9 September 2015

Paris 2015: Guy Mazeline, Cimetière du Montparnasse #2

No winner in the history of the Goncourt (which began in 1903) is viewed with such contempt as Guy Mazeline (1900–96), whose six hundred-plus page novel Les Loups won in 1932: I've not read the book so am unqualified to pass judgement on it, although many people consider it so be badly written and wholly unworthy of such a highly esteemed prize.

In fact in the light of who he was pitched against Mazeline's win was and is still seen as a scandal: his only other real opponent was Louis-Ferdinand Céline, whose Voyage au bout de la nuit had to make do with the 'consolation prize' of the Renaudot. The merit of Céline's novel was recognised as an important work, and posterity has seen his novel favourably compared with the work of Proust or Joyce. Céline's novel had been signalled as a major influence, for instance, on the Beats, and although no doubt most of them had to read him in an inferior translation rather than the original, Céline's brilliance showed through.

And even odder is that Céline's later strongly-worded anti-Semitic voice doesn't appear to have been an issue at the time. But Mazeline is now forgotten, apart from when the perceived scandal is mentioned. So forgotten, in fact, that Landru doesn't even mention him on his cemetery website heavily laden with both major and (often very) minor personalities, and on a list of one thousand people of interest in the Cimetière du Montparnasse, Mazeline doesn't figure. It was quite an effort finding this grave, and again it wouldn't have been possible without Joseph, who works at the cemetery.

Does it matter that Mazeline is only remembered negatively? Shouldn't he just be forgotten? Well, the Célinians certainly won't allow that, and anyway Guy Mazeline is part of France's literary history, like it or not.

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