Visiting Malraux and Nabokov

What follows is drawn from the diaries Edmund Wilson kept during the 1950s.


Paris, January 1954—Lunch with André Malraux.1 For this, although feeling rotten and probably with a temperature, I pulled myself together. In the cab on the way there, Elena [Wilson]’s solicitude about me reminded me how little she takes care of herself, how much she devotes herself to other people: she was very soon sicker than I.

He now lives in a large house, rather modern and new, quite far from the center of the city. I thought he was flourishing and happy in a way that he had not seemed when I saw him on my way back from Russia in 1935. The wife that I met then, Clara, is said to have treated him badly, and his present one, the widow of his brother, a very pretty brunette, seemed to both of us attractive and honest. I think that he is relieved, too, to be able to relax from politics, which he had on his mind when I saw him before, and had had constantly and more heavily on his mind ever since—the Spanish war, the Resistance, De Gaulle—and devote himself entirely to writing and art. The Gaullist movement, he said, had been the only chance for France to get a New Deal but De Gaulle had now échoué. The government now was nothing—he worried much, as his wife told us later when she was driving us back to the hotel, about the impotence and nullity, at present, of France; and he told us that France, having had two great periods of world importance, in the Crusades and the Revolution, had no longer at the moment any role in the world, and he had been writing his work on art partly because the one field in which France was still supreme was that of art. The Louvre was the greatest museum in the world. He had just been in the US for three weeks with his wife, only New York and Washington. The Metropolitan was une musée de province—the National Gallery was the great one. I asked him whether he had met [Francis] Taylor2—said that T.’s review of Les Voix du silence [1951] had been idiotic, and he replied with emphasis, Tout à fait idiot!—The trouble was that Taylor couldn’t cope with a work on that niveau. I told him that I thought the preface to the new book on sculpture3 was one of the best things he had written, and he answered that was what he thought himself, it had been something he wanted to say; but nobody read it: they just looked at the pictures. I said that it was impossible to understand the pictures without reading the preface, and he replied, On ne comprend pas.

He has two boys by his present wife, of whom he seems rather proud. I felt on his part a certain satisfaction in living in his large house, in a certain style, and…

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