His early successes were works such as Les Célibataires (The Bachelors) in 1934, and the tetralogy Les Jeunes Filles (The Young Girls) (1936–1939), which sold millions of copies and was translated into 13 languages. At this time, Montherlant traveled regularly, mainly to Spain, Italy, and Algeria.
He wrote plays such as La Reine morte (1934), Pasiphaé (1936), Le Maître de Santiago (1947), Port-Royal (1954) and Le Cardinal d'Espagne (1960). He is particularly remembered as a playwright. In his plays, as well as in his novels, he frequently portrayed heroic characters displaying the moral standards he professed.
In Le Songe he described the courage and camaraderie of soldiers, based on his experiences in World War I. In the 1930s, he wrote numerous articles and books advocating intervention against Nazi Germany. During the German Occupation, his book L'Équinoxe de Septembre was banned by the German authorities. However, in Le Solstice de Juin, a book about the defeat of France in May and June 1940 (which he had covered as a reporter), he expressed his admiration for Wehrmacht and claimed that France had been justly defeated. This earned him the reputation of a collaborator, and got him in trouble after the Liberation. Like many scions of the old aristocracy, he had hated the Third Republic, especially as it had become in the aftermath of the Dreyfus Affair.
Although not openly gay, Montherlant treated homosexual themes in his work, including his play La Ville dont le prince est un enfant (1952) and novel Les Garçons (The Boys), published in 1969 but written four or five decades earlier. He maintained a private correspondence with Roger Peyrefitte—author of Les Amitiés particulières (Special Friendships, 1943), also about sexual relationships between boys at a Roman Catholic boarding school.
Montherlant is remembered for his aphorism "Happiness writes in white ink on a white page," often misquoted in the shorter form "Happiness writes white."
Born in Paris France, a descendant of an aristocratic (yet obscure) Picard family, he was educated at the Lycée Janson de Sailly and the Sainte-Croix boarding school at Neuilly-sur-Seine. Henry's father was a hard-line reactionary (to the extent of despising the post-Dreyfus Affair army as too subservient to the Republic, and refusing to have electricity or the telephone installed in his house).
In 1912, he was expelled from the Sainte-Croix de Neuilly academy for a homosexual relationship with a fellow student. After the deaths of his father and mother in 1914 and 1915, he went to live with his doting grandmother and eccentric uncles.
Mobilised in 1916, he was wounded and decorated. Marked by his experience of war, he wrote Songe ('Dream'), an autobiographic novel, as well as his Chant funèbre pour les morts de Verdun (Funeral Chant for the Dead at Verdun), both exaltations of heroism during the Great War.
Montherlant was attacked and beaten in the streets of Paris in 1968. He was seriously injured and blinded in one eye. The British writer Peter Quennell, who edited a collection of translations of Montherlant's works, recalls that Montherlant attributed the eye injury to "a fall"; he dates the incident to 1968, and mentions that Montherlant suffered from vertigo.
After becoming almost blind in his last years, Montherlant died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head after swallowing a cyanide capsule in 1972.
Les Célibataires (The Bachelors) was awarded the Grand Prix de Littérature de l'Académie française and the English Northcliffe Prize. In 1960 Montherlant was elected a member of the Académie française, taking the seat which had belonged to André Siegfried, a political writer. His presentation speech dwelt mercilessly on the geography of New Zealand. He was an Officer of the French Ordre national de la Légion d'honneur.
Reference is made to "Les Jeunes Filles (The Young Girls)" in two films by West German director Rainer Werner Fassbinder: Das kleine Chaos (1967) and Satansbraten (1977). In the short film Das kleine Chaos the character portrayed by Fassbinder himself reads aloud from a paperback German translation of "Les Jeunes Filles (The Young Girls)" which he claims to have stolen.
Terence Kilmartin, best known for revising the Moncrieff translation of Proust, translated some of Montherlant's novels to English, including a 1968 edition of the five volumes of Les Jeunes Filles (The Young Girls).
In 2009, the New York Review of Books returned Montherlant to print in English by issuing Kilmartin's translation of Chaos and Night (1963) with a new introduction by Gary Indiana.
Christophe Malavoy directed and starred in a 1997 television movie adaption of La Ville dont le prince est un enfant.
Some works of Henry de Montherlant were published in illustrated editions, today demanding large prices at book auctions and in book specialists. Examples include "Pasiphaé," illustrated by Henri Matisse, "Les Jeunes Filles", illustrated by Mariette Lydis, and others illustrated by Cami, Édouard Georges Mac-Avoy and Pierre-Yves Tremois.
Who's Who in Gay and Lesbian History: From Antiquity to the Mid-Twentieth Century by Robert Aldrich & Garry Wotherspoon
Paperback: 528 pages
Publisher: Routledge; 2 edition (February 21, 2003)
Amazon: Who's Who in Gay and Lesbian History: From Antiquity to the Mid-Twentieth Century
Who's Who in Gay and Lesbian History: From Antiquity to the Mid-Twentieth Century is a comprehensive and fascinating survey of the key figures in gay and lesbian history from classical times to the mid-twentieth century. Among those included are:
* Classical heroes - Achilles; Aeneas; Ganymede
* Literary giants - Sappho; Christopher Marlowe; Arthur Rimbaud; Oscar Wilde
* Royalty and politicians - Edward II; King James I; Horace Walpole; Michel de Montaigne.
Over the course of some 500 entries, expert contributors provide a complete and vivid picture of gay and lesbian life in the Western world throughout the ages.
A History of Homosexuality in Europe: Berlin, London, Paris 1919-1939, Vol. I & II combined by Florence Tamagne
Paperback: 490 pages
Publisher: Algora Publishing (February 2, 2004)
Amazon: A History of Homosexuality in Europe: Berlin, London, Paris 1919-1939
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