Émigré New York: French Intellectuals in Wartime Manhattan, 1940-1944

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Émigré New York: French Intellectuals in Wartime Manhattan, 1940-1944

By Jeffrey Mehlman
Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000
214 pp. $38.00

This book is neither a history of French émigrés in New York during the war years nor a study of the factions that developed among them. Instead, the author compares the French exiles to the aristocratic émigrés of the French Revolution and describes in a series of essays such distinguished figures as the poets Maurice Maeterlinck and Saint-John Perse, the novelist Antoine de Saint-Exupery, the philosophers Denis de Rougemont and Simone Weil, the anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss, and the historian Louis Rougier. Mehlman, a professor of literature, is interested both in the attitudes of these personalities toward Vichy and de Gaulle and in their wartime works -- however esoteric -- in light of the traumatic events that were devastating France and the world. His interpretation is subtle, erudite, and often humorous. Previous attempts by literature professors to tackle culture have not always resulted in works as mind-stretching and entertaining as this account, which ranges from an analysis of a few verses of Racine's Berenice to a coda on the story of the sinking of the great liner Normandie in the New York harbor.

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