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Henry de Montherlant: Les jeunes filles (The Girls)

This four-novel sequence may be one of the most misogynistic works ever written, at least in the last hundred years. It is the story of the successful Pierre Costals, who is clearly based on Montherlant (even though there is a character called Montherlant, who comments on what is going on, through footnotes). Costals uses the women he comes into contact with, not in a brutal way but in an unfeeling, uncaring way. There are three main women he is concerned with – the religious Thérèse Pantevin, Andrée Hacquebaut, whom he is not interested in but strings along and, finally, Solange Dandillot, the former tomboy and still innocent, who really believes that he is going to marry her.

Montherlant uses various forms of writing, partially to show different points of view but also to give varying perspectives, as it is not always clear who is saying what. Letters are the most common form and show the women trying to reach out to him, while all too often he pushes them away. Indeed, as Montherlant makes very clear, many of them remain unanswered. But he also uses conventional narrative, dialogue, essays and authorial comments. However, regardless of style, it is Costals as misogynist that stands out. Vous n’avez jamais eu pour moi que de la pitié. Vous n’avez jamais pour les femmes que du désir, de l’agacement et de la pitié. [You have only ever pitied me. Your only feeling for women is desire, irritation and pity.], Solange says. And he himself says Faire souffrir les femmes, c’est trop facile. Je laisse ça aux gigolos. [Making women suffer is too easy. I leave that to gigolos.]

Of course, not only is he anti-women, he is also anti-marriage and the third book (Le démon du Bien (The Demon of Good; later Costals)) gives a vivid portrait of this. At this time, he looks set to marry Solange. He has good relations with her mother, and frequently takes tea with her. But he is continually looking not only at ways of getting out of marrying Solange but of escaping the marriage once he is married. He consults three lawyers (and gets three different opinions) on how to get an easy divorce. He has a list of numbered excuses for rejecting a woman (No. 174 is that he is gay!). He even tells Solange that divorce is l’acte capital du mariage [the capital act of marriage] and that he hopes their divorce will be celebrated in the same solemn way that their marriage should be celebrated. Of course, they never get married and she marries someone else but, as the epilogue shows, she still maintains her attraction for him. And, at the end he remains an unrepentant and single misogynist.

Publishing history

Four volumes:
Les jeunes filles (The Girls)
First published in French 1936 by Grasset
First English translation in 1968 by Weidenfeld & Nicolson
Pitié pour les femmes (Pity for Women)
First published in French 1936 by Grasset
First English translation in 1937 by George Routledge
Le démon du Bien (The Demon of Good; later Costals)
First published in French 1937 by Grasset
First English translation in 1940 by George Routledge
Les Lépreuses (The Lepers; later The Hippogriff
First published in French 1939 by Grasset
First English translation in 1940 by George Routledge
Translated by Terence Kilmartin