At André Malraux's funeral, in November 1976, two red wreaths were delivered to the cemetery: one came from the French Communist Party, an organisation to which he never belonged, the other from Lasserre, a three-rosette restaurant near the Grand Palais where he had liked to lunch - on his own should company fail. Lasserre had done the honours for a first time to this most bankable of habitués when he was still alive, by adding pigeon André Malraux to its list of entrées, a gesture which inscribed him obliquely in the literary lineage he most aspired to, of writers who had also been men of action: had the name of Chateaubriand, explorer, soldier, politician and Romantic elder, not earlier been incorporated à la carte as a way of doing steak? The posthumous tribute from the PCF on the other hand can hardly have been automatic. Not only had Malraux never come out as a Communist, even in his pro-Soviet days in the 1930s, but after 1945, as he moved, deeply smitten, into the inner circle of General de Gaulle, he had finally said in public the harsh things he had earlier thought but held back from airing about the Stalinist regime to which the PCF had gone on giving its imperturbable support. So was a Party by now on the slide electorally playing the nostalgia card, and showing itself magnanimously prepared to condone his postwar swerve to the Right? Or did it simply not want to be left out as the Fifth Republic assisted at the death of one of its more extraordinary survivors?
LRB 9 August 2001 | PDF Download