Paul Morand Essay - Critical Essays

Morand, Paul


Morand, Paul 1888-1976

French short story writer, novelist, nonfiction writer, travel writer, poet, screenwriter, biographer, and autobiographer.

A globetrotter, diplomat, and bohemian, Morand specialized in short stories and travel essays and was one of the best-known French writers during the era between the two World Wars. His work evoked the cosmopolitan atmosphere and energetic social life of the postwar period while creating psychological portraits of hedonistic, often disillusioned characters. His witty, fast-paced descriptive prose is rich in imagery and has led some critics to categorize him as a French modernist and imagist. Like several modernist writers, Morand dispensed with transitions between poignant events and images in order to sustain narrative intensity. Despite his immense popularity in the 1920s, Morand had remained largely unknown to Englishspeaking readers until Ezra Pound's translations of two of Morand' s most important works, Tendres stocks (Fancy Goods) and Ouvert la nuit (Open All Night), were belatedly published in 1984. These bold translations elicited excitement among critics, renewed interest in Morand, and introduced Morand's work to a new generation of English-speaking readers. In a review of these works, Richard Sieburth observed, "The Morand of these short stories is still news. . . . [He is] one of the great nomads of 20th-century French literature, racing through the apocalypse with the haste and glamour of an Orient Express."

Biographical Information

Morand was born in Russia, the only son of French parents who later established themselves in Paris. His father was a playwright, painter, Louvre curator, and director of the École des Arts Décoratifs. The young Morand was thus introduced to such French and international cultural luminaries as Marcel Schwob, Auguste Rodin, Sarah Bernhardt, Stéphane Mallarmé, Vance Thompson, Oscar Wilde, Frank Harris, Lord Alfred Douglas, and Jean Giraudoux, the latter of whom became Morand's tutor, lifelong friend, and a major influence on his work. From the time he was thirteen, Morand spent summers in England learning English. He undertook studies at the Écoles des Sciences Politiques in 1906 in prepararation for a career in foreign affairs, attended Oxford in 1908, and traveled to Italy, Spain, and Holland from 1909 to 1912. These travels had an important impact on Morand's personality and development as a writer, and he continued to be an avid traveler for most of his life. Capitalizing on his social privilege, Morand served as a cultural attaché to England at the outbreak of World War I, and later became a diplomat and ambassador for the French government; from 1914 to 1918, he lived variously in England, Rome, Madrid, and Paris, there frequenting Dada and avant-garde circles and beginning lasting friendships with Jean Cocteau and Marcel Proust; and he met a Romanian princess, who became his wife. After publishing two volumes of short, impressionistic poems, Lampes à arc (Arc-Lamps) and Feuilles de température (Temperature Records), Morand gained significant praise and attention for his first short story collection, Tendres stocks, and enjoyed tremendous success with Ouvert la nuit, which yielded 100 printings less than two years after its publication and has been reissued many times since. Although Morand was a popular and prolific writer during the 1920s and 1930s, he wrote sparingly after the onset of World War II. In 1958 Morand was nominated to the Académie Française, but was forced to withdraw his candidacy because he had acted as ambassador to Switzerland for the Vichy government of Occupied France during World War II, a role that had caused him to be banished from France. He was eventually elected to the Académie in 1968, at the age of eighty. Morand died in Paris in 1976.

Major Works of Short Fiction

Morand's short stories are products of Morand's wanderlust and reflections of the moral, physical, and spiritual devastation left by World War I. His stories are marked by eccentric characters, fast-paced narration, disorderly descriptions, and unexpected, humorous imagery. Each of the three stories in Tendres stocks, "Clarissa," "Aurore," and "Delphine," describes the experiences of three young women drifting in wartime London, while Ouvert la nuit contains six stories, each set in a different European city and featuring a different female victim of the moral and material disintegration of Europe. Tendres stocks keenly observes the evolution of morality and the relationship between the sexes and Ouvert la nuit unveils exotic and erotic themes. These were portraits of young women whom, as Proust pointed out, "we refused to consider as women before such artists as Renoir, Giraudoux, or Morand brought them to our attention." Fermé la nuit (Closed All Night), considered to be a male counterpart to Ouvert la nuit, similarly portrays the chaotic lives of four colorful men: a German, an Irishman, a Frenchman, and an Asian refugee in London. Morand's other short fiction collections include L'Europe galante (Europe at Love), in which the common themes are love and sexuality; East India and Company, twelve stories written in English and set in the Orient; and Magie noire (Black Magic), a series of stories in which African characters living in Western societies feel compelled to return to their African heritage.

