Léautaud and literary life in France

A subject which, when the German armies advanced through France rapidly approaching the capital, did not lament the tragedy, the deaths and the humiliation, but how annoying it was that the voices of the radio came out of all the open windows, spoiling the pleasant silence of the districts of Paris…

It was a business, a character, a style and the spokesperson for a thesis on autobiographical writing interesting but wrong Paul Leautaud (1872-1956).

It is curious that the 150th anniversary of his birth has gone so unnoticed, not here but in France, because until now he had a well-established, well-defined reputation, thanks to the almost 6,400 pages of his literary journal: close testimony, from the point of view of his employment in the magazine The Mercury of Francewhere the greatest writers of his time passed, and where he met and treated Apollinaire, Valery, Gideand other figures of saints, from French literary life.

It will be sounds old, or that his voice is too hostile? Ribeyro says in his own diaries, The temptation to failthat “one should read every morning, before starting the day, some pages of Paul Léautaud’s diaryin order to face life without pretension, emphasis or illusion“. Ok, but are there many people who are interested in life project so ashen? I would say no. And I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. On the other hand, many people start the day in such a sad state of mind, that is to say “without pretensions, without bombast or illusion”, and do not need, to access it, the help reading Léautaud.

Working at the Mercure de France

Whose materialism and disbelief are so crude and damning that, in fact, after a few pages one continues to read it in complex mood, a mixture of fascination – for the richness of the anecdotes, for the exceptional character of his character, for his impudence and his sincerity without calculation or human respect, for the speed of his style – and of dread and repulsion. arrive with these newspapers something similar to what happens with Houellebecq’s novels.

Writer and theater critic Paul Léautaud, forgotten, but literary reference in France / WIKIPEDIA

During the last years of his life, Léautaud had published fragments of the Daily in literary journals (Gide too) but arranged for only the complete editions to be printed posthumously. or all or nothing.

Naturally, his will was not respected, because on the other side of the Pyrenees, as on this side, the principle that “the dead in the hole, and the living in the bun” prevails. The publisher of the Mercure de France, where he worked for 45 years, until its last director, Jacques Bernardfired him “for the pleasure of never seeing him again”, published a very balanced anthology a few decades ago, work by Pascal Pia, and covering a thousand pages, more than enough to get an idea of ​​the style and personality of the eccentric writer. In Spanish it was published by Fuentetaja, while Seix Barral published the thin Personal diarywho, due to his distinctly psychotic nature, himself broke down from the literary journal.

write in one go

Léautaud worked like this: he spent the day at the Mercure, but with frequent outings to pick up from the surrounding porters, managed by accomplice concierges, stale bread and other food and leftovers for your cats. When she had interesting meetings and conversations with visiting men of letters in the newsroom, she took notes as they went, in her office.

Then in the evening he returned to Fontenay-aux-Roses, a town near Paris where he rented a house with a neglected garden, which he did not take care of but which he needed for the animals, and by the light of two candles he wrote the Journal: disdainful of all the arabesques and embellishments he made following the example of the impromptu speed of Stendhal, because “in writing, only counts what is written in one go”. It seemed to him dishonest to go after the fact to modify or qualify what was written, and he maintained that the main value of a newspaper was that of veracity, and the immediacy of the facts. Huge mistake, though entirely consistent with the greedy poverty of his character and lifestyle. Huge error, because it is not to understand the artifice character of literature, where confessional sincerity and righteousness are a very relative value. This is why it is superior to that of Léautaud a Diary as correct as that of Renard or as modified as that of Junior.

Léautaud cared little about pomp and luxury, he organized his life to devote himself to literature, that of others and his own, he always earned very little money, he could feed himself for weeks on bread and cheese , he wore clothes that they gave away, he looked like a ragged beggar, he physically stank because of his coexistence with many cats, with whom he also shared the bed…

Living memory of Parisian literary life

“I only lived to write. I felt, saw, understood things and people just to write. I preferred that to material satisfaction, than easy reputations. Several times I even sacrificed the pleasure of the moment, and even the happiness of certain beings, to write what I liked to write. All this gave me deep joy.

Léautaud was an eccentric conservative, he did not like the modern world and, above all, certain inventions such as radio sets, as we have underlined above. Paradoxically, he owes his fame, belated, because it reached him around the age of eighty, on the radio.

A living memory of Parisian literary life, he was invited in the 1950s to a series of 28 interviews on French national radio. I was driving the conversations Robert Mallett, a very formal and somewhat solemn speaker, in the manner of Soler Serrano, whose pomp deliciously contradicted the uninhibited, mischievous and mischievous discourse of Léautaud. These talks were a huge success, his books and magazines were put back into circulation, he made a lot of money for the first time in his life. It’s now been 150 years since he was born and hardly anyone remembers him. Knowing that, according to the legend, his last words were “Leave me alone”, it is conceivable that, if the following generations wanted to please him, wherever he is, it won’t look bad.

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