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Men of Good Will

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Les Hommes de bonne volonté
Cover of the 1941 Flammarion edition of the first volume, The Sixth of October
AuthorJules Romains
TranslatorWarre B. Wells (vol. 1–3)
Gerard Hopkins (vol.4–14)
PublisherFlammarion (France)
Alfred A. Knopf (United States)
Publication date
Publication placeFrance
Published in English

Les Hommes de bonne volonté (transl.Men of Good Will) is an epic roman-fleuve by French writer Jules Romains, published in 27 volumes between 1932 and 1946. It has been classified both as a novel cycle and a novel and, at two million words and 7,892 pages, has been cited as one of the longest novels ever written.


The volumes, written in chronological order from volume one, Le 6 octobre, through volume twenty-seven, Le 7 octobre, between them cover 6 October 1908 through 7 October 1933 in French life—an average of one volume per year, book-ended by one volume each for two particular days. The plot is expansive and features a large cast of characters, rather than narrowly focusing on individuals, but the two principals are Pierre Jallez, a poet loosely based on Romains,[1][2] and Jean Jerphanion, a teacher who later goes into politics. They meet in volume 2 starting at the École Normale Supérieure and become friends. Jerphanion marries a woman named Odette and lives happily with her, while Jallez tries several times to find love and is eventually married to Françoise Mailleul.[3] In the course of their careers, meanwhile, Jerphanion spends ten years in the Chamber of Deputies and is briefly Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Jallez finds success as a novelist, each trying to secure peace in their own way, though the First World War takes place halfway through the story, which ends with the first foreshadowings of World War II.[2]

Structure and themes[edit]

Structurally, Men of Good Will is a roman-fleuve—a long work across several volumes with continuation of plot and related characters that may mean it forms a single novel.[a][4] It has been described as a novel cycle or novel sequence,[5] and as a novel, by different writers.[3] Its full extent, at 2,000,000 words,[6] across 7,892 pages,[7] 779 chapters[8] and 27 volumes, means it has been described as one of the longest novels ever written—sometimes the single longest.[6][9][10][11]

Men of Good Will and particularly certain portions of it—Encyclopædia Britannica picks out the victory parade at the end of World War I—are emblematic of Romain's philosophy of unanimism, characterised by an interest in the collective rather than individuals.[5] In the preface, Romains says that the ideas behind it can be traced to his very first work, La vie unanime, published in 1904. This emphasis on group spirit is, writes Harry Bergholz, partly why Men of Good Will jumps from character to character as much as it does, rather than following one thread.[3] While characters do recur, their stories may be told discontinuously. Bergholz gives the example of Françoise Mailleul, whose birth is the subject of a chapter in volume 9 but who doesn't feature again, apart from brief reappearances in volumes 13 and 18, until her marriage to Jallez in volume 26. Rather than telling the story of a few people, Romains' aim is "to paint a complete picture of our twentieth century civilization, in all its aspects, human and inhuman, social as well as psychological".[3] Plot threads, too, are begun, recursively interrupted, and returned to later, sometimes several volumes on.[7] This cross-volume inter-cutting presses the reader to take the work as a whole, since plots are not always resolved within single volumes, which therefore cannot be fully understood without reference to the others.[7]

In all, there are approximately 40 main characters but counts of the full cast vary widely, from 600 total[12] through 1,000[13] to 1,600.[7] The characters are listed at the beginning of volume 25 (Le Tapis magique).[2] They cover all walks of life, both in terms of class and occupation, as part of attempting to depict society as a whole, though the poor are underrepresented and the bulk of the novel relates to the middle classes.[3][7][12] Other themes of the book include marriage and friendship,[3] the internal deviance of outwardly respectable families, Oedipal issues in father-son relationships (literal and metaphorical), Freemasonry, crime, sexual perversion, and the potential—or lack of it—for goodwill, suitably applied, to avoid collective failures such as wars.[2][4] War and the struggle for peace are continuing themes throughout. The first and last volumes each feature a group of schoolchildren being lectured on the dangers of war.[2] Jallez and Jerphanion are preoccupied with these considerations, and two volumes are dedicated to the Battle of Verdun, a key point in the narrative.[14]


