Les plus grands du XXième?

Yesterday, Libération ran a paper about the “greatest” French writers of the XXth century, with opinions from literature professors and publishers, but a lack of clear contenders except for one name. Indeed, the top writer is Marcel Proust, whose À la Recherche du Temps Perdu I find incredibly boring and passé (I would have even gone as far as classify him as a XIXth century writer!). Then comes Louis-Ferdinand Céline, who would have been the first on my list, for both his novels Au Bout de la Nuit et Mort à Crédit, much more into the XXth century (than Proust’s) with their rendering of the loss of values induced by WWI. His later novels and his collaborationist attitude during WWWII are paradoxically representative of a lot of XXth century writers who could not separate their novels from the political maelstroms of the times. Which is also why I would (surprisingly?) rank André Malraux as second on my list, for Les Conquérants, La Voie Royale, La Condition Humaine, and even more L’Espoir, which I read and re-read as a teenager for its intense depiction of the Spanish Civil War. The 1957 Nobel Prize Marcel Camus is hardly mentioned, despite La Peste and L’Etranger being other emblematic novels of the past century. Funny enough, there is no debate around Jean-Paul Sartre, which makes sense since I consider him to be a very poor writer, even though he got (and refused) the Nobel Prize in literature in 1964. There is actually no definitve list nor ranking in Libération, the main argument being that Proust’s stature is dwarfing all the other writers and another one being that the greatest XXth century writers were not French, which is true in my opinion, except for Céline, if you think of Joyce, Faulkner, Conrad, Greene, Kawabata, Marques, Wood, Mann, Singer, Zweig, Borgés, and many others. Now, quite obviously, ranking does not really make sense in terms of enjoying books!

3 Responses to “Les plus grands du XXième?”

  1. […] Voyage au bout de la Nuit, also discussed in that earlier post, which is for me the most impressive French novel of the xxth century, inventing a new style and […]

  2. Anthony Says:

    You probably meant “L’espoir” instead of “La condition Humaine” as the latter did not have much to do with the Spanish civil war;-)

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