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|André Maurois (1885-1967) - pseudonym of ÉMILE SALOMON WILHELM HERZOG|
French biographer, novelist, essayist , best known for his vivid, romantic style lives of Shelley, Disraëli, Byron, Proust, Balzac and others. Maurois's The Quest for Proust is considered by many his finest achievement . Through his wife Simone de Caillavet, who had been a member of the refined circles in which Marcel Proust moved, Maurois had a contact with the world of the reclusive author.
"The minds of different generations are as impenetrable one by the other as are the monads of Leibniz." (from Ariel, 1923)
André Maurois was born Émile Salomon Wilhelm Herzog at Elbeuf, the son of Ernest Herzog, a textile manufacturer, and Alice (Lévy-Rueff) Herzog. His family had fled Alsace after the Franco-Prussian War (1870) and took refuge in Normandy, where they owned a woolen mill at Elbeuf. At school Maurois was a brilliant student. He was educated at the lycée of Elbeuf and Rouen, received barchelor's degree in letters and science and continued for a degree in philosophy at the University of Caen. From the age of eighteen to twenty-six he worked at his father's factory.
When the World War I broke out, Maurois was first attached as an interpreter. Overestimating his knowledge of English, Maurois was then made a liaison officer to the British Army. Maurois's first wife, Jeanne-Marie (Janine) Wanda de Szymkiewicz (1892-1924), was a Russian girl of Polish descednt, who grew up in Switzerland and had studied at Oxford. They married in 1912. During the war she entered into affairs, and had a nervous breakdown in 1918. Later Maurois portrayed a similar character in Le cercle de famille (1932). She died of septicemia in 1924, at the age of thirty-two, leaving behind three young children.
As a novelist Maurois made his debut with The Silence of Colonel Bramble (1918), which was based on his experiences in the war. Anticipating that the caricatures of British soldiers might embrass his friends, he adopted a pseudonym: 'Maurois' was the name of a village near Cambrai where he had been engaged in combat, 'André' came from a cousin who was killed in the war. In 1947 André Maurois became his legal name. The novel was a bestseller on both sides of the Channel. As a result, his publisher, Bernard Grasset, commissioned him to write a sequel, Les Discours du Docteur O'Grady (1922, The Discourses of Doctor O'Grady).
Maurois returned from the front with hair turned completely white. After the death his father in 1925, Maurois gave up the family business. He had moved in 1919 from Elbeuf to Paris, where he was welcomed by the literary circles. Part of the year he had spent at La Sayasse, within easy access to the factory. During the 1920s he traveled in England where he researched for his biography of the poet Shelley and met Harold Nicholson, Maurice Baring, Bloomsbury circle of writers, and notables of high British society. In 1926 he married Simone de Caillavet, the daughter of the playwright Gaston de Caillavet and the granddaughter of Anatole France's mistress Léontine Arman de Caillavet. Into her marriage she brought her little daughter from her former annulled marriage to a nonliterary Rumanian diplomat, and estate and chateau, Essendiéras, situated near the village of St. Médard d'Excideuil. Maurois's stepdaughter, Françoise-Georgina, died of cirrhosis of the liver during a vacation in the Alps.
Ni ange, ni bête (1919) was inspired by the story of Percy Shelley and his first wife Harriet Westbrook. The book was set in Abbeville, a town where Maurois had been stationed with the British Army. Maurois's light-herarted biography of Shelley, Ariel, established his fame as an interpreter of the Anglo-Saxon mind to the French public, and encouraged him to publish novelistic biographies. Although readers were delighted, its accurcy was attacked by reviewers. He was accused of plagiarism by a young critic in 'Un Ecrivain Original. M. André Mauriois (suite)', an article published in 1928 in the Mercure de France. The English journalist and literary editor Frank Harris stated that sections of Maurois's essay on Oscar Wilde in Études Anglaises (1927) had been lifted from his own book, Oscar Wilde, His Life and Confessions (1916). Noteworthy, Harris himself was known as a writer, who took liberties with facts. After this public controversy Maurois's historical works followed academic standards and were meticulously researched. He once stated: "I am never satisfied to do a hasty or improvised job when asked to write or speak." When writing fiction, Maurois moved from facts to imagination. Le pays des trente-six mille volontés (1928, The Country of Thirty-six Thousand Wishes), a fantasy tale, featured a country where eight times six equals anything one want. It is a place where one will end up after trying unsuccessfully to learn La Fontaine's poem 'The Fox and the Crow' by heart.
Maurois's literary success had made him financially independent and offered him an escape from mediocrity. His idealism and romantic conception of life he channeled into his literary work. One of his characters, Philippe Marcenats, says in Climats (1928): "I used to compare my life to a symphony wherein mingled several themes: the theme of the Knight, the theme of the cynic, the theme of the rival." While traveling in Italy in search of records of the lives of Lord Byron and Chateaubriand, Maurois met Benito Mussolini. In Marocco he met Marshal Lyautey, whose biography he would later write. At Trinity College, Cambridge, Maurois gave in 1926 a series of lectures in which he devoleped further his ideas about the writing of lives.
