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December 10, 1938 - Image 7

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1938-12-10

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Page Seven

. .


by H. M. Purdy

MORE than any other man of his
time, Andre Malraux has be-
come a legend. The great love
and devotion which millions of
men throughout the world bear for him
has no comparison in our literature or
art. In these most troubled and terrible
times he is the chronicler of the condi-
tion of Man.
It is helpful to know the life of such
a man. He was born in Paris in 1901,
where he studied archeology and lin-
guistics. In 1921 he went to Indo-
China, making an expedition into Cam-
bodia and Siam, exploring regions lying
along the ancient Royal Road of the
Khmers. There he gathered the beau-
tiful and purely-wrought statuary of a
past civilization, and eventually become
connected with the Young Annamites,
the revolutionary organization of Indo-
China. This naturally led him into dif-
ficulties with the French government,
officials of which made a determined
effort to confiscate his statuary. In the
next few years he entered into the revo-
lutionary movement in China, became
an official of the Kuomintang. With
him on the famous Committee of Twelve
was Chiang Kai-Shek, who later so
bitterly betrayed the Communists. In
the Canton insurrection he participated
in street fighting, and he fought until
the final defeat of the Communists in
Shanghai. Another expedition, after
which he went back to Paris. His first
novels were published, bringing him
great critical acclaim, until, with the
publication of his Man's Fate, he was
generally recognnc d as the greatest
French writer . . . Two years later, a
group of Spanish generals conspired
with the fascist movements of Germany
and Italy, launching a civil war and in-
vasion. The Spanish Republic was de-
serted by its democratic allies, and its
only defenders were the unarmed citi-
zenry. Malraux flew to Madrid and or-
ganized the first Loyalist air force, the
Malraux Squadron. Twice wounded
while leading attacks, he found time in
the midst of this savage war to write
his latest novel, IEspoir.
This volume, translated as Man's
Hope, serves as the impetus for a critical
examination of Malraux's work. It is a
novel of war, but of an unusual war, of
which President Azana wrote:
"When a war is begun, and a war
is always an evil, always abominable
and more so when it 'is between fel-
low-countrymen, their needs must be
a moral justification of the highest
kind, above all attack, beyond all
discussion ... It will be seen that our
position is indeed above all attack,
that we are at peace with our own
personal conscience and with the fu-
ture of history."
Malraux' book exemplifies this highest
ethical motivation.
In the Telephone Exchange of Ma-
drid, two trade unionists call all of the
larger Spanish cities. The instruments
crackle furiously, and to this nerve cen-
ter comes insurrection news. Burgos,
Commandante speaking: Oviedo, Work-
ers' Delegate on the wire: Saragossa,
Arriba Espana, death to the republi-
cans: Valladolid, the Republic Lives!
In such a manner the story begins, and
at this same aeronautical speed it car-
ries through to the Republican victory
at Guadalajara. Between these two
points lies the body of Malraux' novel.
Structurally, Man's Hope is inferior
to his preceding novels. Actions are of-
ten loosely linked, and Malraux' dra-
matic architecture is occasionally buried
within the events of war. His precise
language, with its jeweled imagery, has
not always been equal to the strain,
which he deliberately imposed upon it.
Malraux wrote this book hurriedly and
under conditions of great danger: he

wished it to be published as soon as
was possible, in order that it might gain
further support for the Spanish Re-
public. To accomplish this he was forced
to undertake short-cuts in character
analysis and description, though only
in some sections.
I have briefly outlined the technical
faults of the book. Its virtues, being
more numerous, are not so easily de-
scribed. Malraux, even when not writ-
ing at his best, is equalled by very few
artists. And in some passages of Men's
Hope he has reached his greatest
heights. The battle scenes are superior
to those of Tolstoi's War and Peace. But
it ,is the last part of this novel, "The
Peasants," to which particular atten-
tion should be drawn.
This section consists almost entirely
of descriptions of the battles of combat
bombing planes and the disasters of the'
fighting. Here the prose lifts above the
rest of the novel into a realm of purest

turn to the valleys and bottom-lands, in
their funeral procession. "Here and
there a section of the ramparts of
Sagunto showed up, and cypresses, black
and massive in the misty moonlight
(that self-sane mist which favored
night-bombing raids); ghostly white
houses, emblematic of peace, sheen of
oranges in their dark groves. Shake-
spearian orchards, Italian cypresses . - -
'On such a night as this, Jessica . .'
Yes, there was still happiness in the
world . . ."
I have taken care to explain the last
section, because it is unquestionably
great literature, and because I think we
should recognize the great within our
own time, not waiting until they have
entered upon death. When you are
reading this part, struck with both pain
and hope, you are experiencing Aris-
totle's definition of tragedy, a purgation
of all emotions, including those of pity
and terror. You are experiencing the

