Les Conquérants, 1928, 1949 (The Conquerors, 1929, 1956)
La Voie royale, 1930 (The Royal Way, 1935)
La Condition humaine, 1933 (Man’s Fate, 1934; also known as Storm in Shanghai and Man’s Estate)
Le Temps du mépris, 1935 (Days of Wrath, 1936; also known as Days of Contempt)
L’Espoir, 1937 (Man’s Hope, 1938; also known as Days of Hope)
Les Noyers de l’Altenburg, 1943 (The Walnut Trees of Altenburg, 1952)
Lunes en papier, 1921
Le Royaume farfelu, 1922, 1928
La Tentation de l’Occident, 1926 (criticism; The Temptation of the West, 1961)
La Psychologie de l’art, 1947-1950 (collective title for the following 3 works
The Psychology of Art, 1949-1950)
Le Musée imaginaire, 1947 (Museum Without Walls, 1949)
La Création artistique, 1949 (The Creative Act, 1949)
La Monnaie de l’absolu, 1950 (The Twilight of the Absolute, 1950; revised as Les Voix du silence, 1951 [The Voices of Silence, 1953])
Saturne: Essai sur Goya, 1950 (Saturn: An Essay on Goya, 1957)
La Statuaire, 1952
Des bas-reliefs aux grottes sacrées, 1954
Le Monde chrétien, 1954 (previous 3 titles collectively known as Le Musée imaginaire de la sculpture mondiale)
Le Surnaturel, 1957
Antimémoires, 1967 (Anti-Memoirs, 1968)
Les Chênes qu’on abat, 1971 (Felled Oaks: Conversation with de Gaulle, 1972)
La Tête d’obsidienne, 1974 (Picasso’s Mask, 1976)
Lazare, 1974 (Lazarus, 1977)
Le Miroir des limbes, 1976 (collective title for Antimémoires, Les Chênes qu’on abat, La Tête d’obsidienne, and Lazare)
La Métamorphose des dieux, 1976 (collective title for Le Surnaturel, L’Irréel, and L’Intemporel; The Metamorphosis of the Gods, 1960)
L’Homme précaire et la littérature, 1977
Œuvres complètes, 1989-1996 (3 volumes)
The French novelist, art theorist, and essayist Georges André Malraux (mahl-roh) was born in Paris to parents who separated a few years after his birth. He was reared by his mother and maternal grandmother, proprietors of a grocer’s shop in suburban Bondy. At the age of seventeen Malraux was on his own in Paris, working as a book dealer and editor and educating himself in literature and the arts. He lived among writers and painters and wrote surrealistic stories.
His life changed in 1923 when he and his wife, Clara, sailed for French Indochina to seek treasure in the ruins of ancient temples. His project succeeded, but he was prosecuted for theft by the colonial administration and barely escaped a prison sentence. Defiant and hostile after this experience, Malraux published an anticolonial newspaper in Saigon and sympathized with the local nationalists and the revolutionaries who were beginning to take action in China. In 1926 he returned to Paris to become an editor at a publishing house and to write novels.
Malraux’s novels, which won him almost immediate acclaim, reflect his developing views not only of politics but also of the human condition in his time. His first three novels are notable for their ideas and their violent actions as well as for brisk, tense narration and pictorial imagery. The Conquerors describes a revolutionary uprising in Canton in 1925. The Royal Way narrates a quest for treasure and power in the Cambodian jungle. The protagonists of these novels are European adventurers somewhat like Malraux himself, strong-willed but solitary, who struggle against their sense of the absurdity of life and the menace of death. They exemplify the collapse of European values after World War I that Malraux had analyzed in his essay The Temptation of the West. New values emerge, however, in Malraux’s third and most famous novel, Man’s Fate, which depicts a failed Communist uprising in Shanghai in 1927. Standing out against the pervasive solitude and anguish of Malraux’s Shanghai are Kyo and his revolutionary comrades, who work together unselfishly and affirm the dignity of all men, even in the face of torture and death.
In the early 1930’s Malraux denounced European Fascism both in speeches and in his fourth novel, Days of Wrath, a portrait of a revolutionary imprisoned by the Nazis. When the Spanish Civil War began in 1936, Malraux joined the anti-Fascist forces, organizing an international air squadron and flying combat missions. His monumental and much praised novel about that war, Man’s Hope, encompasses a great range of action and theme and conveys the fraternity and the belief in man’s possibilities that sustained the Republican cause.
When World War II began in 1939 Malraux joined the French army, was captured by the Germans, and escaped. Later he fought in the French Resistance. His last novel, The Walnut Trees of Altenburg, begun while he was a prisoner, marks a new phase in Malraux’s writing. The novel, a narrative of two turbulent generations of an Alsatian family, is detached and meditative, unlike anything else Malraux had written. It looks beyond politics and war for the “fundamental human being” and for abiding human values, much as Malraux would do in his art criticism.
After the war Malraux served in two governments of General Charles de Gaulle. He was minister of information from 1945 to 1946 and minister for cultural affairs from 1959 to 1969. In these years he wrote extensively about art, which he considered the highest form of human activity. The Voices of Silence, his best-known work on the subject, presents the artist as the exemplar of human freedom, transcending time and place and all forms of “destiny” or determinism. Malraux defines the artist as a defiant conqueror who imposes meaning on absurdity and overcomes death.
In his last decade Malraux wrote several books of reminiscences. In the most elaborate of these, Anti-Memoirs, he tries to express the essence of his life rather than its biographical particulars. He moves by free association through his memories and over passages from his earlier works.
Malraux died in 1976, shortly after his seventy-fifth birthday. His vision of human beings encountering their somber fate with no resources other than intelligence and spirit significantly influenced the French existential writers who followed him.