The feline life of André Malraux, a Prime Minister of Culture obsessed with cats

Stephane Berna
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9:19 am, December 29, 2021

It’s 1976. André Malraux, 75, welcomes Claudine Vernier-Palliez, a journalist from The Express. The situation is unprecedented, as the reporter is not there to meet the famous writer, but her cat, which goes by the sweet name of Lustrée, who purrs on her knees. Malraux speaks on his own behalf: “My cats have asked me to be your interpreter for you. It’s a great honor for me. Lustrée has come to hear and explain our conversation to her friend Fourrure, who is from “What a nerve! However, run after the field mice when they feed you by force!”

The journalist asks, “Don’t you eat them?” Malraux replies, “He gives me a present. When he pulls out a field mouse, he meows for five minutes to thank him for this tribute. Then, damn it! He’s gone.” To meditate, he explains. “When I asked General de Gaulle about his faith, he replied with this gesture that, at home, he seemed to run away from flies: ‘Kittens play, cats meditate,'” Malraux concludes. This excerpt from the interview says a lot about the connection that the writer André Malraux had with his cats, and the political power, at the end of his life.

From the sack of Cambodia to the Resistance

But back to the origins. André Malraux, born on November 3, 1901, grew up in Bondy, on the outskirts of Paris, on top of a small grocery store run by his mother and grandmother. She was four years old when her parents divorced. Gradually, his father moved away, rebuilt his life, and the young Malraux took refuge in books: “Most writers I know love his childhood, I hate mine,” he said. late.

At the end of high school, he refused to take the high school exams. Direction Paris where, to survive, he puts his erudite talent at the service of bibliophiles. Malraux also published his first articles in innovative literary journals and became acquainted with the artistic avant-garde, from Jean Cocteau to Pablo Picasso. The young man creates the character of a dandy, a cigarette in the corner of his beak, a wick behind and an impressive blow.

In 1921 he married Clara Goldschmidt, a young and intelligent heiress whose fortune he quickly squandered. André then marched on Cambodia, under French protectorate, with the aim of looting some Khmer statues to resell to wealthy Americans. This trip caused him some problems with the law but above all it opened him up to politics by making him discover the injustice of the colonial world.

On his return to France in 1924, Malraux became passionate about communism. The Chinese Civil War and the terrible massacres of young Communist Party activists inspired his novel. The human condition for which he won the Goncourt Prize in 1933. Hopehis other great work was born four years later, this time inspired by his own participation in the Spanish Civil War, alongside the Republicans.

After a few months of respite, Malraux is at war again: France comes into conflict with Germany. Joining the Resistance in 1944, André Malraux is almost trapped while on a mission, betrayed by a cat who persists in following him! “His presence intrigued the Germans, who had not seen me. He almost caught me,” he said in an interview.

The Cats, De Gaulle and the Rewriting of History

At the end of World War II, Malraux met with General De Gaulle, who appointed him Minister of Information, Minister of Radio, Television, and Press the following year, and Minister of Culture in 1950. extraordinary intelligence and energy, the two men have in common that they love cats.

Imagine Malraux telling one of his favorite jokes to General de Gaulle after a council meeting: “Next to the fire was an old Englishman, his wife, and his black cat. The cat stayed. looking at the man and saying, “Your wife is cheating on you.” The Englishman, bitterly, draws his weapon and kills his wife. lied “.

Always with De Gaulle, Malraux reinvents the history of France for the benefit of cats. The writer develops a very original theory about the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, won by the English against the French. At that time, according to Malraux, Europe was crossed by huge bands of rats. The English army had the idea, to protect themselves from this, to form cat captaincies. Therefore, the rats would have gone to break the rope of the French bows. Therefore, the French soldiers fighting in Agincourt would have been defeated by the cats.

Under the V Republic, André Malraux was appointed Minister of Cultural Affairs. He is especially responsible for the preservation of the French architectural heritage. Too bad, as he does not hesitate to cut caterpillars at the historic gates of the Château de Vilmorin where he lives. Your Furry, Lustery or Wiper-Plume cats should be able to come and go as they please. Because at Chez Malraux, cats have every right. Skin wakes him up at night, lying in a circle on his head or washing himself with a terrible noise.

Cats present even in their memories

The writer’s cats even allow themselves to be judged by his work: “When they come to lie on my papers, mockingly, even if they find that what I write is zero, I balance them with consideration,” he says. Cat stories, Malraux has it slowly. Imagine a secret society of writers’ cats. “They’re abroad. No club, no banquet, not even an academy. It’s not style,” he says.

Baudelaire said that his cats whispered verses to him, we are not far from Malraux, who feels his wings grow under the watchful eye of Fourrure, Lustrée or Essuie-Plume. We can imagine the writer at his desk, leaning over his manuscript cache memory. Scattered on the desk are a pen, a eraser, a few sheets, and, lying down, the Wiper-Plume cat that ensures his name is mentioned in his master’s memoirs. This is really the case.

Cats, André Malraux’s faithful companions, comfort him when in November 1976, suffering from skin cancer, he lived his last moments. A national tribute is paid to him in the square courtyard of the Louvre. For the occasion, in addition to the presence of the President of the Republic, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, the statue of an Egyptian feline is removed from the museum’s collections to guard the memory of André Malraux , an eternal lover of cats. If cats have nine lives, they only have one. But it will have been well filled.

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