Jules Romains, 1936

Romains began writing Men of Good Will in 1931 and announced the project in 1932. The original French publishers were Flammarion and each of the 27 volumes sold, in its first printing, at least 40,000 copies. By 1946, around 85,000 copies had been sold of the first volume. Romains wrote two volumes each year at around 600 pages between them.[3] There were 14 volumes in the first American editions, in which publishers Alfred A. Knopf combined each of the two annual volumes into one.[15][16] The Knopf editions were translated into English by Warre B. Wells (volumes 1–3) and Gerard Hopkins (volumes 4–14).[17]


The project was widely acclaimed in France as it began but critical opinion turned against it part way through. In America, where Romains moved at the beginning of World War II, Romains and his work were spurned when it became clear how late he had continued to be in contact with Nazi figures including Joseph Goebbels.[3]

Men of Good Will has been compared to Jean-Christophe, Romain Rolland's ten-volume French novel published between 1904 and 1912.[12] Reviews have particularly noted the strong and rapid characterisation that Romains achieved, giving distinct personalities to each of the huge number of characters involved.[3][12][18] Britannica describes the two volumes on Verdun, (volume 15 Prélude à Verdun and volume 16, Verdun, both published in 1938) as "remarkable visions of the soul of a world at war".[19] Denis Saurat wrote in Modern French Literature, 1870-1940 (1946) that they are "truly an epic presentation of war".[20] The work as a whole has been variously judged to be a "sprawling masterpiece"[21] and "what began as a magnificent fresco of an entire generation" but degenerated "into a daguerreotype of one embittered, splenetic man".[2]


The French titles and their English counterparts in the Knopf editions are:[17]

French Title English Title Dual Volume
1. Le 6 octobre 1. The Sixth of October 1. Men of Good Will
2. Crime de Quinette 2. Quinette's Crime
3. Les Amours enfantines 3. Childhood's Loves 2. Passion's Pilgrims
4. Éros de Paris 4. Eros in Paris
5. Les Superbes 5. The Proud 3. The Proud and The Meek
6. Les Humbles 6. The Meek
7. Recherche d'une église 7. The Lonely 4. The World From Below
8. Province 8. Provincial Interlude
9. Montée des périls 9. Floor Warning 5. The Earth Trembles
10. Les Pouvoirs 10. The Powers That Be
11. Recours à l'abîme 11. To The Gutter 6. The Depths and the Heights
12. Les Créateurs 12. To The Stars
13. Mission à Rome 13. Mission to Rome 7. Death of a World
14. Le Drapeau noir 14. The Black Flag
15. Prélude à Verdun 15. The Prelude 8. Verdun
16. Verdun 16. The Battle
17. Vorge contre Quinette 17. Vorge Against Quinette 9. Aftermath
18. La Douceur de la vie 18. The Sweets of Life
19. Cette grande lueur à l'Est 19. Promise of Dawn 10. The New Day
20. Le Monde est ton aventure 20. The World is Your Adventure
21. Journées dans la montagne 21. Mountain Days 11. Work and Play
22. Les Travaux et les Joies 22. Work and Play
23. Naissance de la bande 23. The Gathering of the Gangs 12. The Wind is Rising
24. Comparutions 24. Offered in Evidence
25. Le Tapis magique 25. The Magic Carpet 13. Escape in Passion
26. Françoise 26. Françoise
27. Le 7 octobre 27. The Seventh of October 14. The Seventh of October

See also[edit]


  1. ^ A roman-fleuve is literally a river-novel. In his 1968 introduction to Émile Zola's L'Œuvre (The Masterpiece), Thomas Walton, riffing on Men of Good Will's length, describes it as a "roman-delta".[22]


