André Maurois

At one time Twayne’s series on authors and historical figures was a respectable and informative part of any library collection. Many of these titles are now being discarded. Fortunately, I recently rescued a volume on the French author and literary critic André Maurois (1885-1967). Biographer L. Clark Keating provides some interesting commentary about Maurois’ Jewish background while growing up in Rouen, Normandy:

According to Maurois’ account, his parents were decent, self-respecting people, quite without overweening ambition and equally without a sense of persecution about their Jewishness. Their son… relates that when he learned by accident that he was not a Christian, his father said to him soberly: “But Christianity is a noble religion and worthy of respect.” This was his first introduction to religion.

The French writer was apparently raised agnostic and remained that way for the rest of his life. Another interesting passage, which sheds as much light on the biographer as the subject, is this one concerning Maurois’ fictional works. Speaking of the book Les Roses de septembre Keating writes:

Among other things there hangs over the novel like a pall a heavy odor of middle-aged sensuality and the relentless pursuit of women which present-day Frenchmen must find out of date and Anglo-Saxons regard as unreal as well as repellent.

Though admirable, such criticism was already becoming untenable in popular culture by the time that this study was written (in 1969). Yet it is ironic that Maurois himself may have realized near the end of his life where things were headed. He believed that “the civilized world is principally made bearable” by religious ethical teaching. One of his last works, Open Letter to a Young Man (1968) was, if not exactly monastic in its outlook, far more cautious than most contemporary philosophical treatises, especially on sexual morals. Sadly other views have prevailed since then.

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