In This Review

Mona Lisa's Escort: Andre Malraux and the Reinvention of French Culture
Mona Lisa's Escort: Andre Malraux and the Reinvention of French Culture
By Herman Lebovics
Cornell University Press, 1999, 246 pp

The latest in Lebovics' series of works on French culture, this ambitious book examines Malraux's ten-year reign as cultural minister under de Gaulle, depicting a man who saw culture as the "basis of the French nation acting for all of humankind." Under Malraux's guidance, art was made more accessible to the general public -- but it was a "supply-side" vision of culture that fostered a form of outreach for creating audiences, not active participants. Nevertheless, Lebovics concludes that the French state's role has largely benefited "activities that would not have been possible if the society had had to wait for private benefactors or the recognition of some ancient Academy." He also underscores the state's crucial role in promoting the French language -- even if it means restricting the diffusion of French culture. Regrettably, he does not examine the often misunderstood reasons for France's passionate attachment to its language, that cement of French unity. But he does conclude with a list of ways that French culture can be renewed: francophonie, decentralization, greater cultural democracy, and the proliferation of electronic media. A valuable contribution to our understanding of France and Malraux.