Henry de Montherlant

Henry de Montherlant
Born Henry Millon de Montherlant
(1895-04-26)26 April 1895
Paris, France
Died 21 September 1972(1972-09-21) (aged 77)
Paris, France
Nationality French
Period Early-mid 20th century


Henry Marie Joseph Frédéric Expedite Millon de Montherlant (French: [mɔ̃tɛʁlɑ̃]; 20 April 1895 – 21 September 1972) was a French essayist, novelist, and dramatist.[1] He was elected to the Académie française in 1960.


Born in Paris, a descendant of an aristocratic (yet obscure) Picard family, he was educated at the Lycée Janson de Sailly and the Sainte-Croix boarding school at Neuilly-sur-Seine. Henry's father was a hard-line reactionary (to the extent of despising the post-Dreyfus Affair army as too subservient to the Republic, and refusing to have electricity or the telephone installed in his house).

In 1912, he was expelled from the Catholic Sainte-Croix de Neuilly academy for a relationship with a fellow male student, a relationship that he would depict in his 1969 novel Les Garçons. After the deaths of his father and mother in 1914 and 1915, he went to live with his doting grandmother and eccentric uncles.[2]

Mobilised in 1916, he was wounded and decorated. Marked by his experience of war, he wrote Songe ('Dream'), an autobiographic novel, as well as his Chant funèbre pour les morts de Verdun (Funeral Chant for the Dead at Verdun), both exaltations of heroism during the Great War.

In the 1920s and 30s de Montherlant achieved critical success with the 1934 novel Les Célibataires, and sold millions of copies of his tetralogy Les Jeunes Filles, written from 1936 through 1939. In these years de Montherlant traveled extensively, mainly to Spain, Italy, and Algeria. During the war he remained in Paris and continued to write plays, poems, essays, and worked as a war correspondent.

Some time in 1968, according to one source, de Montherlant was attacked and beaten in the streets of Paris, seriously injured and blinded in one eye;[2] the British writer Peter Quennell, who edited a collection of translations of his works, recalled that de Montherlant attributed the eye injury to "a fall" instead; he also dated the incident to 1968, and mentions that de Montherlant suffered from vertigo.[3] After becoming almost blind in his last years, de Montherlant died from a self-inflicted[4] gunshot wound to the head after swallowing a cyanide capsule in 1972.

His standard biography was written by Pierre Sipriot, and published in two volumes (1982 and 1990), revealing the full extent of de Montherlant's sexual habits.


de Montherlant as painted by Jacques-Émile Blanche, 1922

His early successes were works such as Les Célibataires (The Bachelors) in 1934, and the highly anti-feminist tetralogy Les Jeunes Filles (The Young Girls) (1936–1939), which sold millions of copies and was translated into 13 languages.[2] His late novel Chaos and Night was published in 1963. The novels were praised by writers as diverse as Aragon, Bernanos, and Malraux. de Montherlant was well known for his anti-feminist and misogynistic views, as exemplified particularly in The Girls. Simone de Beauvoir considered his attitudes about women in detail in her The Second Sex.

He wrote plays such as Pasiphaé (1936), La Reine morte (1942, the first of a series of historical dramas), Le Maître de Santiago (1947), Port-Royal (1954) and Le Cardinal d'Espagne (1960). He is particularly remembered as a playwright. In his plays as well as in his novels he frequently portrayed heroic characters displaying the moral standards he professed, and explored the 'irrationality and unpredictability of human behaviour'.[5]

He worked as an essayist also. In the collection L'Equinoxe de septembre (1938) he deplored the mediocrity of contemporary France and in Le solstice de Juin, (1941), he expressed his admiration for Wehrmacht and claimed that France had been justly defeated and conquered in 1940. Like many scions of the old aristocracy, he had hated the Third Republic, especially as it had become in the aftermath of the Dreyfus Affair. de Montherlant wrote articles for the Paris weekly, La Gerbe, directed by the pro-Nazi novelist and Catholic reactionary Alphonse de Chateaubriant.[6] After the war, he was thus viewed as a collaborationist, and was punished by a one-year restriction on publishing.

Although not openly gay, de Montherlant treated homosexual themes in his work, including his play La Ville dont le prince est un enfant (1952) and novel Les Garçons (The Boys), published in 1969 but written four or five decades earlier. He maintained a private correspondence with Roger Peyrefitte—author of Les Amitiés particulières (Special Friendships, 1943), also about relationships between boys at a Roman Catholic boarding school.

de Montherlant is remembered for his aphorism "Happiness writes in white ink on a white page",[7] often quoted in the shorter form "Happiness writes white".[8]

Honours and awards

Les célibataires was awarded the Grand prix de littérature de l'Académie française in 1934, and the English Northcliffe Prize. In 1960 de Montherlant was elected a member of the Académie française, taking the seat which had belonged to André Siegfried, a political writer.[9] He was an Officer of the French Ordre national de la Légion d'honneur.

Reference is made to "Les Jeunes Filles" in two films by West German director Rainer Werner Fassbinder: Das kleine Chaos (1967) and Satansbraten (1977).[10] In the short film Das kleine Chaos the character portrayed by Fassbinder himself reads aloud from a paperback German translation of "Les Jeunes Filles" which he claims to have stolen.

Translations and adaptations

Lithograph by Robert Delaunay for an edition of La Relève du matin (1928)

Terence Kilmartin, best known for revising the Moncrieff translation of Proust, translated some of de Montherlant's novels into English, including a 1968 edition of the four volumes of Les Jeunes Filles, in English called simply The Girls.

In 2009, the New York Review of Books returned de Montherlant to print in English by issuing Kilmartin's translation of Chaos and Night (1963) with a new introduction by Gary Indiana.

Christophe Malavoy directed and starred in a 1997 television movie adaption of La Ville dont le prince est un enfant.

Illustrated works

Some works of Henry de Montherlant were published in illustrated editions, today commanding high prices at book auctions and in book specialists. Examples include "Pasiphaé," illustrated by Henri Matisse, "Les Jeunes Filles", illustrated by Mariette Lydis, and others illustrated by Jean Cocteau, Robert Cami, Édouard Georges Mac-Avoy and Pierre-Yves Tremois.


  1. http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/390970/Henry-Marie-Joseph-Millon-de-Montherlant
  2. 1 2 3 Louis Begley (18 July 2007). "The Pitiless Universe of Montherlant". The New York Sun. Retrieved 2008-10-01.
  3. Quennell, Peter (1980). The Wanton Chase (First ed.). London: Collins. ISBN 0-00-216526-0.
  4. "Henry de Montherlant". The New York Review of Books. Retrieved 1 June 2009.
  5. New Oxford Companion to Literature in french, OUP 1995, p.544
  6. Verdict on Vichy, p.236, Michael Curtis, Weidenfeld & Nicholson 2002
  7. "Le bonheur écrit à l'encre blanche sur des pages blanches." (Don Juan II, IV, 1048)
  8. "The Pursuit of Happiness: A Letter to Thomas Jefferson Magazine", article by Lili Artel; Free Inquiry, Vol. 24, June 2004.
  9. Refer to his speech on the site of the Académie française, http://www.academie-francaise.fr/node/2541
  10. Töteberg, Michael: Rainer Werner Fassbinder Rowohlt Taschenbuch Verlag, Reinbek bei Hamburg, 2002. p.23

Further reading

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