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  • Correspondance 1925-1944: 'nos relations sont étranges' by Pierre Drieu La Rochelle, Jean Paulhan
  • Martyn Cornick
Pierre Drieu La Rochelle et Jean Paulhan, Correspondance 1925-1944: 'nos relations sont étranges'. Édition établie, introduite et annotée par Hélène Baty-Delalande. Paris: Claire Paulhan, 2017. 351 pp., ill.

This handsome edition brings together all the known letters between Jean Paulhan and Pierre Drieu La Rochelle, both of whom were directors of the Nouvelle Revue française (NRF). Many of the letters have appeared elsewhere, yet much effort has been expended to assemble and contextualize a correspondance croisée — despite the loss in a fire of all bar one of Paulhan's missives dating from before 1939; several of Drieu's replies from the early Occupation also went astray. That said, it is useful to have the whole set in one place, and enhanced by the addition of pertinent extracts, documents, and photographs. The tone of the exchange is rarely friendly; the subtitle — 'nos relations sont étranges' — is apt indeed: Paulhan did not hold Drieu's work in high esteem, and Drieu treated his correspondent with a mix of forced admiration and enmity. Evidently, many letters are messages following up on conversations between the two writers, when, after 1940, they had adjoining offices at Gallimard. Some of Drieu's — whose brevity and tone conform to a received view of him as a nonchalant — show how he thought off the cuff, aphoristically, reflecting his outlook: 'nul mieux qu'une femme n'accuse le côté conservateur et cassant d'une pensée' (p. 91); or, again, 'l'amitié est un sentiment pareil à l'amour, qui ne vous fait faire que des sottises' (p. 267). Some of the longer letters reflect the acidic state of affairs between them, such as those from between February and June 1940, when Drieu ended up resigning in high dudgeon, accusing Paulhan of opening the NRF to writers — Louis Aragon and Elsa Triolet — who were avowed Communists, and therefore the servants of Moscow. Drieu noted: 'Il y a longtemps que je pense que la NRF ne peut à la fois indiquer une ligne politique et se présenter comme un lieu de rencontre des littératures de droite et de gauche' (p. 135). For Paulhan, this apparent dichotomy was the NRF's very raison d'être. After the fall of France, following discussions with Otto Abetz, Hitler's ambassador, the baton passed to Drieu when Paulhan was sidelined because of his pre-war anti-Nazi line, including its noted opposition to the Munich agreements. Moreover, Paulhan felt he could no longer direct the review when the Jewish writers he had long supported were excluded as a consequence of Vichy's anti-Jewish statutes. However, Paulhan remained close to the review and to Gaston Gallimard, pulling strings, working in the wings, helping Drieu keep the review afloat in the face of falling contributions and paper shortages. In the end, Drieu, for all his intense distaste for what Paulhan represented — essentially the decadent République des professeurs — remained loyal, to the point of intervening with the German authorities when Paulhan was held for a week in the Santé prison in May 1941. This book is, finally, a story of irreconcilables, of how men inhabit ideologies under duress: Drieu's situation was resolved only by his suicide in March 1945. [End Page 627]

Martyn Cornick
University of Birmingham


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