By MONTGOMERY BELGION
N. R. F. 1919-1940, edited with an introduction by Justin O'Brien (Eyre & Spottiswoode, 25s.).
THE CHOICE BEFORE EUROPE, by Marshal Juin and Henri Massis (Eyre & Spottiswoode, 12s. 6d.), ISSUED by the same publishing house on the same day, these two hooks together epitomise French literature since 1900.
It is true that the Nouvelle Revue Francaise was only founded in 1909, and that Andre Gide (18691949), its presiding genius, had been an author since 1891. It is true that Mr. O'Brien selects nothing before 1919, and thus misses all that the monthly review did before August 1914.
Nevertheless, in providing 45 translated contributions out of a total of 253 numbers. he will awaken in many of the elderly here and in America dormant memories of their literary formation, and will also make present to the young an already unsuspected past.
Claudel and Valery
wHAT famous names are here! " Breton, the surrealist leader, and Claudel, the great Catholic convert. So are Valery Larbaud, the novelist with an international imagination; Malraux, the mysterious returned traveller; Mauriac, the pre-eminent French Catholic novelist; Montherlant, the ostensibly cynical, stylist; and, not least, Valetwho with Claudel was the outstanding poet of the period. One contributor to whom I myself am particularly indebted is Roman Fernandez, whose book Messages I translated in 1927.
Most are now dead, and so is Drieu la Rochelle, who is here twice. After the Germans occupied Paris in 1940. Drieu took over the editorship only to sink the review in opprobrium.
But to-day a Nouvelle Nouvelle Revue Franealse consists each month of a thick budget of information and comment on French books and ideas. The younger generations are well served, even though to their seniors it is no longer what it was in that golden age when new and stimulating French writers seemed to jostle one another in springing into fame.
Not wide enough
THEN the N.R.F. opened its pages wide, but not widely
enough to include the Catholic and monarchist right, the right of which we in England hear too little today. It did not publish. for instance, Henri Massis, the main author of " The Choice Before Europe".
Yet Massis was a powerful influence in French literary, religious, and political thought both before and after World War I. His first hook came out as long ago as 1906, when he was only 20, and seven years later he won permanent attention with the results of an inquiry among French University students.
He showed prophetically that, in spite of the apparent success at the time of socialist atheism and socialist pacifism, a predominant element in French youth 'would still respond to patriotism and religious faith.
To-day M. Massis is still not only an ardent Catholic, not only an ardent nationalist, but also an acute observer of international affairs. He showed his political prescience at the beginning of 1944 while shut up in beleaguered France. He published a forecast of the coming cold war between Russia and the United States, then inconceivable even to Roosevelt.
Now, surveying till as recently as last September the combined effects in the Far East, in Europe, and in North Africa of American anticolonialism and of American imperialism, he confirms Mr. John Biggs-Davison's verdict in " The Uncertain Ally " (1957) that American friendship is far from being an unmixed blessing.
ABOVE all, he takes his stand against the movement in favour of a European federation or United States of Europe, a movement which he fancies to be purely American. He points with Professor D. W. Brogan to the strange transatlantic illusion that everybody in China, Japan, and Europe longs to be allowed to adopt "the American way of life" and become indistinguishable from a citizen of Trenton, New Jersey, or of Little Rock, Arkansas.
He Mists that, if we are Americanised, we shall be no better off than if we were forcibly turned into Communists. Either way Europe the real Europe will have been abducted, spirited away. A Federation of Europe of the kind Americans recommend would mean the repudiation by each distinct European people of its separate tradition and history, of its own focus of allegiance and attachment to place. The substitute would he a drab uniformity of mind and spirit. The Christian renaissance of which the world stands in need as its sole means of salvation would be precluded, for that renaissance cannot occur anywhere except in Europe, and then only in a Europe faithful to its past.
Want of hindsight
IT will be noted that as the book N.R.F. looks backward. in " The Choice Before Europe " M. Massis looks ahead. Marshal Juin in his separate share in it seems not to look backward enough. He too is a French nationalist, but one concerned on this occasion less with spiritual values than with the means of preserving them. He asks that France should be allowed her own nuclear weapons. This is, he says, because the French people must be left free to decide for themselves in an international crisis whether they will fight or not. He is blind to the fact that with the conclusion of the FrancoRussian alliance in 1894 the French renounced their freedom of decision. and have never regained it since. His want of hindsight emphasises by contrast the clarity of foresight in Massis.