Obituary: Pierre Andre-May

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The Independent Culture
THE IMPORTANT role of the "little" magazine in 20th-century literature is exemplified by the French journal Intentions, whose founder, editor and owner was Pierre Andre-May.

Intentions only existed for three years, between 1922 and 1924, but in 30 issues published an extraordinary range of talent and encouraged a whole generation of younger writers. This was all the more remarkable as Andre-May was in his early twenties, had never been involved in publishing and created and sustained Intentions entirely by himself, soliciting, selecting, editing and printing everything that appeared in its pages.

Publishing was, however, in his blood. His maternal grandfather was editor of Moniteur de la Mode and his father, a doctor, was director of the Journal de Medecine. Pierre Andre-May was born in Paris in 1901 and grew up between his parents' apartment there and their Petit Chateau de Blanchefort in the Nievre. At this chateau, Andre-May, an only child, developed his obsession with literature and theatre. As he later wrote, "I spent the time of my adolescence in too large a solitude." After Lycee Carnot he began law studies to please his father, who offered him the chance to start his own publication as a reward for doing well in his exams.

His father put his own printer at Andre-May's disposal and gave him financial backing for the entire undertaking. Andre-May was already an habitue of the famous Parisian bookshop Maison des Amis des Livres run by Adrienne Monnier in the rue de l'Odeon. Monnier and her shop were central to Andre-May's enterprise and it was thanks to her recommendation that he secured contributions from many major writers.

The first issue of Intentions was distributed on 2 January 1922. With its elegant grey covers and deep black typeface, it was noted for its design as well as its editorial statement. Andre-May wanted to re- establish the "cult of veneration" and pay humble homage to many living great "masters". This was an intelligent position in keeping with the journal's taste for "classicisme moderne" rather than radical avant-gardism and though only a modest 32 pages, the first issue garnered attention and praise.

Andre-May ran the entire business from his parents' apartment, where he was "At Home" every Saturday between four and six to receive potential collaborators, and he continued to live there for much of his life. Marcel Proust was one of Andre-May's "masters" and he visited Proust on his deathbed, as well as publishing two rare texts at a time when such a choice was still risky. Indeed one reviewer called the extract ". . .a heavy slice of the new `pudding-psychologique' of Monsieur Proust".

Paul Claudel, who never published his work in journals, sent Intentions a suite of 12 poems. St-John Perse contributed, along with Jules Supervielle. Andre-May's persuasive powers resulted in a long roll-call of distinguished contributors, with poems by Pierre Reverdy and the very young Michel Leiris, texts by Philippe Soupault and Andre Breton, works by Francois Mauriac and Raymond Radiguet and topical reviews by everyone from Paul Eluard to Robert Desnos. At the night-club "Boeuf sur le Toit" Andre-May met the composer Darius Milhaud whom he persuaded to write essays on contemporary music, including an early appreciation of black American jazz.

The format of Intentions was to introduce a writer's work, followed by a critical essay on the author, and thus some figures appeared both as contributors and critics. Max Jacob, for example, wrote an essay on the notorious Marcel Jouhandeau (whose novel Monsieur Godeau was published in long sections in five consecutive issues, to as much protest as praise) as well as contributing his own poetry.

Intentions also published special issues, the first of which was dedicated to Valery Larbaud, for whom Andre-May also hosted a celebratory dinner after he was awarded the Legion d'honneur. Larbaud, still enjoyed today in France, is perhaps best remembered elsewhere for championing James Joyce, on whom a special number was planned for January 1924. In the end this did not appear, nor did an issue on Gide, but Joyce's story "The Sisters" was published in translation in 1922. Larbaud was also behind a special Spanish issue which introduced the "Ultraiste" movement to France and such writers as Garca Lorca and Gomez de le Serna.

Distribution was always a problem and, although Intentions was placed in bookshops from Japan to Chile by contributors, no issue sold more than 300 copies. Thus, despite strong letters of appreciation and support from Max Jacob, Proust, Gide and Cocteau, Intentions was forced to close when Andre-May's father decided he could no longer cover costs. The last issue, a triple number 28-30, came out in December 1924.

Andre-May was still only 23 and, after working in his father's office, began dealing in antiques. He eventually acquired his own shop on Rue de St Pere where he bought and sold beautiful objects for the rest of his life. This retirement from literary life was only interrupted by the publication of his novel Le Matin in May 1945, a bad year to issue a book, not least because of the cheap paper Editions du Pavois were obliged to use, which by now is as brown and brittle as toast. Le Matin is not without its charms, a very French coming-of-age romance heavily indebted to Proust. In it Andre-May kills off his father and details his adoration for his mother, stealing into her bedroom to watch her sleep and falling asleep himself with her letter pressed to his heart.

Despite relative poverty Pierre Andre-May always lived in a beautiful apartment, surrounded by exceptional pieces saved from his shop and portraits of his many adored dogs. His only luxury was a full-time butler, a difficult man who would often forbid visitors, since he was reluctant to cook for them. This life of elegant obscurity was mitigated by Andre-May's rediscovery by the young literary scholar Beatrice Mousli, who published a fascinating book, Intentions, histoire d'une revue litteraire des annees vingt (1995).

Andre-May's place in literary history has thus been replotted and, as the French diplomat and critic Henri Hoppenot foresaw: "One could never now write the history of three major years in French literature without citing Intentions."

Pierre Andre-May, literary editor and antique dealer: born Paris January 1901; died Paris 1 April 1999.

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