Romain Gary Henri Peyre - Essay

Henri Peyre

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The wish to recover in fiction something of the boisterous illogic and of the impetuous action which had once entertained our ancestors in the Spanish, French, and English picaresque novels has spurred several Englishmen and a few Frenchmen to attempt a revival of the genre among us…. Romain Gary, soon after he made a startling entry into literature with one of the most moving books written about the underground in eastern Europe, Education européenne (1945) [A European Education], declared to a literary weekly, La Gazette des lettres, on October 12, 1946: the 'modern novel will be picaresque or it will not be at all. Picaresque, like a fresco teeming with adventures, motion and swarming characters, and also with optimism.'… He was determined to reintegrate laughter into fiction. Even more than his plea for the preservation of African elephants, Les Racines du ciel [(1956) The Roots of Heaven], which blended some symbolic didacticism with a vitality not unworthy of Alexandre Dumas, he succeeded as a humorous writer of fiction in his imaginative autobiography, La Promesse de l'aube (1960) [Promise of Dawn], one of the few entertaining and vigorously healthy books written in France since World War II. Romain Gary apparently altered the course of his talent after his reaching the perilous 'mezzo del camin' of his life (he was fifty in 1964) and his later books have failed to evince a deepening or an enrichment of his talent. (pp. 354-55)

Henri Peyre, "Main Trends since World War II: The 'New Novel'," in his French Novelists of Today (copyright © 1967 by Oxford University Press, Inc.; reprinted by permission), revised edition, Oxford University Press, New York, 1967, pp. 337-97.∗