Henry de Montherlant (1896-1972) was born and raised in Neuilly, outside of Paris. Montherlant’s father, who boasted of his connection to the aristocracy, was a rock-ribbed reactionary; his mother spent years in bed; both parents doted on their son. Expelled from high school for homosexual activity, Montherlant studied law briefly, enlisted in the army, and was wounded in World War I. His first novel, The Dream (1922), was a paean to the camaraderie of warriors, and several subsequent works were written in a similar vein. However, in The Bachelors (1934) Montherlant discovered a new interest in the aberrations of human behavior and psychology, and developed his mature voice: sardonic, bemused, without hint of consolation. The Bachelors won the Grand Prix of the French Academy and was followed by four novels that were collected as The Girls (1936–39), one of Montherlant’s major achievements and an international best seller. During World War II , Montherlant remained in occupied Paris and wrote scathingly in right-wing journals about the fallen Third Republic, leading to later charges of collaborationism. He also turned from fiction to drama, rapidly making a name as one of France’s finest playwrights. In 1960, Montherlant was elected a member of the Académie Française. In 1972, after years of worsening health, he committed suicide.
Don Celestino, an old anarchist still bitter about the Spanish civil war, reluctantly returns to Spain after decades of exile in France. But instead of the heroic confrontation with the past he hopes for, he finds a relentlessly modern and commercialized country, one utterly unconcerned with its history.