the existence of these organisms and of his place in them. Romains's function, it seemed to him, was to reveal to his contemporaries the exhilarating possibilities and all the poetry of such participation. In an anthropomorphic fashion, Romains thinks of human groups as monstrous, superhuman beings that centralize and concentrate all the power and emotions which they draw from their individual members. (p. 67)
One cannot attempt … to give more than a quick evaluation of the complex world of Les Hommes de bonne volonté, for it sets in motion "more than a thousand characters" over a period of a quarter of a century. Romains's theories, coupled with his ambition to "give as exact a picture of our time as the present resources of literary art allow," led him to set up a rather abstract group of "representative" human beings who belong to the various strata of modern society. Many represent these strata in their "becoming." Side by side are an artisan of the old type and a modern factory worker, old-time politicians and modern politicians. The same holds true in the realms of business, erotism, crime, research and literature. Delegated by the author to illustrate the fundamental characteristics of contemporary society, they are necessarily schematic. Even Jerphanion and Jallez, the most carefully developed and the most human of them all, do not reach full individual stature. All these characters seem to move like chessmen over the board according to the needs of the author. They are all terribly talkative; they think and even daydream discursively. One cannot help being struck by the insignificance of the actions to which they apply their incredible logic. No gesture seems to come to them spontaneously. This universal trait, especially when applied to their excursions into the rather tiresome world of the "modern Eros," gives them the mechanical aspect that is at the root of Romains's particular form of humor.
Romains's characters are on the whole free from metaphysical anguish and sexual inhibitions. In every realm, from crime to artistic creation, they tend to work with the precision of an intelligent and high-powered machine. This effect is further accentuated by Romains's technique of composition. He presents his characters in short, juxtaposed scenes that lead to powerful syntheses in which all separate lives are merged, as though each were brought there by an assembly line. It is not, however, the individual that interests Romains but his participation in a larger sustaining group. Unfortunately, one rarely feels the link between the separate worlds of his individual and rather insignificant characters and the super-world of the group. In spite of the carefully marked chronological points of reference, Romains fails to give us the sense of a flux of time or to show the destiny of the whole through the individual.
Les Hommes de bonne volonté partially fails as a novel in the same way that Romains's conception of man's fate fails to meet the test of history. His conception of individual existence, like his conception of history, raises to the status of an abstract system what was at best an excellent novelistic point of view. This point of view is rich in such literary possibilities as inventiveness and humor and gives Romains's farces and less ambitious novels their special savor. But it is unable to sustain his more ambitious project of showing how modern man moves, thinks, feels and acts, still less of revealing "the shape of things to come." (pp. 74-5)
Germaine Brée and Margaret (Otis) Guiton, in their An Age of Fiction: The French Novel from Gide to Camus (© 1957 by Rutgers; Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, N.J.), Rutgers, 1957 (and reprinted as The French Novel: From Gide to Camus, Harcourt, 1962).
Born in a village of the Cévennes, St. Julien-Chapteuil, Romains retains the roughness of his region's mountaineers, who in the course of history have been both religious and revolutionary. In Cromedeyre-le-Viel, he has portrayed those solid, rocklike men. "Yes," say the inhabitants of Cromedeyre, "we are worth more than all the others." Those Cévennes peasants are proud to have always been heretics—that is to say, original in matters of religion. Jules Romains, who is one of them, has written a Manuel de Déification and entitles one of his books Retrouver la Foi. He has an affinity for secret societies and intellectual conspiracies, which sooner or later become real conspiracies. In his mind, Les Hommes de Bonne Volonté is not only the title of a roman-fleuve, but also the rallying cry of an "outright conspiracy." (pp. 252-53)
["Unanimism"] was not at all, in young Romains' eyes, a literary school, like romanticism or naturalism. It was not even a novelty. Some of the most ancient writers of the world, for example the Greeks in the choruses of their tragedies, had unknowingly been Unanimists. Reduced to its essentials, Unanimism consists in thinking that 1) human groups can feel collective sentiments; 2) the individuals forming these groups can participate in collective thought and enter into instinctual communion with the Unanime; 3) the poet can express that intuition of the Unanime and thus help the individual become integrated into the collectivity.
The matter, then, is to reveal a pre-existing sensibility, rather than to create a form of new sensibility. Participation in the Unanime, and the existence of a group consciousness, are very easily observable facts. Take a certain number of individuals, each with his own personality, ideas, dislikes, and idiosyncrasies; put those individuals together, by incorporation or mobilization into an infantry battalion; rapidly they are going to acquire collective traits: an esprit de corps, a comradeship, a respect (or in certain cases, a contempt) for their superiors, new prejudices, a common desire to triumph over an enemy group by force, or over other battalions of the same army by courage and technical excellence. (pp. 255-56)
Another, even more elementary example: Take a railway compartment. The people occupying it do not know each other; before meeting there they had nothing in common; they come from different towns and backgrounds. However, if the journey is long enough, they will develop "unanimous" sentiments and will present a curiously united front to intruders—railroad employees, customs men, new passengers.
What interest is there in noting these "unanimous" sentiments of Unanime? First the interest that there always is in describing true sentiments. Then, in our day, it is necessary to create obstacles to the unhealthy emphasis on the individual which tends to throw him into self-analysis and divert him from the more general—and more generous—aspects of life. Jules Romains warns against the dangerous temptation of spiritual isolation. Under the influence of Freud and Proust, contemporary writers have encouraged that tendency to have thought withdraw within itself, which in its ultimate form, as Pirandello has shown, is no more than madness. From the moment that a man refuses to think within society and says, "To each his own truth," he is, literally, mad.
