Camus is outmanoeuvred

preface-ac

Camus’ name appears prominently on the cover of Salvet’s novel.

Albert Camus had spent the period from April 18 to May 7 1945 in Algeria.  When he returned to his home in the rue Sébastien-Bottin, he found the manuscript of a novel about the French Resistance by André Salvet, together with a letter from the author asking Camus to supply a preface. Camus replied courteously, indicating that he felt such an introduction would not be entirely appropriate.  “J’ai risqué beaucoup moins que votre héros, et ce n’est pas à moi de le présenter.”  He also questioned the desirability of producing any sort of commentary on a novel which should stand alone. “Est-ce à l’écrivain que vous vous adressez?  Mais, dans ce cas, il m’a toujours semblé qu’un livre, surtout lorsqu’il témoigne comme celui-là, devait se présenter seul et sans commentaires.”

Belly band on Liberation.c.356

Belly-band on Liberation.c.356

Despite Camus’ obvious reluctance to associate himself with Le combat silencieux, his reply was immediately seized upon.  The novel was rushed into print later that same month, with Camus’ letter used as a sort of preface and with Camus’ name prominently displayed on the cover.

The Liberation collection has two copies of this book. One, at Liberation.c.356, has a belly-band reading “Fresnes, Compiègne, Le train des déportés… le visage intérieur de l’aventure.” Belly-bands are characteristic of many items in the collection, 33 having been recorded so far in the cataloguing process. Our second copy of Le combat silencieux (Liberation.c.638) was inscribed by the author and presented to his uncle François, Salvet describing his first novel as a “signe des temps incertains”.

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Inscription inside Liberation.c.638.

Despite his efforts to establish a link with Camus, Salvet’s novel got little attention, though in the December 1945 issue of Esprit critic Henri Queffélec gave it a reasonably favourable review. “Quelques aventures de la Résistance présentées au demi-ralenti … On croit y être, et malgré les évidentes faiblesses du découpage et de la lumière, on suit avec passion.” Salvet was not to publish another novel until 1970, but in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s he was to gain far greater success as the lyricist of popular songs performed by famous artistes such as Johnny Hallyday, Yves Montand and Dalida, and including such memorable titles such as Itsy bitsy petit bikini and Twist à Saint-Tropez.  For Charles Trenet he wrote Mourir au printemps, one of the very few Trenet songs which the singer did not compose himself.

David Lowe

 

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