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Malraux, Georges-André (1901–1976)

Title: Georges-André Malraux
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French writer and cabinet minister, widely celebrated as a twentieth-century Renaissance man. Born in Paris on 3 November 1901, Georges-André Malraux from childhood suffered from Tourette's syndrome. He took courses at the Institute of Oriental Languages but did not graduate. At age twenty he married Clara Goldschmidt, a German Jewish heiress; they divorced in 1946. After their marriage they traveled in Europe and to Cambodia on an archaeological expedition. In Cambodia, Malraux was arrested and sentenced to prison for discovering and then stealing Khmer sculptures. Influential friends won his release.

Fascinated by Asian culture and civilization and already writing literary reviews, Malraux published his first book, Le Temtation de l'Occident (The Temptation of the West, 1926), in which he discussed the meeting and clash of civilizations. Further travel and study in Indochina and China led him to become active in leftist causes such as the Young Annam movement that was pledged to win Indochina dominion status.

A gifted and prolific writer of novels and books on art, Malraux earned lasting literary renown with his book La Condition humaine (Man's Fate, 1933). Much of his writing supported leftist politics, including the demand for an end to colonialism. With the outbreak of civil war in Spain in 1936, he organized an international air unit to aid the republican cause. Although he exaggerated his own role, he was twice wounded in the fighting. His novel about his experiences, L'Espoir (1937, published in English in 1938 as Man's Hope), was soon made into a movie.

At the outbreak of World War II, Malraux became an officer in the French Army. Wounded and captured by the Germans in 1940, he escaped and joined the French Resistance. Taken prisoner again in 1944, he again escaped. He ended the war leading a volunteer brigade and fighting in Alsace and western Germany.

Following the war, Malraux, until this point sympathetic with the communists, denounced alliances with them. Greatly impressed by the role played by great men in history, he became an avid admirer of General Charles de Gaulle, who must have appeared to have been a character from one of his own novels. De Gaulle appointed Malraux his minister of information, but he left office when de Gaulle resigned in January 1946.

Now a committed Gaullist and French nationalist, Malraux was active in the establishment of the Rassemblement du Peuple Franças (RPF, Rally of the French People), which sought the general's return to power. Malraux continued to write. Turning to the history of art and aesthetics, during 1947–1949 he published the three-volume Psychologie de l'art (Psychology of Art). He also spoke out on international issues, and the beginning of the Algerian War in 1954 brought out his deep anticolonialism.

When de Gaulle returned to power in 1958, Malraux joined his cabinet, first as minister of information and then as France's first minister of cultural affairs (1960–1969). He remained in the government until de Gaulle's final resignation in 1969. Malraux used his position to promote the role of the arts in French society and, despite tight budgets, was able to accomplish a great deal. Among his achievements were the cleaning and refurbishment of important Paris monuments.

Following his departure from government, Malraux continued to write. He published his Anti-Mémoires (Anti-Memoirs) in 1967. Malraux died in Paris on 23 November 1976.

Spencer C. Tucker


Further Reading
Lacouture, Jean. André Malraux. New York: Pantheon, 1975.; Lyotard, Jean-François. Signed, Malraux. Translated by Robert Harvey. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999.; Malraux, André. Anti-Memoirs. Translated by Terence Kilmartin, New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1968.; Olivier, Todd. Malraux: A Life. Translated by Joseph West. New York: Knopf, 2005.
 

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