Critical Reception

Although Morand's early short stories were praised by such literary figures as Pound and Proust, who wrote a preface for Tendres stocks, Morand's sporadic output after the 1930s contributed to the gradual decline of his reputation as a popular and critically respected writer. His importance in French literature is debated: critics acknowledge his command of style and technique and his descriptive powers, yet several contend that his themes are often superficial, his characters exaggeratedly eccentric, and his observations on cultural characteristics overly generalized. Other critics have pointed to what they consider misogynistic, racist, anti-Semitic, and pro-Nazi themes in Morand's work. Nevertheless, Morand's early stories continue to be regarded as representative of international literary and cultural tastes of the 1920s. George Lemaître, writing in 1938, commented: "Beyond any doubt Morand is the most typical representative and interpreter in French literature of the world of today. . . . His defects and his merits, are they not the defects and merits of the world today? . . . That is why his recording of our ordeals and woes will remain permanently one of the most invaluable and illuminating testimonies of the spirit of our age."

Principal Works

Short Fiction

Tendres Stocks [Green Shoots; also published as Fancy Goods] 1921

Ouvert la nuit [Open All Night] 1922

Fermé la nuit [Closed All Night] 1923

*L'Europe galante [Europe at Love] 1925

East India and Company 1927

*Magie noire [Black Magic] 1928

Flèche d'Orient [Orient Air Express] 1932

Rococo 1933

Les extravagants[The Eccentrics] 1937

Nouvelles complètes. Vol. 1. (short stories, novels, poems, autobiography, and essays) 1992

Other Major Works

Lampes à arc [Arc-Lamps] (prose poems) 1919

Feuilles de température[Temperature Records] (prose poems) 1920

Lewis et Irène [Lewis and Irene] (novel) 1924

Poèmes (1914-1924) (poems) 1924

Rien que la terre [Earth Girdled', also published as Nothing but the Earth] (travel essays) 1926

*Bouddha vivant [The Living Buddha] (novel) 1927

New York (travel essay) 1929

*Champions du monde [World Champions] (novel) 1930

Londres [London] (travel essay) 1931

1900[1900 A.D.] (history and memoirs) 1931

Papiers d'identité (autobiography) 1931

Air Indien [Indian Air] (travel essay) 1932

Mes débuts (autobiography) 1933

France-la-doulce [The Epic-Makers] (novel) 1934

Bucarest [Bucharest] (travel essay) 1935

Le flagellant de Séville [The Flagellant of Seville] (novel) 1951

Hécate et ses chiens [Hecate and Her Dogs] (novel) 1954

Verases [Venices] (autobiography) 1971

Les extravagants: Scènes de la vie de bohème cosmopolite [The Extravagants: Scenes of a Cosmopolitan Life ](novel) 1986

*These titles appeared under the collective title La chronique du XXe siècle [The Chronicle of the Twentieth Century.]


Marcel Proust (essay date 1921)

SOURCE: A preface to Fancy Goods, in Fancy Goods; Open All Night: Stories by Paul Morand, edited by Breon Mitchell, translated by Ezra Pound, New Directions, 1984, pp. 3-12.

[Proust's multivolume novel À la recherche du temps perdu (1913-27; Remembrance of Things Past) is among literature 's works of highest genius. Renowned for its artistic construction, this masterpiece has been widely praised by readers and critics for conveying a profound view of human existence from the perspectives of social history, philosophy, and psychology. In the following excerpt taken from a preface that was originally published in Tendres Stocks (1921), Proust commends Morand's ability to "join things by new relationships" and lauds his portrayal of the women in Fancy Goods, but faults his imagery.]

