Home > 20th Century, Classics, French Literature, Gary, Romain, Personal Posts > Romain Gary enters La Pléiade

Romain Gary enters La Pléiade

I wasn’t about to write a billet about Romain Gary entering La Pléiade because, who wants to read another billet about my Gary addiction? And then I stumbled upon Le sens de ma vie in a bookstore, a transcription of an interview he gave to Radio Canada in 1980. I had to read it, now I want to write about La Pléiade and this interview.

On May 16th, Gallimard published the complete works of Romain Gary in their renowned collection La Bibliothèque de La Pléiade, better known as La Pléiade.  It is a very prestigious collection and it’s an honor for an author to “enter la Pléiade”. It’s a literary recognition for a writer’s work, a way to say that his/her books have a significance for the history of literature. The Pléiade catalogue is mostly composed of French writers but it’s also open to foreign authors, in bilingual editions or in French translations. If you want to browse through their catalogue, here’s the link to their website.

Romain Gary was a bit despised by the literary intelligentsia of his time. His French was too unorthodox for the conservative writers and he was Gaullist in a literary world dominated by communist trends. (Think about Sartre) Now, decades after his death, he enters the Pléiade, his books are read in school, always present in any decent bookstore and his pléiade edition makes the news. My favorite bookstore celebrated the event with a special wall display in the store, in addition to a full display in the shop window.

And near the cash register, I found Le sens de ma vie (The meaning of my life), an interview recorded a few months before Romain Gary killed himself. He comes back to the major times of his life, his youth and his mother, his time in the army during WWI, his time as a French diplomat and his time with the cinema industry. He started to write when he was nine and kept writing until he died. Books, writing and literature were his life companions. I didn’t discover anything major in this interview but it’s interesting to see what he puts forward and considers as worth mentioning.

In the last part, Le sens de ma vie, he closes the interview with his legacy:

Je trouve que c’est ce que j’ai fait de plus valable dans ma vie, c’est d’introduire dans tous mes livres, dans tout ce que j’ai écrit, cette passion de la féminité soit dans son incarnation charnelle et affective de la femme, soit dans son incarnation philosophique de l’éloge et de la défense de la faiblesse car les droits de l’homme ce n’est pas autre chose que la défense du droit à la faiblesse.

I think that the most valuable thing I did in my life was to include in all my books, in all my writing, my passion for femininity, either in its flesh-and-blood version – a woman or in its philosophical incarnation through the praise and defense of weakness, because human rights are nothing else than fighting for the right to be weak.

He believes that weakness is a strength because since you can’t rely on your force (muscles or power), you have to be inventive. He also thinks that tenderness, compassion and love are feminine values and virtues but he doesn’t mean that only women have them. I’m not sure that the feminine tag is necessary here but I respect his idea of promoting soft power against blind force.

He also talks about humor as a powerful knife against the crushing realities of life. I have mentioned this before because it is the heart of Gary’s work and a reader can’t understand his literature without having this key. He mentions the gentlemanly sense of humor of the British and has words for the powerful, virulent and tragic American humor of the Jewish NY literary movement. He refers to Saul Bellow, Singer and Malamud, writers I want to read too. And he mentions Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth and I thought “Ha! I knew it! He had to love Roth” Each time I read Roth I feel a kinship with Gary’s work, certainly coming from their common Jewish background. They both use humor as a self-defense knife and I wish Gary had been alive to read Exit Ghost.

Coming back to La Pléiade: it is extremely rare that a living author is published in La Pléiade. And yet, Philip Roth entered this collection on September, 12, 2017. He died on May 22nd, 2018 almost a year before Gary joined him in this literary temple.

PS: For family and friends who read this billet, here’s a last quote:

Je me retrouve donc au lycée de Nice, je continue mes études, je fais du sport, beaucoup de sport, presque professionnel de tennis de table, j’étais devenu champion junior de la Côte d’Azur où j’étais payé, parce que nous n’avions pas un sou pour donner des leçons de ping-pong, comme on disait à l’époque, et je pars faire mes études à la faculté de droit d’Aix-en-Provence d’abord, puis à Paris. 

  1. June 9, 2019 at 11:27 am

    That is such a wonderful quote about ‘la défense de la faiblesse’! I was excited when I heard the news about the inclusion in the Pleiade series – long overdue!


    • June 9, 2019 at 11:45 am

      Thanks, I like this quote too.
      And yes, they could have included him in the Pléiade earlier than that.


  2. June 9, 2019 at 8:30 pm

    I found a copy of Les Cerfs-volants (in English translation as The Kites) in a charity bookshop and remembering your posts I grabbed it. It will be the first Gary I read, I’m looking forward to it.


    • June 9, 2019 at 8:53 pm

      Is it the new translation or the old one?
      Les cerfs-volants was published à few months after this interview was done.

      Liked by 1 person

      • June 9, 2019 at 9:04 pm

        Its the 2017 translation.


        • June 9, 2019 at 9:07 pm

          I’ve read it in English and in French at the same time. I thought this translation was good but Lisa hated it. She thought it sounded too American.
          I hope it won’t bother you but since the translator is American, I suppose it’s logical that the spelling is American.
          Ah, yes, last but not least: The Kites is not historical fiction, don’t expect accuracy…

          Liked by 1 person

  3. Vishy
    July 1, 2019 at 7:26 pm

    This is so wonderful, Emma! So happy to know that Romain Gary has entered La Pléiade! Loved your post! Thanks so much for sharing your love for Romain Gary. I read his ‘Promise at Dawn’ after you recommended it and I loved it.


    • July 1, 2019 at 10:04 pm

      It’s wonderful, isn’t it? It’s such a pleasure to see him honoured liked this. He’s still read a lot, and that’s quite a revenge for him. The best ever: readers love him better than writers he used to look up to. (Malraux, Kessel, for example)


      • Vishy
        July 1, 2019 at 11:31 pm

        This is so wonderful, Emma! It is so fascinating that readers love him more than Malraux now! I didn’t know that Gary’s French prose style was unconventional. I remember when I got ‘Promise at Dawn’ a few years back, it was hard to find. There was just one American indie publisher who published the English translation. I discovered recently that it is now available as a Penguin edition with other Gary books. I was so happy to see that!


        • July 3, 2019 at 4:33 am

          He has his way with the French language and at the time, things were more formal.
          Promise at Dawn was made into a film with Charlotte Gainsbourg, perhaps it prompted Penguin to republish it.


          • Vishy
            July 3, 2019 at 1:15 pm

            So nice to know that! Have you seen the film? How is it?


            • July 4, 2019 at 8:34 pm

              I haven’t seen the film, I’m too afraid to be disappointed or angry. I want to keep my own images of the book.


              • Vishy
                July 4, 2019 at 11:09 pm

                Yes, I can understand. Sometimes the film is disappointing, especially if it is the adaptation of a book that we love so much.


  1. June 15, 2019 at 6:11 pm
  2. December 15, 2019 at 1:08 pm

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