Louis Aragon

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 348

Louis Aragon was one of the most prolific French authors of the twentieth century, and although lyric poetry was his first medium, to which he always returned as to a first love, he also produced many novels and volumes of essays. As a young man, he participated in the Surrealist movement, and his works of this period defy classification. In addition to the exercises known as “automatic writing,” which had a considerable impact on his mature style in both prose and poetry, he wrote a number of Surrealist narratives combining elements of the novel (such as description and dialogue) and the essay. The most important of these, Le Paysan de Paris (1926; Nightwalker, 1970), is a long meditation on the author’s ramblings in his native city and on the “modern sense of the mythic” inspired by its streets, shops, and parks.

In the 1930’s, after his espousal of the Communist cause, Aragon began a series of novels under the general title of Le Monde réel (1934-1944), which follow the tenets of Socialist Realism. These are historical novels dealing with the corruption of bourgeois society and the rise of Communism. His later novels, however, beginning with La Semaine sainte (1958; Holy Week, 1961), show greater freedom of form and lack the explicit “message” characteristic of Socialist Realism; these later works incorporate an ongoing meditation on the novel as a literary form and on its relation to history and biography.

An important characteristic of Aragon’s style that cuts across all his works of fiction and poetry is the use of spoken language as a model: His sentences reproduce the rhythms of speech, full of parentheses, syntactic breaks, and interjections, and his diction, especially in prose, is heavily interlarded with slang. This trait is true to some extent even of his essays, although the latter tend to be more formal to both diction and rhetorical strategy. His nonfiction works are voluminous, for he was an active journalist for much of his life, producing reviews and essays on politics, literature, and the visual arts for a variety of Surrealist and then Communist publications.


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Like most writers who have taken strong political stands, Louis Aragon was, during the course of his lifetime, the object of much praise and blame that had little to do with the literary value of his work. This was especially true of his series of novels, Le Monde réel, which was hailed by his fellow Communists as a masterpiece and criticized by most non-Communist reviewers as contrived and doctrinaire. He was, with André Breton, one of the leaders of the Surrealist movement; his poetry after the mid-1940’s combined elements of Romanticism and modernism, but his style evolved in a direction of its own and cannot be identified with that of any one school.

After his Surrealist period, during which he wrote for an intellectual elite, Aragon sought to make his work accessible to a wider public and often succeeded. The height of his popularity was achieved in the 1940’s, when his poems played an important role in the French Resistance: written in traditional meters and using rhyme, so that they might more easily be sung, they became rallying cries for French patriots abroad and in occupied France. (Many of Aragon’s poems have, in fact, been set to music by writers of popular songs, including Léo Ferré and George Brassens.) Beginning in the late 1950’s, Aragon’s work became much less overtly political, which contributed to its acceptance by non-Communist critics. At the time of his death in 1982, Aragon was considered even by his political opponents as a leading man of letters. Writers of lesser stature have been elected to the Académie Française, but Aragon never applied for membership, and it is hard to imagine such an ardent advocate of the common man, who used slang liberally in his own work, sitting in judgment on the purity of the French language.

For Aragon, who wrote his first “novel” at age six (and dictated a play to his aunt before he could write), writing was like breathing, a vital activity coextensive with living. He was a novelist whose eye (and ear) for telling detail never dulled, a poet whose lyric gifts did not diminish with age.


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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 109

Adereth, M. Aragon, the Resistance Poems. London: Grant & Cutler, 1985. A brief critical guide to Aragon’s poetry.

Adereth, M. Elsa Triolet and Louis Aragon: An Introduction to Their Interwoven Lives and Works. Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 1994. An introductory biography of Triolet and Aragon and their lives together including critical analysis of their work and a bibliography.

Becker, Lucille Frackman. Louis Aragon. New York: Twayne, 1971. An introductory biography of Aragon and critical analysis of selected works. Includes bibliographic references.

Josephson, Hannah, and Malcolm Cowley, eds. Aragon, Poet of the French Resistance. New York: Duell, Sloan and Pearce, 1945. A study of Aragon’s poetic works produced between 1939 and 1945.

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