  1. ^ Cannon, James (24 February 2016). The Paris Zone: A Cultural History, 1840-1944. Routledge. p. 169. ISBN 978-1-317-02173-5.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Schaffer, Aaron (1948). "Jules Romains Despairs of Men of Good Will". The American Scholar. 17 (2). The Phi Beta Kappa Society: 191–200. JSTOR 41205028.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i Bergholz, Harry (April 1951). "Jules Romains and His "Men of Good Will"". The Modern Language Journal. 35 (4): 303–309. doi:10.1111/j.1540-4781.1951.tb01639.x. JSTOR 319619.
  4. ^ a b Tame, Peter (April 1999). "La Part du mal: essai sur l'imaginaire de Jules Romains dans 'Les Hommes de bonne volonté' by Dirck Degraeve (review)". The Modern Language Review. 94 (2): 547–548. doi:10.2307/3737179. JSTOR 3737179.
  5. ^ a b "Men of Good Will". Encyclopædia Britannica. 26 May 2011. Retrieved 25 January 2018.
  6. ^ a b McNamee, Gregory (12 February 2016). "Books in the News". Kirkus Reviews. Retrieved 26 January 2018.
  7. ^ a b c d e Lee, Harold W. (May 1952). "Proportions in Jules Romains' Picture of Contemporary French Society". The News Bulletin of the Rocky Mountain Modern Language Association. 5 (2): 5–6. doi:10.2307/1346440. JSTOR 1346440.
  8. ^ Dulac, Philippe. "Les Hommes de bonnes volonté, Jules Romains | Fiche de lecture". universalis.fr (in French). Encyclopædia Universalis. Retrieved 28 January 2018.
  9. ^ Leonard, John (21 May 1976). "Biggest Littlest Museum Opens". The New York Times. Retrieved 26 January 2018. ... after the longest important novel ("Men of Good Will" by Jules Romains, 27 volumes in French, 14 in English)...
  10. ^ Boulton, Marjorie (1 May 2014). The Anatomy of the Novel (Routledge Revivals). Taylor & Francis. pp. 16–17. ISBN 978-1-317-93634-3.
  11. ^ Jones, Barry (31 March 2016). "Romains, Jules". Dictionary of World Biography: Third edition. ANU Press. p. 720. ISBN 978-1-76046-010-5.
  12. ^ a b c d Taylor, Karen L. (2006). The Facts on File Companion to the French Novel. Infobase Publishing. p. 349. ISBN 978-0-8160-7499-0.
  13. ^ "Fourteenth & Final". Time. 2 December 1946. Retrieved 25 January 2018.
  14. ^ Jankowski, Paul (6 January 2014). Verdun: The Longest Battle of the Great War. Oxford University Press. p. 4. ISBN 978-0-19-931690-8.
  15. ^ Bruccoli, Matthew J. (15 July 1975). The O'Hara Concern: A Biography of John O'Hara. University of Pittsburgh Pre. p. 193. ISBN 978-0-8229-7471-0.
  16. ^ Cooke, Charles; Maloney, Russsell (20 May 1939). "Man of Good Will". The New Yorker. p. 13. Retrieved 25 January 2018.
  17. ^ a b "Men of Good Will". publishinghistory.com. Retrieved 26 January 2018.
  18. ^ "Men of Good Will". Kirkus Reviews. 2 June 1933. Retrieved 25 January 2018.
  19. ^ "Jules Romains". Encyclopædia Britannica. 13 January 2016. Retrieved 25 January 2018.
  20. ^ "Men of Good Will, by Jules Romains". Neglected Books. 19 November 2006. Retrieved 26 January 2018.
  21. ^ Cannon 2016, p. 133–134.
  22. ^ Walton, Thomas (1968). Introduction. The Masterpiece. By Zola, Émile. University of Michigan Press. p. 5. ISBN 0-472-06145-3.

Further reading[edit]