other. An unknown sadness sprang
up within me, called forth by all tha
was in vain, by the present death .
When the light again struck our faces.
he looked at me. I searched in his
eyes for the joy that I had believed
to see there; but there was nothing
resembling it, only a hard and yet
fraternal gravity."
The Royal Way was published two
years later. Dealing with an archeo-
logical expedition in Cambodia, most
critics have looked into it and seen only
the story of adventure. It is much more
than that: it is the tragedy of the Fau-
stian Man, the individual who escapes
from his social order and finds himself
lost. There are two main characters
united by their common obsession with
death. One is Claude, a French arche-
ologist. The other is a legendary Euro-
pean leader of the natives, Perken, a
man who would act hins own biography,
a type closely resembling T. E. Law-
rence. Having only contempt for the
dying bourgeois civilization, he finds
that he has but one force to use against
the world: fearlessness, that is, being
as willing to lose his life as he would
live it. Claude puts it this way: " . .
The surest arm for one who feels him-
self cut off from his kind is courage."
But this also ends in tragedy, because
no man can face death alone. A French
adventurer, Grabot, foreshadows Per-
ken's end. He is one of the few men
who enter into the jungle alone, always
saving one bulet for themselves, if things
come to the worst. He has disappeared,
and when Perken finds him he is a slave
chained to a treadmill in a dark hut:
the dogs of the natives have eaten out
his eyes. They realize the truth: Gra-
bot's courage did not extend to his.
death. Individual courage, in the last
analysis, cannot face the terrible ma-
chinery of corruption and dissolution.
At the end, when Perke is dying
poisoned by a war-spike, Claude gazes
into his face. Perken looks at him as
if he were an intruder from another
world, and Claude is unable to express
that desperate fraternity which had
linked them together. Facing death, he
founders in the shambles of his life . .
Having been alienated from one world
a man must identify himself with an-
other. Kyo, the protagonist .of MaaS
Fate (La Condition Hmnaine), has ac-
complished this. He has gained the
world of Communism. But the forces
of the old world overwhelm him, and
he dies by his own hand (he is half
Japanese and regards this as his last act-
of free will) in an execution yard, wait-
ing to be burned alive in' a locomotive
boiler. But he can face death without
fear, for he is dying amid brotherhood
as he had wished to live.
This execution scene builds to a tragic
intensity unmatched in the literature of
our time, surpassing the artistry of both
Thomas Mann and James Joyce. One
must go back to Shakespeare and the
Elizabethans to find comparison, and
that in itself marks Malraux as a great
Days of Wrath, the fourth novel
takes place in Berlin and Prague. A
Communist leader, KassneAt, is im-
prisoned by "the German secret police.
If his identity is established, he will be
killed. Lodged in a prison cell, slowly
going mad, he finally learns that an-
other man has confessed being Kassner.
Released by this sacrifice, he goes back
to his wife, finding a little of quiet and
peace before he returns to illegal work
in Germany. Although beautifully writ-
ten, it is very short, and to me, at least,.
it is an imperfect work of art. It does,
however, show a further development
of Malraux' understanding of character.
Having briefly reviewed the nature
of Malraux' work, it is now necessary
(Continued on Page 10)

dignity and courage and nobility. Ex- greatness of mankind through litera-
plosive bullets tear the battle plane ture. You are transcending the human
Canard to pieces: the port engine stops: condition.
An examination of Malraux' previous
the bomber, Mireaux, is wounded in
the stomach: the rear turret gunner, work furnishes some keen observation
an Arabian, has a bullet in his thigh: on the course of modern literature. His
the forward gunner has been struck by first novel, The Conquerers, was pub-
an explosive shell: the pilots are des- lished in1928. This work, like his great-
perately wounded. As the plane ap- est novel, deals with the nationalist rev-
proaches the mountains, the starboard olution in China. Its very first sentence
engine goes dead, and the pilot Gardet, strikes the stylistic note to be observed
soon to be fearfully mutilated, springs in all his later writing. A revolutionary,
back into the cabin, applying first-aid Garine, is the protagonist, and the story
to the wounded gunners who have silent- ends with his death, before the hope for
ly drawn inward from their tuaTets and a proletarian revolution has been
are lying one atop the other in the crushed. Related in the first person,
sealed cabin. The bomber crashes . its structure nevertheless forecasts the
Gardet, wounded in the leg, his jaw dramatic form which follows it.
broken and slashed back to his neck, It is an excellent novel, well-planned,
supports the lower part of his face on cleanly-executed, but it fails to achieve
the butt of his automatic pistol as he the tremendous scope of La Condition
drags his comrades from the wreckage Humaine. In it Malraux has discovered
and goes for help. The rescue by the the truth of brotherhood, an ethic that
peasants completes the scene in abso- can penetrate into the very blood stream
lute grandeur. On stretchers and don- of a man, into the secret recesses of his
keys, the dead and wounded come back heart. The last paragraph sums up
to the laud of the baut .ield , the much that has gone before. The nar-
cities and plains of Spain stretching rator is visiting the dying Garine:
below them even as El Greco's vision of "Slowly, biting his lower lip, he
Toledo. Winding through the unutter- freed his wounded arm from its sling
ably lovely countryside, the brave re- ' and raised it. We embraced each

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