Selected Essays by Henry de Montherlant

Selected translated essays by Henry de Montherlant, including extracts from his notebooks for the period 1930-1944.

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English Pages 297 [153] Year 1961

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Selected Essays by Henry de Montherlant

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things that matter (always a pleasant task) is so1;11ething\ wo.rth having. I should not be in my present situation of being able, liter­ ally, to refrain from writing another line during the next ten years and still bring out seven complete but unpublished books, if I bad not evolved this sort of existence for mysel£ And furthermore, a writer who has neither a lawful wedded wife nor legitimate children, who has no home in the accepted sense of the word, no worldly goods, business interests, ambition, desire for money or �xed habits, can produce natural work-I mean work that he does not need to fake so as to win fame, or feed his children, or satisfy his better hal£ But I won't labour the point, since I know that the public doesn't care a rap whether a work is natural or not, or whether it is merely the sorry instrument of necessity and passion. It is an obvious fact that, from a temporal point of view, you lose heavily by leading this sort of existence. The same men who, in Paris, would come rushing round on all fours in response to a phone call, do not even answer your letters if you are in Algiers. But there are other advantages again, apart from those I have men­ tioned, in placing yourself in a posthumous condition. You find out who your real friends are. You find out to what extent your work can stand on its own feet. You see other people doing things and you yourself-although able to do as much-doing nothing: this is a satisfying spectacle. You feel, and know yourself to be, forgotten and this fills you with a mysterious joy; the flattering tongues have ceased to wag and the encircling silence already fore­ tokens the symphonies of eternity. You learn to accept insults from those who know you arc too far away to retaliate and, in any c ase, devoid of social power; soon you approve of such insults, because they arc part of the natural order of things ; the day comes when you even like them, and perhaps even provoke them. When you come up again after plumbing these depths, you are proof against many things. It is not possible to gain much hold over a man whose ideal is death in life-or at least to be dead to the world, since such a death is, in fact, the true life. I have no changes to make in what I wrote as early as 1924 about 122


the non-possession of goods and chattels (Appareillage in Aux Fontaines du Desir). It is a well-known fact that the non-possession of goods and chattels is the :first step towards spiritual freedom. Wherever I live, everything _except the cell devoted to work is a burdep. to me, a source of irritation and remorse. There may be a few objets d'art (I say objets d'art and not objets de luxe, because luxury has always mademe shudder with disgust and scom), but theyrnight as well not be there, because they could be taken from me without my feeling anything more than a passing irritation. The police once warned me that a servant of mine had been stealing things from me for quite a time. I knew about it' and had been letting him get on with it; my ubjets d'art had become so many dead weights and he was relieving me of them; and he got far more pleasure out of the money he made from them than I ever got from looking at them, a pleasure which, moreover, he deserved more than I did. 1 That a thinking, sensitive, creative man should have to give up time to looking after his domestic interior and to 'social duties' has always seemed abominable to me. Death will come upon us and we shall be still just as ignorant; we shall have fathomed nothing -what a mockery!-and we shall have sacrificed a third of our existence to the pursuit of the trivial and the frivolous. 'Away, then, to the desert!', we say to ourselves. But I've changed my 1 At that time, I was spending a lot of money rather stupidly and he, poverty stricken as he was, saw this. He was stealing from me but I thoroughly deserved to be stolen from. The police warned me that this same servant had planned a thorough­ going burglary of my; he and his accomplices intended to relieve me of all my silver. I dismissed him because, after all, we have to make some con­ cessions to society, but I made no official complaint and even remained on good terms with him to the extent of taking him on again from time to time and sending him financial help for years. When he died, he spoke of me with his last breath. The evening before, or a day or two before, the date fixed for the intended burglary, the police inspector shadowing the servant heard him say to his pals, in a cafe: • I'm pleased, because I've given the boss a surprise. I've spring­ deaned the flat while he's been away'. He was going to burgle the flat and yet he was devoted to me. People unfamiliar with such apparent contradictions and who don't consider t/re,n as being perfectly natural /rave 110 understanding what­ ever of human nature.