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Love in France

ISSUE:  Autumn 1929

Climals. By Andre Maurois, Paris: Grassct, 12 francs. Translated from the title Atmosphere of Love. New York: I). Appleton and Company. $2.50.

Paul Souday, caustic French critic, charges his compatriot, Andre Miliums, with opportunism. He lays his popularity with English readers to his choice of subjects. To a certain extent he is right, because with “Ariel” and “Disraeli,” Maurois has reached an English speaking audience he never would have attained with, say, a “Musset” or a “Danton.” But his latest novel, “Climats,” now translated under the title, “Atmosphere of Love,” should meet with a like success, although for vastly different reasons.

“Climats” should be a success because it is a very, very French novel. This, for the benefit of the unenlightened, does not mean immoral. It is a French novel of love; a francophobe or a malicious wit might call it a novel of French love. It is French in that the author has been able to write calmly, dispassionately and freely of subjects taboo in polite Anglo-Saxon company: of love, infidelity, jealousy, and the like. With English and American writers— with Aidons Huxley, for example—the discussion of such subjects is forced and artificial, the result of a studied sophistication. With Maurois and the French it remains natural and easy, the result of an inherent sophistication. There is no enfant terrible in Maurois; there is in Huxley.

The treatment of the theme of “Climats” is at the opposite pole to that Anglo-Saxonism which Maurois characterizes so well when he writes about “un refus de voir et d’accepter la vie telle quelle est; un idlisme de magazine anglo-saÅ“on.” Perhaps it is this very difference which will insure the success of “Climals” in translation. If so, Paid Souday may he right after all. Maurois, knowing his English and American readers, wrote a French novel for them.

“Climats” is written in the form of two confessions, the first by Philippe Marcenat for the purpose of telling his fiancee, Isabelle de Cheverncy, of his marital difficulties with his first wife, and the second, by Isabelle, to tell of her married life with Philippe and to complete his life’s story. Philippe is a bourgeois of good stock, and a true “family man.” A certain vagueness in the character of Odile Malet attracts him, and at the time of their marriage he worships her as a goddess, a mythical and perfect creature. He needs only her company to make him happy, but she is not a bird to be kept in a cage. She loves society, and Philippe’s bourgeois ideas about home life are incomprehensible to her. Her very vagueness comes to be a thorn in his side, because she is never able satisfactorily to account for her actions. She can’t remember whether she went to a concert last Sunday or whether she stayed at home in bed. Philippe, by nature jealous, is all the more miserable because of having nothing tangible to which to attach his jealousy. He succeeds only in making himself unhappy, and finally Odile. Small wonder then, that she falls in love with another man, divorces Philippe, and remarries. But happiness is not for her, and she shortly takes her own life. Philippe, who still loves her, is overwhelmed, but the war breaks out and provides the diversion necessary to the restoration of his mental balance.

In the second part of the novel the res are reversed. Isabelle de Cheverney, whom Philippe marries after the war, demands the same attentions from him that he had demanded from Odile, and with the same results. Philippe tires of her jealousy and seeks consolation elsewhere. His new mistress, however, is capricious, and soon deserts him. Philippe falls seriously ill, but Isabelle nurses him back to health and regains her rightful place in his affections. A new life of love and happiness is promised, based on a new understanding between them, or rather on a new understanding on the part of Isabelle. She knows that Philippe will have other mistresses in the future, but also that he loves her and will always come back to her. “What I have learned of importance in the last year,” she says, “is that, if one truly loves, one must not attach too much importance to the actions of those whom one loves. We need them, and they alone make us live in a certain ‘atmosphere’ (our friend He calls it a ‘climate,’ and justly) out of which we cannot exist. Then, provided we can keep them near us, and hold them, what does the rest matter?”

The problem is difficult. Has Isabelle really learned not to be jealous, or has Philippe been cured of his unfaithfulness, or both? We never know, because after a few months of idyllic happiness, Philippe contracts pneumonia and dies.


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