22 February 2016

Remi Rousselot: Francis de Miomandre: Un Goncourt oublié (2013)

At 255 pages (plus a generous Index and Bibliography), Remi Rousselot's Francis de Miomandre: un Goncourt oublié may not initially seem like a huge book, although it is: the Goncourt-winning Miomandre (for Ecrit sur de l'eau, 1908) is indeed something of a forgotten writer, although Rousselot goes out of his way (particularly with his extensive research at BNE (Bibioteca Nacional de España) to amend this situation.

There are so many people mentioned in this book, so much pre-internet networking, so many events in the life of Miomandre, that it would take an enormous post to do this fascinating book justice, although the back page (quatrième de couverture) gives a fine summing up of the contents, and I translate the first two paragraphs, which is most of this summary:

'Francis de Miomandre (1880–1959), the sixth Goncourt prize winner and the author of an intriguing and plentiful œuvre, the first translator of important Hispanic texts (Asturias, Unamuno, Cervantès, etc), is completely forgotten today. This dandy, this faithful friend of Gide, Suarès, Larbaud, Breton, Supervielle, Desnos, Milosz, Soupault, Claudel and many others, was a constant witness to celebrated twentieth-century literary adventures in Paris – up to the difficult post-war years – when he was cast aside because of his incarnation of the preciosity of the old century.

'It took the passion of a fascinated young man, Remi Rousselot, to delve into the archives deposited in the Cervantes room in the Biblioteca Nacional de España and follow the path of this life through the First World War, the années folles in Paris and on the Basque coast, the literary salons, the Spanish [Civil] War and finally the Second World War and the return to Paris.'

This of course is just a short summary, which leaves out Miomandre's birth in Tours, his move to Marseille, his being an early orphan and his move to Paris, his marriage to the older (and richer) widow Anne, his frequent leaving of her to venture abroad, his incessant socialising, his manic writing to both keep up appearances and maintain a relatively extravagant life-style, his move(s) to Mallorca, his pet monkey and chameleon, etc.

When Miomandre felt forced by economic circumstances to sell his library of signed first editions, the signatures included this by no means definitive list: Alain-Fournier, Antonin Artaud, Maurice Barrès, Joë Bousquet, Francis Carco, Jean Cassou, Blaise Cendrars, René Char, Paul Claudel, Jean Cocteau, Colette, René Crevel, Salvador Dalí, Roland Dorgelès, Georges Duhamel, Léon-Paul Fargue, André Gide, Jean Giono, Jean Giraudoux, Remy de Gourmont, Julien Green, Max Jacob, Francis Jammes, Marcel Jouhandeau, Valery Larbaud, François Mauriac, Charles Maurras, Paul Morand, Jean Paulhan, Marcel Proust, Raymond Radiguet, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Jules Supervielle, Paul-Jean Toulet, Tristan Tzara, Miguel de Unamuno, Paul Valéry, etc.

Miomandre in fact had many literary friends – even though he must have lost some after his library sale – and many of them were high-profile. It's perfectly normal that things move on and literary figures become out of date, but it's quite surprising that such a figure (even bearing in mind his relatively low sales) should have become so obscure. It's arguable that anyone who's been awarded the Goncourt will ever be completely forgotten as his (or her in the scandalously low eleven instances of women winning it) name is still up there, but all the same Rousselot's excellent biography (and the re-publishing of Écrit sur de l'eau the same year by Éditions de la Différence) must surely go some way towards putting the writer´s name back into circulation.

My other post on Francis de Miomandre:

Francis de Miomandre: Écrit sur de l'eau | Written on Water

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