Max Jacob: Lettres ` T. Briant et C. Valence.

Max Jacob, who died in the Nazi camp for jews at Drancy in 1944, lead two lives: as a surrealist poet and Montmartre dandy, and as a religious recluse in a village in the Loire valley. His city life seems to have filled him with feelings of guilt, remorse and disgust of social life. He retired to the country in 1921, and again in 1936, becoming more and more absessed with astrology and catholic mysticism. (He wonders whether they are compatible). These letters reflect the second side of his life. His quietism, revealed in a preoccupation with astrology and occultism, his compliant attitude to authority, and his religious obsession with suffering, humility and guilt (‘a sense of sin is indispensable for any intellectual or moral progress’) seem to have been reinforced by a crushing hopelessness about contemporary events. Taken away to Drancy by the Gestapo, he almost welcomed it as a kind of martyrdom. The tone of abject resignation is not entirely unrelieved—there is humour and irony, and some acute self-observation and insight. The correspondence will be important for a full picture of Max Jacob’s complex personality, and it illuminates the psychology of one kind of withdrawal from contemporary reality.