1968-A Review

Roger Vailland-Author

Life of French author Roger Vailland..

One of this year’s summer reads has been The Sovereigns (1960) by  Roger Vailland. An intriguing book to say the least, a French novel clearly of its time in terms of the depiction of love and the attitudes towards women, and whilst  I have very clear and defined views on equality, I am capable of seeing and reading art and literature and accepting the times and circumstance of their origin. That said, some of the words and actions of Vailland’s central character, an author called Duc, left me feeling distinctly uncomfortable and incredulous that such attitudes could exist, then or now. Duc  has his own idea of romance, he believes women are there to be conquered regardless of their (or his) personal relationship status. The tradition of extra-marital affairs by French men is widely known and seemingly accepted and Duc  relishes in this sense of freedom. Vailland makes it difficult to distinguish who is the more foolish: Duc’s wife or his close friend whose wife Duc yearns for . Both are fully aware of Duc’s intentions and bewilderingly subservient to it.

Anyone with a passing interest in French film of the 1960s will doubtless be familiar with many of the scenes and main thrust of the book, it is heavily male-dominated and reliant on the submissive nature of the female leads and as a result I found myself more invested in the man who wrote it rather than the book itself. Who, then, could write and get a book like this published? Was his leading man a mirror image of the author?

Roger Vailland was born in Oise, France in 1907. He studied philosophy at the École Normale and became involved with the surrealist movement. From 1930 until the Second World War he worked as a journalist for Paris-Soir where he travelled the world, covering many major events and criminal trials. A former  member of the French Communist Party, he joined the French Resistance during the Nazi Occupation of France where he was attached to the underground Gaullist movement in which he specialised inn derailing trains. In 1944 Vailland found himself isolated in a farmhouse, heavily armed but cut off from anyone which prompted him to write his first and widely acclaimed novel about the anti-fascist movement Drôle de Jeu (Playing with Fire)  first published in 1945. His association with the Communist Party would come to an end after witnessing Soviet military aggression during the Hungarian Revolution inn 1956. He became an independent Leftist until his early death aged fifty seven in 1965.

Vailland wrote nine novels, numerous essays and screenplays (including with the legendary Roger Vadim) under the pseudonyms of Georges Omer, Etienne Merpin, Fredéric Roche and Robert François.  Whilst he unsuccessfully rebutted claims his first novel had an autobiographical nature it is difficult to see how his own experiences of the Resistance could not have influenced his writing so could it be his follow-up novel, The Sovereigns  used similar experiences?

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