The Athenians are slow in execution. As yet only three young damsels, or dames, have been given up to Morand our Minotaur ["Clarissa," "Delphine," and "Aurora"—the title characters of the three stories collected in Tendres Stocks]; seven are specified in the treaty. But the year is not yet over. And many unavowed postulants still seek the glorious destiny of Clarissa and Aurora. I should like to have undertaken the useless labor of doing a real preface for these charming brief romances, which bear the names of these beauties. But a sudden intervention forbade me. A stranger has taken her abode in my mind. She goes, comes, and soon despite her mobility her habits are become familiar to me. And moreover, she has tried like a too long-sighted boarder to establish a personal relation with me. I was surprised at her lack of beauty. I had always thought Death beautiful. How otherwise should she get the better of us? However . . . she seems to be absent for the day, this day. Doubtless a brief absence, if one can judge by what she has left me. There are more prudent ways of profiting by the respite accorded me than to spend it writing a preface for an author already known and who has no need of my prefaces.

Another reason also should have deterred me. My dear master Anatole France, whom I have not, alas, seen for twenty years, has just written in La Revue de Paris that all "singularity of style should be rejected." Now it is certain that Morand's style is singulier, personal. If I were to have the pleasure of seeing M. France, whose past...

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Clement Pansaers (essay date 1921)

SOURCE: "Paris Letter," in The Dial, Chicago, Vol. LXXI, August, 1921, pp. 209-12.

[In the following excerpt, Pansaers places the work of Morand, particularly Tendres Stocks, alongside that of notable modernist artists and writers. ]

Marcel Proust is the neo-classicist, at the opposite pole from Francis Picabia, the extremist, the tumultuous innovator. Oscillating between the two and linking them are Paul Morand on one side and Jean Cocteau on the other, both trying to steer an intelligent course between these two extremes. . . .

In his Feuilles de Temperature M. Paul Morand seemed to place himself very close to the extreme advance...

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Frances Newman (essay date 1923)

SOURCE: "Paul Morand," in The Reviewer, Vol. III, Nos. 11-12, July, 1923, pp. 932-39.

[In the following essay, Newman declares Morand one of the great prose writers of the early twentieth century, citing many of his short stories as evidence. ]

The book-shops of Paris are not yet so numerous as the cafés and the coiffeurs, but from the celebrated angle of the Boulevard Montparnasse and the Boulevard Raxpail to the Rue des Petits Champs, following the most agreeable combination of the route of the autobus AE and the autobus AF, an eye more easily caught by books than by paint brushes and Brittany beds looks into twenty-nine windows—La Societé Francaise des Ecoles du...

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The Times Literary Supplement (essay date 1923)

SOURCE: "From the French," in The Times Literary Supplement, No. 1123, July 26, 1923, p. 500.

[In the following excerpt from a review of Open All Night, the critic praises Morand's ability to describe his subjects vividly. ]

We should never suspect that we were reading a foreign work but for the imperturbable and un-English gesture with which M. Morand displays [in Open All Night) the aberrations and barbaric follies of civilization. In the "Sixday Night" which evokes the garish excitement of an international bicycle race—the resting teams in their dressing-rooms lit with a search-light so that the public may miss nothing, the thin circle of competitors...

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A. B. Walkley (essay date 1923)

SOURCE: "Through French Eyes," in More Prejudice, William Heinemann Ltd., 1923, pp. 206-10.

[In the following excerpt, Walkley commends Morand's knowledge and depiction of London, as illustrated in Tendres Stocks.]

[Today] there are French writers who appear to be thoroughly at home among us and to know England "like their pocket." And yet, even with these knowing ones, England seems to assume an unreal, exotic air. I take up a book published by the Nouvelle Revue Française—Tendres Stocks, by Paul Morand—which is a triad of short stories or studies encircling three remarkable young ladies, and I find it crammed with the intimate topography, not to mention...

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Frances Newman (essay date 1924)

SOURCE: A review of Open All Night, in The Reviewer, Vol. IV, No. 2, January, 1924, pp. 143-45.

[In the following excerpt from a review of Open All Night, Newman discusses the difficulty of developing a true appreciation of Morand's writing when reading it only in translation.]

For three good reasons, Ouvert la Nuit is a hard book to translate. . . . Unless it is possible to leave more Morand in a translation than [has been done to date] . . . , the descendants of the Pilgrim Fathers will never know why M. Marcel Proust found Tendres Stocks worthy of his languid introduction, or why Fermé la Nuit divided Parisian front pages with M....

