3 OCTOBER 1952, Page 30

Claude! and Gide

The Correspondence. Paul Claudel and Andre Gide. Translated by John Russell. (Seeker & Warburg. 25s.) IN 1947 M. Paul Claude!, aged 77, gave an interview to Combat. He talked about Andre Gide, then 78. " I don't think he has any talent at all," Claudel said. " What I still can't understand is his influence. From the artistic and intellectual point of view, Gide is nothing ... (He) gives way to easy temptation, to so-called natural needs .... He offers an appalling example of cowardice and weakness .... His Journal is one long series of poses in front of himself ... a monument of insincerity."

Claudel added : " I had a lot to do with Gide once." He had ; and the letters they wrote to each other between 1899 and 1926 have found their way into print, first in Figaro, then in book-form, and i now in a masterly English translation by Mr. John Russell. Claudel and Gide were friends in a sense more French than English, but their social tie was not simply a formal one. In the beginning it Was Claudel who was eager for friendship, and he wrote more letters to Gide than Gide wrote to him. " I was a bit too concerned to defend myself," Gide. confided to his Journal (in 1905), " and only half responded to his advances." He described Claude! as " look- ing like a sledge-hammer ; not very high forehead, but rather wide ; face without subtlety as if chiselled out ; a bull neck." Even in the Middle of their correspondence (in 1912) Gide wrote, " I wish I had never known Claudel."

But there it was ; and here the letters are. Often Claudel and Gide corresponded as fellow-men of letters, exchanging news and Views about books (and these I think are the most interesting letters). Claude], as a diplomatist abroad, relied on Gide for advice in dealing With publishers and translators. He sought Gide 's help in warding off theatrical managers (" I have never written with the stage in Mind. 1 never go to the theatre and know nothing of its require- Ments ") and in making a spirited stand for accurate printing. In 1911, for example, Claudel was so insistent on having the circumflex accent over the " U " in the capital form of Cotifontaine that his Publishers had to telegraph to a foundry in London and have the letter specially made. Sometimes he, seems obsessed with misprints. (His present English publishers might, knowing this, have been more careful.) He is yet more obsessed with religion. Many of these letters were Written in the hope of converting Gide to Rome. They are not the best. For so excellent a poet, Claudel appears as an astonishingly crude evangelist. Gide called him a " solidified cyclone," and there were times when his proselytising ardour caused Claudel's Very mastery of French to falter. Gide's letters are always tranquil and composed ; it is he, and not Claudel, whose approach is diplo- Mat ic.

For a time the correspondents essayed the ,rilles of penitent and Confessor. This was disastrous, partly because Gide was not repent- ant, and partly because Claudel would not hear what he did not Want to hear. When, in 1914, Claudel was finally compelled to take cognizance of Gide's homosexuality, their correspondence came to a standstill. Claudel wrote again, briefly, in 1919, and Gide noted in his Journal in October, 1923 : " A beautiful letter from Claude] ... has Moved me very much." Three years later Claudel wrote to urge, more eloquently than he had once done, the merits of conversion. Once more he failed. Apparently he did not write again. He gave up hope. " Gide," he told the Combat reporter, " is a poisoner, and I am not speaking lightly ...1 combat his influence with every weapon