That choice between the individual who is closed and the individual who is open to social influences is, according to Romains, one of the serious problems of our time. Each period in history, he says, has its questions it must answer…. In the twentieth century, the two major questions are: 1) Is individualism compatible with the security and survival of the State? 2) Can individuals demand the right to develop themselves independently of the societies of which they are a part? In fact, those two questions can be reduced to a single one: What must be, in each one of us, the role of Unanime?
Romains thinks that that role must be very large, that the individual is not made to live alone or to meditate on himself, and that in renouncing the delights of solitary reverie, he finds his recompense in an increase of life. As the Christian accepted to renounce his temporal happiness in order to do the will of God, and, in losing his life, saved it, so the members of a clan who accept to participate in Unanime enrich rather than impoverish themselves. Arbitrarily, Romains calls gods those collective souls who, through self-knowledge, enter into a spiritual life. The couple is a god distinct from the lovers that make it; the sect is a god distinct from the members; the nation is a god, the most powerful, the most jealous of the gods of our time; Europe could become a god, if Europeans learned to think of, and especially to feel, Europe. (pp. 256-58)
Does being a Unanimist transform a man's life, as does being a Christian or a communist? Evidently not. In order to be efficacious, communion with Unanimism must be unconscious. The disciplined citizen, the good soldier, the activist, participate in that communion without belonging to a "school." But if the political and social influence of Unanimism is difficult to perceive, its esthetic and literary influence is apparent. That method of thought has furnished Jules Romains with most of the themes for his work. It has lead him to make not individuals but groups the heroes of a poem or of a novel. (p. 259)
Instead of asking himself: "How should individuals be brought together to create an image of the world?" He asks himself: "How, in portrait of the world, can individuals be given their rightful place?" The hero of his magnum opus is a quarter of a century of French life, or even of European life. Here and there, great historical or geographical canvasses plunge the reader into that vastness which is the real subject of the book. (pp. 265-66)
Who are the men of good will? They are all those who, during the years when the western world was heading towards the most absurd and the most horrible of catastrophes, were attempting to understand and to check that tendency. They are those who didn't share in a "dilettantism of chaos," those who believed in human solidarity. Those men existed. We have known a few of them; we have tried to take our place among them. Romains, who is not contemptuous of human nature, forcefully states that, in this difficult period, if the majority of men let themselves be led by the evil, the foolish and the proud, good will nevertheless existed and a real effort was made towards improvement. (p. 266)
It seems that the cinema helped Romains discover his "technique."… The cinema gave Romains a means of expressing the multiplicity of modern life through instantaneous shifting from one scene to another, through constant changes of country, background and mood. (pp. 267-68)
It is not only because of its dimensions, its intelligence, but also because of the love it expresses that Les Hommes de Bonne Volonté is a great book. (p. 277)
Others have better understood and described diverse aspects of mankind. Balzac and Proust have more completely studied the passions of the soul. But, in his field, which is the poetry of human groups, Romains is without peer. His intelligence and his culture have permitted him to do, for the life of our time, what a Retz or a Saint-Simon did for the life of the seventeenth century. In order that the Human Comedy of one of the most confused and unhappy periods of history be written, it was necessary that there coexist in one mind, a poet, a philosopher, a chronicler, and a novelist. (p. 278)
André Maurois, "Jules Romains," in his From Proust to Camus: Profiles of Modern French Writers, translated by Carl Morse and Renaud Bruce (copyright © 1966 by André Maurois), Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1967, pp. 252-78.
Jules Romains appeared for some time likely to rank as the most important French novelist of his age group. He possessed the breadth of culture and knowledge, having early mastered philosophy, literature, and even natural history, traveled in several lands, observed varied environments, and even evolved a philosophical system of his own, which attracted and deserved notice. He had attempted poetry with determination, if not with an inspired gift, and seemed capable of putting poetry in a broad sense into the novel. Several of his plays had met with success; they held the promise of a novelist who would perceive the comic potentialities of situations and was endowed with one of the primary gifts of a creator of fiction, the gift of mimicry. Lastly, Romains … met at least one of the requisites of genius, an infinite capacity for taking pains. (pp. 52-3)
He had the good fortune to coin a word for his intuition, which soon became a reasoned and consistent view of men—'unanimism.' The original significance of the Latin words enclosed in that '-ism' must not be lost sight of: single-minded, or one-souled. Social environments and huge collective events are not, for the founder of unanimism, a mere series of diverse settings in which his stories may be laid. He also discards the invention of character and incident conceived as an illustration of the play of those social forces, for, thus conceived, individuals dwindle and tend to become types. Romains aimed at being the magician unleashing and controlling spiritual forces latent in groups. He always contended that he was not an analyst of social phenomena but a captor of magnetic currents passing through and electrifying crowds and transfiguring them into conscious, dynamic organisms with a collective soul.
His most conspicuous success was in rendering the life of a street or of a quarter of Paris. There his greatness is assured. He blended knowledge of all the haunts of the big city with tender sympathy for its little people and an intense perception of the erotic thrill of men and women seeking each other in desire and passion, as Lucretius evoked them in the woods under the sway of Aphrodite. (pp. 54-5)
If he is, as he likes to be considered, an inspired mystic first, Jules Romains is also an adept at dissociating ideas and at reasoning. He has repeatedly and very deftly laid bare the mechanism through which a random gathering of persons in a school, in the army, in an audience, in a bus, or in a railway carriage is suddenly transformed, turned into a unanimist group, with a soul, or a 'divine' presence, different in nature from each of the individuals merged into the group, yet present in each member of the group and endowing him with a new personality. (p. 55)
Henri Peyre, in his French Novelists of Today (copyright © 1967 by Oxford University Press, Inc.; reprinted by permission), Oxford University Press—Galaxy, 1967.