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J. Middleton Murry (essay date 1924)

SOURCE: "Moralizings on Morand," in The Dial, Chicago, Vol. LXXVI, February, 1924, pp. 184-87.

[Murry is recognized as one of the most significant English critics and editors of the twentieth century. Anticipating later scholarly opinion, he championed—through his positions as founding editor of the Adelphi, and as a regular contributor to the Times Literary Supplement, among other periodicalsthe writings of Marcel Proust, James Joyce, Paul Valéry, D. H. Lawrence, and Thomas Hardy. As with his magazine essays, Murry's book-length critical works are noted for their impassioned tone and startling discoveries; such bio graphic ally centered critical studies as...

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The Bookman (London) (essay date 1924)

SOURCE: A review of Green Shoots, in The Bookman, London, Vol. LXVI, No. 392, May, 1924, p. 130.

[In the following review, the critic lauds Morand's powers of observation and feel for language in Green Shoots.]

It is said that Monsieur Morand has been an official at the French Embassy in London. If he served under Cambon they were in one respect in very striking contrast with each other; for the Ambassador, admirable diplomat as he was, did not in his more than twenty years at Albert Gate master more than a few words of our language. Morand has the very soul of it. In these three studies of young ladies who, as Mr. Walkley in his entertaining preface [to...

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J. W. Krutch (essay date 1924)

SOURCE: "Two Sophisticates," in The Nation, New York, Vol. CXVIII, No. 3075, June 11, 1924, pp. 685-86.

[Krutch is widely regarded as one of America 's most respected literary and drama critics. Noteworthy among his works are The American Drama since 1918 (1939), in which he analyzed the most important dramas of the 1920s and 1930s, and the essay "Modernism" in Modern Drama (1953), in which he stressed the need for twentieth-century playwrights to infuse their works with traditional humanistic values. A conservative and idealistic thinker, he was a consistent proponent of human dignity and the preeminence of literary art. His literary criticism is characterized by such...

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Joseph Collins (essay date 1924)

SOURCE: "Some French Writers of the Present Day: Paul Morand," in Taking the Literary Pulse: Psychological Studies of Life and Letters, George H. Doran Company, 1924, pp. 231-38.

[In the following excerpt, Collins praises the verisimilitude of Morand's works Tendres Stocks, Ouvert la Nuit, and Fermé la Nuit.]

Monsieur Paul Morand is not only a literary sign of the times in his country, he is a mirror of French mentality. He was more than thirty years old before he published anything and he had been a wanderer in the world. Both his maturity and wanderlust are reflected in his writing. He has no morbidity, no desire to shock, little inclination to...

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The Saturday Review of Literature (essay date 1927)

SOURCE: A review of East India and Company, in The Saturday Review of Literature, Vol. III, No. 46, June 11, 1927, p. 901.

[In the following excerpt from a review of East India and Company, the critic lauds Morand's narrative technique and judges him a contemporary master of the exotic tale.]

The jacket of this book [East India and Company] promises the reader "bizarre oriental adventures with the utmost ultra-modern European spices." There is nothing in it that can be called "spicy," as that adjective is usually applied to French novels. Indeed, it is in the class of innocuous novels of which the French publishers say, peut être mis entre...

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William A. Drake (essay date 1927)

SOURCE: "Paul Morand," in Contemporary European Writers, The John Day Company, 1928, pp. 66-71.

[In the following excerpt from a study written in 1927, Drake compares Morand to the Roman writer Petronius and perceives Morand's work as moral rather than depraved, hut lacking in conviction and depth.]

Anatole France, in a preface much quoted by reviewers, once called Marcel Proust "a depraved Petronius." As much might be said, with much more truth, of Paul Morand, but with this difference: that Morand's talent is by instinct moral, and not depraved. In the collections of character sketches which are his most natural and as yet his most satisfactory expression, Tendres...

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Uffington Valentine (essay date 1929)

SOURCE: A review of Black Magic, in The Saturday Review of Literature, Vol. V, No. 48, June 22, 1929, p.1130.

[In the following review of Black Magic, Valentine assesses Morand's portrayal of Blacks as detached but knowledgeable.]

