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This report is taken from PN Review 94, Volume 20 Number 2, November - December 1993.

Comment C.H. Sisson

It is ten years since I wrote (in PN Review 32) about René Béhaine. I complained that almost no one read him, which so far as I know, is still the case, in France as in England. Certainly his books are not in print, and thousands who take pride in their knowledge of twentieth-century literature have never heard of him; any reader of PNR who is in this category, has a reading knowledge of French, and access to the London Library, should put this right at once. My article said: 'He has the authority and consistency of Kafka, though with a more extended matter and a more resourceful style.' I should still be inclined to name Kafka and Béhaine as probably the two most durable among the novelists of the century.

I found myself lately dipping into Béhaine again, fascinated as usual. The series of some sixteen volumes is - one cannot doubt it - largely autobiographical, and since Béhaine was born in 1880 and died in 1966 this means that the changing society it depicts contains elements which will surprise anyone who came to social consciousness after the First War, to say nothing of the Second. Michel, from a family which has climbed so far out of the provincial petite bourgeoisie that his father is a judge in Paris, marries Catherine, whose mother is a relic of the died-in-the-wool aristocracy (though it is not to be forgotten that in France the term included much of what ...


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