Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)
0111207620-Aragon.jpg Louis Aragon (Library of Congress) Published by Salem Press, Inc.

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.