Paul Morand's attitude towards the negro is typically Gallic in its absence of those prejudices which are apt to enter into our own view of him. [Black Magic] consists of a group of negro studies which gain value from the detachment of their author, and which had their inception in the fascination exerted upon him by jazz. Drawn by the ineluctable urge of the music he traveled over half the globe and visited nearly two...

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Régis Michaud (essay date 1934)

SOURCE: "Adventures, Globe-trotters, and Imagists: Valery-Larbaud, Pierre Mac-Orlan, Paul Morand, Jean Giraudoux," in Modern Thought and Literature in France, Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1934, pp. 122-48.

[A French-born American critic and eductor, Michaud specializes in French literature but also has published studies of contemporary American literature and the modern American novel. In the following excerpt, he finds Morand's employment of description and imagery original though tending toward excess.]

[In] 1921 Tendres Stocks [Green Shoots] appeared with a preface by Marcel Proust, a quaint title for three portraits of modern young women in an English...

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Marie Scheikévitch (essay date 1935)

SOURCE: "Paul Valéry—A Post-War Publisher: Bernard Grasset—Paul Morand—Julien Green," in Time Past: Memories of Proust and Others, translated by Françoise Delisle, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1935, pp. 286-303.

[In the following excerpt, Scheikévitch assesses Morand's literary talent and influences.]

It was in the first year of the War, during one of his short stays in Paris, that I met the young diplomat, Paul Morand. It was difficult not to notice a young man so strikingly frank and intelligent, shrewd of judgment, and with a turn of mind so synthetic. His neat and swift way of looking at people, events, and their relations to each other at once gave the...

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Georges Lemaitre (essay date 1938)

SOURCE: "Paul Morand," in Four French Novelists: Marcel Proust, André Gide, Jean Giraudoux, Paul Morand, 1938. Reprint by Kennikat Press, Inc., 1969, pp. 303-92.

[An Algerian-born American educator and critic, Lemaitre published numerous works on French literature, including From Cubism to Surrealism in French Literature(1941) and studies of the authors Pierre Beaumarchais, André Maurois, and Jean Giraudoux. In the following excerpt, Lemaitre provides an overview of Morand's short fiction and lauds his ability to capture "the spirit of our modern time." ]

[Morand' s] first publications—Lampes à Arc (1919) and Feuilles de Température...

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Edgar C. Knowlton, Jr. (essay date 1964)

SOURCE: "Chinese Elements in Paul Morand's 'Mr. U'," in Chinese Culture, Vol. V, No. 3, March, 1964, pp. 34-41.

[Knowlton is an American educator, translator, and critic. In the following excerpt, he praises Morand's short story "Mr. U" as an excellent example of Chinese-French literary contact and cites passages that illustrate Morand's detailed knowledge of Chinese culture. ]

There are important French men of letters in the twentieth century who illustrate China's influence on European literature, in the tradition of earlier French writers like Voltaire. . . . Among these an honorable place must be accorded Paul Morand, whose early literary contributions to European...

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Kirkus Reviews (essay date 1984)

SOURCE: A review of Fancy Goods; Open All Night: Stories, in Kirkus Reviews, Vol. LII, No. I, January 1, 1984, p. 12.

[In the following excerpt, the critic delivers a harsh assessment of Fancy Goods; Open All Night: Stories.]

Written in 1921 and 1922 by French writer Morand (1888-1976), these sketches of Parisian flappers [in Fancy Goods; Open All Night: Stories] would hardly be a candidate for 1980s rediscovery—if it were not for the fact that they were translated by Ezra Pound; those translations never saw print back in the 1920s but were found in a trunk in Virginia in 1976. And it's not difficult to see why (financial reasons aside) these two groups...

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Patrick McCarthy (essay date 1992)

SOURCE: "The Evils of Modernity," in The Times Literary Supplement, No. 4678, November 27, 1992, p. 17.

[In the following review, McCarthy perceives misogynistic, racist, and anti-Semitic themes in the works collected in Morand's Nouvelles complètes.]

This new volume [Nouvelles complètes, edited by Michel Collomb] in the Bibliothèque de la Pléiade contains Paul Morand's early short stories, from Tendres Stocks (1921) to Flèche d'Orient (1932). Since his stories are better than his novels and his early writing better than his later, the Nouvelles complètes contains Morand's best work. His novels are tedious, because he was convinced...

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