Questioning the juxtaposition of the exact and historical sciences, Maurois argued in Aspects de la biographie (1928) that art and science can be reconciled and that 'poetry' and 'rhythm' are as essential to biography as to other forms of art. Simone Maurois, gifted with a "merciless memory" became his material and spiritual collaborator, and saved him a lot of work in tracking down historical and biographical information. As a hobby, she collected autographed letters of famous people. "Why do I love my wife?" wrote Maurois in The Art of Being Happily Married (1951). "Well she has the same tastes as I. . . . My wife gives her life to my work, she is my social secretary; she works ten hours per day – and sometimes into the night – and always works well. . . ."
Maurois's union with Simone was productive. During the 1920s and 1930s he published biographies of Shelley (1923), Disraeli (1927), Byron (1930), Voltaire (1932), King Edward (1933) and Chateaubriand (1938). Maurois's visit of 1927 in America, where he became a well-known figure, led to a life-long interest in the culture and history of the country. In 1929 Maurois received an invitation from Princeton. Besides giving a formal course on the French novel, he gave a series of public lectures. For his surprise, he learned that Woodrow Wilson, whom he greatly admired, was a controversial figure in his own college town. As a result, he eventually abandoned plans to write a biography on the president-statesman. Maurois's opinions ranging from Huey Long to the New Deal were widely quoted. "One cannot help calling to mind," Maurois said of Roosevelt's banking reform bill, "as one writers the history of these three crowded months, the Biblical account of the creation."
As a recognition of his work, Maurois was appointed a member of the French Academy in 1938. During World War II Maurois served as a captain of the French army and was first attached as a liaison officer to British General Headquarters. After Germany occupied France, Maurois moved with his wife to the Unites States to help with propaganda work. However, he was not a Gaullist but one of the few French writers, who supported the Vichy regime – France "will have, perhaps for a long time, to follow a middle course between what she would like to do and what she feels compelled to do," Maurois wrote in an article, in which he expressed his respect to Marshal Pétain (Life, January 6, 1941). Britain's Consul General reported that Mme Simone Maurois was very anxious to get back to France. Maurois lectured at University of Kansas City and Mills Colege and wrote several biographies for young readers, among them lives of Frédéric Chopin (1942), General Eisenhower (1945), Franklin (1945), and Washington (1946).
In 1943 Maurois joined his writer-associate Antoine de Saint-Exupéry to serve with the Allied Forces in North Africa. They had known each other a long period and had became friends in America. "Either he dominated the conversation or he dreamed of another planet," Maurois said of his friend, who disappeared during flight in 1944. Maurois returned to France in 1946 and entered a new phase in his life. He wrote several works on French authors; Marcel Proust (1949), George Sand (1953), Victor Hugo (1954) and Balzac (1965). The Life of Sir Alexander Fleming (1959) was written on the request of Lady Amalia Fleming. Moreover, Maurois contributed articles to Opéra, Elle and other magazines. In 1951, when Joseph L. Mankiewicz's All About Eve was awarded the Special Jury Prize at the Cannes Cannes Film Festival, he served for the first time as President of the jury. On a lecture tour in Italy he met Pope Pius XII in the Vatican, and discussed with him the literary style of Bossuet's Oraison funèbres.
"How came it that this prudent, economical man was also generous? That this chaste adolescent, this model father, grew to be, in his last years, an ageing faun? That this legitimist changed, first into a Bonapartist, only, later still, to be hailed as the grandfather of the Republic? That this pacifist could sing, better than anybody, of the glories of the flags of Wagram? That this bourgeois in the eyes of other bourgeois came to assume the stature of a rebel? These are the questions that every biographer of Victor Hugo must answer." (from Olympio: The Life of Victor Hugo, 1954)
In addition to non-fiction Maurois wrote a juvenile book, drama, short stories, essays, and science fiction, which drew more from Cyrano de Bererac and Voltaire than Burroughsian adventures. In The Weigher of Souls (1931) a doctor experiments with élan vital and in La machine à lire les pensées (1937) a university professor is initiated into mysteries of a photographic film that records secret thoughts. Maurois's first story was 'La dernière histoire du monde' (1903), a future history, which was included in Premiers contes (1935). His histories include The Miracle of England (1937), The Miracle of America (1944), and The Miracle of France (1948). Maurois died of a pulmonary congestion on October 9, 1967.
As a biographer Maurois is considered unsurpassed. From the beginning of his career, he defined biography as literary art and craft, but at the same time, he demonstrated a recognition of the necessity of research and documentation. His methods, empathetic identification with his subject, dialogue, and representations of inner thoughts and feelings, made his biographies easy to read as novels.
For further reading: Encyclopedia of World Literature in the 20th Century, Vol. 3, ed. by Steven R. Serafin (1999); World Authors 1900-1950, Vol. 3, ed. by Martin Seymour-Smith and Andrew C. Kimmens (1996); The Worlds of André Maurois by J. Kolbert (1985); André Maurois by L. Keating (1968); Maurois: The Writer and His Work by G.E. Lemaitre (1967); André Maurois by J. Suffel (1963); From My Journal by André Maurois (1947); I Remember, I Remember, by André Maurois (1942); André Maurois by Georges Lemaitre (1939)
Selected works and translations: