L’Une de nous, 1910
Jean Barois, 1913 (English translation, 1949)
Les Thibault, 1922-1940 (collective title for the following 8 novels
The World of the Thibaults, collective title for The Thibaults, 1939, parts 1-6, and Summer 1914, 1941, parts 7- 8)
Le Cahier gris, 1922
Le Pénitencier, 1922
La Belle Saison, 1923
La Consultation, 1928
La Sorellina, 1928
La Mort du père, 1929
L’Été 1914, 1936
Lieutenant-Colonel de Maumort, 1983 (English translation, 1999)
Confidence africaine, 1931 (English translation, 1983)
Vieille France, 1933 (The Postman, 1954)
Le Testament du père Leleu, pr. 1914
La Gonfle, pb. 1928
Un Taciturne, pb. 1932
Notes sur André Gide, 1951 (Recollections of André Gide, 1953)
Correspondance, 1913-1951, 1968
Œuvres complètes, 1955 (2 volumes)
Roger Martin du Gard (mahr-tan dew gahr) achieved his reputation as a novelist with the publication of Jean Barois in 1913. After World War I, during which he served in the motor transport division, he undertook his magnum opus, The Thibaults, the first volumes of which came out in the early 1920’s and the eighth and last, called simply Épilogue, in 1940. In recognition of his performance in this cyclical work, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1937.
Roger Martin du Gard
Martin du Gard was born in 1881 into an established, well-to-do Catholic family of lawyers and magistrates. He made this same bourgeois class the subject of his novels, and even though his theme is revolt and disintegration, he seems to have inherited from his background the qualities for which he is most often praised: integrity, solidity, and sense. He was educated at the best schools in Paris, and in 1906 he received from the École de Chartres the advanced degree of archivist-paleographer.
His scholarly temperament is evident in his fiction; his friend André Gide remarked that Martin du Gard was interested in general laws of behavior rather than in exceptional cases and that he envied him his obstinate patience in pursuing his goal. In his Nobel Prize speech Martin du Gard referred to himself as an “investigator as objective as is humanly possible.” In his fiction he strives for and achieves an almost photographic fidelity, especially notable in his dialogue, and the virtual elimination of a personal style.
His work in many ways invites comparison with the scientific naturalistic novel of the late nineteenth century, except that Martin du Gard is less committed to a thesis than Émile Zola, for example, and more interested in family situations and the ideological and psychological conflicts in the minds of his characters than in the broad economic organization of society. His work would perhaps be more comparable to the Edwardian family saga except for its rigidly analytic and unsentimental tone. Jean Barois describes a young man torn between the religious view of life which was implanted in him and the scientific view to which he is drawn.
The problem is carried further in The World of the Thibaults, which presents a full portrait of a French family (and a large segment of French society besides) between the years 1903 and 1914: the father, successful, autocratic, moralistic, insensitive, and his two sons who try but ultimately fail to come to terms with their powerful bourgeois indoctrination. Antoine, the elder, compromises; he tries to save what he can of the old values and becomes a doctor. The younger, Jacques, sets himself in complete revolt as a writer and a socialist. Gide commented that Martin du Gard put most of himself into Antoine and implied that his interest in Jacques was part of the author’s “extraordinary and anxious desire to acquire certain qualities that are quite opposed to his nature, mystery, shadow and strangeness.” It is Antoine who debates his position with an old abbé because he cannot rationalize the contradictions in his nature to his satisfaction. The author withholds judgment in this struggle.
Martin du Gard was also a successful playwright. Two farces, Le Testament du père Leleu and La Gonfle, which are excellent descriptions of peasant mentality and language, were produced for Jacques Copeau at the Vieux Colombier. A third play, Un Taciturne, deals impartially (as do The Postman and several other lesser works) with sexual fetishes.
During World War I, as he had done during most of his life, Martin du Gard lived quietly, for the most part in the country, indifferent to interviews, public appearances, or polemics. In 1951 he published some brief recollections of Gide.