Critic of Civilization

Critic of Civilization: Georges Duhamel and His Writings

Copyright Date: 1965
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Critic of Civilization
    Book Description:

    As one of the outstanding minds of France, the career of George Duhamel reflects the universal range of his interests. A physician turned poet, playwright, novelist, publicist, critic, and world traveler, Duhamel for half a century has sought as a liberal humanist to defend the moral and aesthetic values of Western civilization against the encroachment of a dehumanizing machine age.

    Duhamel first achieved fame as a writer with two eloquent outcries against war inVie des MartyrsandCivilisation, written while he was a front-line surgeon during World War I. His later plays and novels continued to deal with the search of the individual for identity in contemporary life, especially in the Salavin series and the ten-volumeChronique des Pasquier, his outstanding works of fiction. Among the commentaries on other cultures arising from his travels, Duhamel's scathing criticism of the United States in Scenes de la vie future aroused particular furor.

    It is in Duhamel's feeling for humanity, Mr. Keating believes, that one may discover the consistent pattern in Duhamel's work, essentially the passionate reaction of a surgeon-artist to the cruelties of a war-torn world. In this critical biography of Duhamel as writer and thinker, Mr. Keating therefore relates all of Duhamel's many-sided activities to his underlying purpose -- to find a path for individual happiness in the complexities of contemporary life.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-6334-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
    (pp. v-viii)
    L. Clark Keating
  3. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xx)

    GEORGES DUHAMELhas led a full life and a fruitful one, firmly dedicated to human values. During his long career he has striven to be a leader of humanistic thought, expressing his philosophy in a wide range of activities as well as in varied literary forms. Because his is a literary life and his works are his greatest monuments, a “study” of Georges Duhamel is necessarily a study of his various writings. But Duhamel believes that the artist must influence the world in his turn and that it is not enough for this influence to be expressed only in his...

  5. PART I: The Creative Writer
      (pp. 3-24)

      SHORTLYafter the turn of the century a young student of medicine and biology named Georges Duhamel settled in bachelor quarters at 5 rue Vauquelin, on the Left Bank in Paris. Among his few articles of furniture was a modest piano; his library consisted mainly of a battered copy of Littré’s French Dictionary and seven volumes of the LarousseEncyclopedia. His monthly budget of sixty francs, small even for those days, had to be eked out by odd jobs such as tutoring foreign students and writing articles for a medical encyclopedia for a few sous per page. Duhamel’s health during...

      (pp. 25-53)

      FEW EUROPEANSexpected war in 1914. Most people thought the Kaiser was bluffing, just as a later generation shrugged off the fulminations of Hitler. Duhamel has given a convincing account in one of his novels of the shocked disbelief with which most Frenchmen greeted the outbreak of hostilities. The second reaction for most, however, was a patriotic urge to enlist. Everyone expected a short war. Like all doctors Duhamel was automatically a member of the military reserve, and despite previous exemption from the service, he enlisted immediately. He was to be stationed close to the front in a mobile surgical...

      (pp. 54-76)

      IN 1920, coincident with the appearance of theElégiesand but shortly after the publication of the idealisticLa Possession du monde, Duhamel offered the public a one-volume narrative entitledConfession de minuit. This was a strange story about a strange man, unlike anything its author had yet done. It dealt with the mental processes of a perplexed and bewildered character named Louis Salavin.

      Putting down the book after the first reading, many persons were hard put to understand either the main character or the author’s purpose in describing him. But if the picture seemed incomplete in this volume, the...

      (pp. 77-97)

      DURINGthe nineteen twenties, while he was writing about Salavin, Duhamel gave considerable thought to the problems involved in writing fiction, and when his theories had taken form, he wroteEssai sur le roman(1925), a self-revealing but not altogether penetrating study of the technique of the novel and short story. He opened his essay with a brief résumé of the history of the novel in France from Rabelais onward, commented on the contemporary French novel, and brought into his discussion, for the purpose of illustration, the work of a few writers from other countries.

      Duhamel’s choice of reading among...

      (pp. 98-121)

      WHEN Le Notaire du Havre, the first volume of Duhamel’sChronique des Pasquier, was published in 1933,Les Hommes de bonne volontéof Jules Romains had been on its way for a year, andLes Thibaultof Roger Martin du Gard, later to win a Nobel prize, was more than half done. Duhamel was, of course, mindful of the progress of these works, but it may be seriously doubted whether his own undertaking, which has inevitably been compared with theirs, was prompted by any spirit of rivalry. The writing of a long work, which might come to be regarded as...

      (pp. 122-137)

      IN THE SAMEfashion that Duhamel furnished his readers with a commentary on the composition of theVie et aventures de Salavin, he has provided us with an account of the evolution of the Pasquier story. He intended it, he says, to be an imaginary memoir paralleling but not actually describing his own career, and combining reality with fiction. Characteristically, he began to reveal his hand while he was still playing it. In 1934, when theChronique des Pasquierwas barely under way, he took his readers into his confidence in an essay entitledRemarques sur les mémoires imuginaires. It...

      (pp. 138-150)

      NO ONEshould be surprised to learn that Georges Duhamel has written whimsical and fanciful books, some for adults and some for and about children, because his creative genius has encompassed almost every other sort of imaginative work. Writing is for him an avocation as well as a vocation, and throughout his career he has spent his leisure hours in writing of a less demanding sort than was required for the production of his major novels. During the First World War, as we have seen, the pen that gave us the magnificent creationsCivilisationandVie des martyrswas also...

  6. PART II: The Observer and Commentator
      (pp. 153-171)

      AS DUHAMELhas wisely observed, a literary work can best reach universal proportions by depicting feelingly and realistically the men of a given time and place. This principle he has successfully followed in his creative writing. Salavin and the Pasquiers, as well as the wounded soldiers of the war sketches, appeal to foreign readers for their human qualities, but no one is likely to forget that these qualities have been developed and nurtured by a French environment. It is precisely because the creator of Salavin and Laurent Pasquier put aside any grandiose notion of depicting mankind and confined himself to...

      (pp. 172-186)

      IN THE MIDSTof battle, during the First World War, Duhamel gave the following description of civilization, which by implication is also a definition: “If civilization is not in the heart of man, then it is nowhere at all.”¹ It is, therefore, his profound conviction that the technical developments of which man is capable must be centered upon man and must be controlled by him. It is the humane spirit, and not the elaborate machines and inventions that man produces, that distinguish him from the lower animals. Anything tending to enslave or to repress the individual must,ipso facto, be...

      (pp. 187-208)

      DURING HISlong career as a writer and critic of belles lettres, Duhamel has not forgotten that he was trained as a biologist and doctor of medicine. In his writing we find also the indelible mark of thelycée, with its rigorous training in the methods and practices of the arts and sciences, a mark made visible in him, as in all who bear it, by a concern for his mother tongue and a lifelong devotion to the things of the mind. Duhamel’s years of specialization were laid upon this solid foundation. Few Frenchmen, as he has observed, ever completely...

      (pp. 209-232)

      AT ABOUTthe beginning of the Second World War, Duhamel decided to reconsider his earlier declaration that he would not write memoirs, and the resulting work, in five volumes, has delighted his admirers the world over. It is pure Duhamel. To its composition he brought all the charm and candor that he has displayed in his creative writing. There is also an occasional dash of the pepper that seasons his work as a traveler and critic of his times. For its autobiographical aspect alone the work will be seized upon eagerly by future biographers, since in it he not only...

  7. NOTES
    (pp. 233-255)
    (pp. 256-264)
  9. INDEX
    (pp. 265-268)