*Nouvelle Revue Française
Nouvelle Revue Française
French periodical, 1908–14, 1919–43, 1953–
The Nouvelle Revue Française (New French review) began publishing at the end of 1908, at first as a literary review, though its character changed radically as its editorial policy and contents became politicized in the 19305. The dominating mind behind the foundation, the early aims, and the editorial policy of the NRF was that of Andre Gide, a leading member of the avant-garde who, like the painters surrounding Picasso at the same time, had in the early years of the 20th century turned away from the cultural movement we know as symbolism. The prepublication announcement of the NRF said that it aspired to be the review of the generation “which immediately followed symbolism.” It was to take the position once held by the Mercure de France (Mercury of France) and the Natanson brothers’ Revue Blanche (White review). Gide had published in the symbolist L’Ermitage (The hermitage) and in the Revue Blanche, and had been literary editor for the latter for six months. He had introduced his brother-in-law, Marcel Drouin, to both reviews, and had come to know his Belgian admirer André Ruyters and the writer Henri Ghéon. This quartet formed the core of the founding group of the Nouvelle Revue Française, soon enlarged to form a sextet with Jean Schlumberger and Jacques Copeau.
This group had practically taken over the Belgian periodical Antée when Gide’s play Le Roi Candaule (King Candaules) failed after one performance in Berlin; at the same time, Antée nearly merged with the still symbolist La Phalange (The phalanx). The group, by now regarding itself as Gide’s team, began planning its review, and the first number was published in November 1908. Gide objected to two of the articles and to the way his own “Notes” had been treated, wanting the review to reflect a corporate view, while some of the others preferred to make it a forum for debate. The editorial group split on the issue, broke up, and a new group, consisting only of Gide, Schlumberger, and Copeau, announced a second number for 1 February 1909. The series ran for 68 numbers until interrupted by World War I, a new series beginning with no. 69 on 1 June 1919.
The title of the new review was deliberately nationalistic, as the prevailing fashion demanded. Recently founded titles had included the daily version of L’Action Française (French action) and La Patrie Française (French homeland). Memories of the Franco- Prussian war were still vivid, and the Dreyfus affair, like the strong alliance of radical socialism with nationalism in Charles Péguy, testified to the strength of nationalist feeling in France. The price of the review was fixed sufficiently high to enable it to accommodate longer pieces. The chief editorial problems it faced concerned the difficulty of finding sufficiently brief texts of high literary quality, and Gide’s meticulous perfectionism, leading to fastidiousness with proofs and frequently late submission of material. The first three numbers contained in three parts Gide’s first undoubted masterpiece, La Porte étroite (Strait Is the Gate), perhaps best described as a novella. It was shot through with delicate inlays of irony and refined psychological nuance, with multiple references to the intricacies of intellectual debate in France during the century’s first decade.
Schlumberger’s essay “Considérations” in the first number tried hard to reconcile the intention not to let the review become the mouthpiece of a coterie with the desire to make it the product of the “strong unity of a group.” The review was largely apolitical, but liberally pro-Dreyfus, while, like Péguy, remaining patriotic. Serious work inspired by Catholic conviction did not prevent the attempt to insulate aesthetic from moral values.
The keynote was the liberal, civilized treatment of all serious literature, philosophy, and cultural attitudes, although the review has been criticized for not noticing what was occurring in the political world or in the world of the visual arts, and for not noticeably encouraging new nonliterary talent. It did indeed miss the revolution in painting occurring in Montmartre, the strong anti-symbolist reaction in all the arts, and the impact of Sergei Diaghilev on French culture. It was Le Figaro which published the futurist manifesto.
The NRF prospered, and founded its own in-house publishing company, largely to insure the availability of offprints. Issues quickly reached 185 pages, and the publishing house, at first known by the NRF initials, became in 1911 “Éditions Gallimard” when the review’s publishing committee sold out to its publishing manager. The review adapted well to France’s cultural life in the 1920s. It sponsored the Pontigny literary workshops of Paul Desjardins, and helped Copeau, who was training the great actor-producers Louis Jouvet and Charles Dullin at the Vieux-Colombier. After World War I Gide, still the guiding figure, began to hand over the review’s direction to Jacques Riviere, and its writers came to include Louis Aragon, Andre Breton, Marcel Jouhandeau, François Mauriac, Paul Morand, and, briefly, Marcel Proust.
During the 1930s the major cultural constraint acting on French intellectuals was the apparent choice in Europe between fascism, as it had appeared in Hitler’s Germany, Mussolini’s Italy, and Franco’s Spain, and the communism which took its inspiration from the Russian Revolution. The NRP, necessarily reflecting the need for France to choose between the conflicting ideologies which might pull the European economies out of their depression, gradually became more important for its famous chronicle of cultural events in France than for its prose writing. Jean Paulhan, director from 1935, nevertheless continued to find and publish work during that period from the best of France’s available literary talent.
The NRF ceased publication in June 1940, the month in which Paris was taken by German troops. It was reopened under the editorship of the pro-Nazi Pierre-Eugène Drieu la Rochelle in November 1940, but drifted too far toward an admiration for Stalinist communism to please the occupying authorities, and was discontinued in June 1943. By that date few of its former authors were willing to be published in its pages, and Drieu la Rochelle, eventually to commit suicide, had become disillusioned by Hitler. However, in 1953 the NRF began publication once more, under the title La Nouvelle Nouvelle Revue Française (the clumsy second Nouvelle was eventually dropped), edited by Paulhan and the journalist and critic Marcel Arland. Since then it has continued to attempt to maintain high standards and to serve as the barometer of French culture.
L’Esprit NRF: 1908–1940 (selections), edited by Pierre Hebey, Paris: Gallimard, 1990
La Nouvelle Revue Francaise: Études et travaux, edited by Claude Martin, Lyons: University of Lyons II Center for Gide Studies, 9 vols., 1975– (in progress)
Angles, Auguste, André Gide et le premier groupe de la “Nouvelle Revue Française”, Paris: Gallimard, 3 vols., 1978–86
Cabanis, José, Dieu et la “Nouvelle Revue Française”: 1909–1949, Paris: Gallimard, 1994
Cornick, Martyn, Intellectuals in History: The “Nouvelle Revue Française” Under Jean Paulhan, 1925–1940, Amsterdam and Atlanta: Rodopi, 1995
Hebey, Pierre, La NRF des années sombres: Juin 1940-juin 1941, des intellectuels à la dérive, Paris: Gallimard, 1992
Lacouture, Jean, Une adolescence du siècle:Jacques Rivière et la “Nouvelle Revue Française”, Paris: Seuil, 1994
Morino, Lina, La “Nouvelle Revue Française” dans l’histoire des lettres, Paris: Gallimard, 1939
Naughton, Helen T., editor, The Critics of the “Nouvelle Revue Française”, L’Esprit Créatur special issue, 14 no. 2 (1974)
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