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Born June 30, 1884, in Paris; died Apr. 13, 1966, in Valmondois. French writer; member of the Académie Française from 1935. Of petit bourgeois origin and by education a physician.
Duhamel was one of the founders of the artistic group VAbbaye (1906). He wrote poetry (the collections Legends, Battles, 1907; Companions, 1912), plays (Light, 1911; Combat, 1913), and critical studies (Paul Claudel, 1913; Poets and Poetry, 1914). Duhamel made his poetic debut as an exponent of unanimism. The realistic short stories in The New Book of Martyrs (1917; Russian translation, 1924) and Civilization (1918; Goncourt Prize; Russian translation, 1924) and the ballads in Elegies (1920) condemn World War I (1914-18) from a pacifist standpoint (as does the farce Lapointe and Ropiteau, 1919). He rejected the revolutionary reconstruction of society in the essay “Talks in Chaos” (1919) and defended the “spirit’s independence” of politics.
A duality runs through Duhamel’s work. He severely criticised Nietzschean “saviors” of mankind (the comedy Fellowship of Athletes, 1920), deplored the colonial war in Morocco (his statement in the journal Clarté on July 15, 1925, no. 76), was interested in the building of a new world (the essays Journey to Moscow, 1927), and denounced American “mercenary dictatorship” (the essays America, the Menace, 1930). Nevertheless, Duhamel feared the revolutionary activity of the masses. His cycle of novels Salavin (5 vols., 1920-32) portrays the “little man’s” tragic striving for spiritual self-awareness and social action. As a response to the threat of the standardization of life (the essay “The Humanist and the Automatic,” 1933) and to the spiritual crisis of the West (the essay “The Defense of Literature,” 1937), Duhamel offers only the contemplation of the miracle of life itself (Tales of My Garden, 1936).
Duhamel saw the danger of fascism (Diary of the White War, 1939). His books of notes (French Positions, 1940) and records of war (Place of Refuge, 1940) were burned by the fascist occupiers, whom he strongly condemned in the article “On the Ruins of Morality: Oradour-sur-Glane” (1944). The themes of his realistic series of novels The Chronicle of the Pasquier Family (10 vols., 1933-44) are spiritual oppression, the power of money, and the crisis of bourgeois society. In his novel The Journey of Patrice Périot (1950) he revealed the reactionary demagoguery of the cold war. He is the author of an atomic-age Utopian novel, The Passengers of the “Hope” (1953), and a detective novel, The Théophile Complex (1958). Of note are his memoirs, Lights on My Life (5 vols., 1945-53).
WORKSNouvelles du Sombre empire. Paris, 1960.
In Russian translation:
Teoriia svobodnogo stikha. Moscow, 1920. (With Sh. Vil’drak,)
Polunochnaia ispoved’. Moscow-Petrograd, 1923.
Dvoe. Leningrad, 1925.
Dnevnik Salavena. Moscow-Leningrad, 1927.
“Ballada o soldatskoi smerti.” In Sovremennaia revoliutsionnaia poeziia Zapada. With a foreword by A. V. Lunacharskii. Moscow, 1930.
REFERENCESIstoriia frantsuzskoi literatury, vol. 4. Moscow, 1963.
Maurois, A. “Georges Duhamel.” A la page, 1966, no. 28.
Georges Duhamel, 1884-1966. [Paris] 1967. (Includes bibliography.)
V. P. BALASHOV