Le Lieutenant Colonel De Maumoort (Bibliothèque de la pléiade) (French) Hardcover – 1 Jan 1983
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Using Amazon's own rating system to convey how I liked the book, I chose 2 (*) that in the Amazon system converts to "I didn't like it." Writing style and over cultivation of sensibility are my criticisms. The book is suffocated by relentless narcissism, too much sensitivity, too much inward searching, too much taking of emotional temperature, too much cultivation of the suave. This book is only nominally about collaboration with the new dynamo of fascism. It's mostly an expression of the French love for how Proust wrote. If you share that love, it'll be easy for you to cherish this book and praise it to the skies.
His journalism over the years has been marked by a stubborn willingness to describe contradictions and unfairness, bringing a clear Orwellian eye to an examination of the social and political conventions by which we live and would just as soon forget. Yet he has always been among the most entertaining and fluent of writers, successfully tackling many genres.
His update of the libretto to Cole Porter's musical "Anything Goes" matched that 1920s show with the madcap spirit of the `80s, and ran for years in New York.
When, lately, the word trickled out that for his latest project Crouse was engaged in translating a massive, 60 year old French novel, by an obscure (to Americans) Nobel Prize winner that dealt in detail with French life in the 19th century, readers wondered what was with this chronicler of our own times and spirit.
Trust Crouse, however, to find the contemporary in what everyone else thought of as antique. The book, "Lieutenant-Colonel de Maumort" (Knopf), written by Roger Martin Du Gard, is now out in a fluent, companionable translation done jointly by Crouse, and his collaborator, Luc Brebion Ph.D.
Brebion himself is a distinguished, Berkeley-based, writer, translator and lecturer on aesthetics
As an example of the translators' art, Brebion and Crouse have produced a model. The text flows easily and persuasively; the notes are few and unobtrusive; the narrative voice is candid and companionable. In age when most writers are writing books designed to be read in 10 minute spurts, Brebion and Crouse offer a text that inveigles the reader into a richer, more rewarding reading experience. The ten minutes you have before bed for reading, quickly becomes with "Maumort" thirty, thirty minutes become forty-five.
Ostensibly the memoir, written as the Nazis invade France in 1940, by a retired French officer of his life in the previous 80 years, "Maumort" is a surprisingly frank and insightful account of social, family, political, intellectual, and sexual manners.
It may indeed have been too frank - the author, Martin du Gard, who died in 1958 before he could finish the work, had, at any rate, ordered its publication to be posthumous.
One of the most modern portraits is of a single woman, who adopts a child, only to be disappointed when the adopted child fails to prove to be brilliant. The consequences are horrible as the mother withdraws from the adopted daughter. As Martin duGard writes, "In fact, she was not satisfied with loving the girl, she wanted to be proud of her as well, wanted her affection to be, as it were, justified by the child's exceptional qualities." This novella, "The Story of Henriette," sounds an eerie current note as one listens to contemporary parents measure their children's worth primarily in terms of schools, and tests.
Written with enormous sympathy for the plight of each of its characters, "Maumort" nonetheless posits that much human behavior is situational, not innate. As Americans, these days, feel more and more that they are born into tribes, some may find this view controversial, others, objecting to the reduction of personality to traits, may find it welcome. It is an insanely contemporary discussion.
Martin du Gard's detailed portraits of marriages will leave readers' jaws agape as they see themselves in the lives of these early 20th century Parisian couples.
And as baby-boomers find themselves in small families, wondering about old age, Martin du Gard's assessment of the failures and strong points of large families, and on the emotional life of the aging, is vivid and apposite.
"Maumort" is one of the first novels in which there is a serious, modern treatment of gay themes. A subsection of the novel, entitled "The Drowning", an account of a tragic obsession between a schoolteacher-soldier and a baker's apprentice, rivals Melville's "Billy Budd" as a depiction of the high cost that is paid when societal strictures cross passion, drowning not only happiness, but also courage.
Not the least of the book's valuables, is the vocabulary Martin du Gard - and here the translation work of Brebion and Crouse is at its most pellucid - gives to the evanescent moments when a relationship shifts and suddenly redefines itself.
Although Martin du Gard was unable to finish his portraits of French military leaders, his panorama of Parisian intellectual life is rich. Again, while these portraits are rooted in a long gone age, they are of more than antiquarian interest: Here is the academic who, beguiled by the media scene, never writes anything important. Here is the blustering ideologue who has nothing to say, but says it about everything. There, the trust-fund baby, rendered impotent by an addiction to comfort, who nonetheless considers himself part of the great world of affairs.
His sketches of French military and political leaders also resonate deeply. As I read them, I found myself thinking, "that's as apt a description of Bill Clinton [or George W. Bush, or Al Gore, or Bill Bennett, say] as I've ever read.
So Brebion and Crouse have pulled from history, a novel valuable not only for its description of olden days, but primarily for its uncanny, and needed, articulation of the people, mores, and manners of our own day.
Part and parcel of the book is a section containing Martin du Gard's notes and files. These "Black Box files" offer a fascinating insight into an author struggling with, and conquering, problems of narrative. A boon for writers.
As I understand it, du Gard left a partially completed novel that was completed largely on the notes he left behind. I an many others are grateful for the effort. Often it is an author's lessor works that appear after their death (probably because the author might not have thought that particular book was worthy of publication). However, in the case of Roger Martin du Gard, it is just the opposite.
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