We do not hear much about Paul Morand at present. Yet between 1921 and 1939 he figured among the leading writers of the day in France. What happened and why? He was the elegant and eloquent spokesman of an age that he and many of his contemporaries believed to be thoroughly rotten, although he somehow excluded himself from the general disintegration. The part played by the myth of decadence (countermyth to that of progress) is central to an understanding of the exemplary fate of Morand.

The assiduous reader of Proust’s roman-fleuve may well have noted the passing allusion to “charming Morand, the delightful author of ‘Clarisse,’” in Le Temps retrouvé. Word of Morand1 s admiration had reached Proust and, late one night in 1915 or 1916, the invalid recluse paid a surprise visit to the young diplomat. Morand soon found himself dining in...


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