I spent another hour reading de Montherlant yesterday. I'm now up to page 180, and the way I'm going it wouldn't surprise me reading the whole 600 odd pages in gradual increments, picking it up occasionally to browse and dipping through the pages.
It's pretty easy reading. He's a very good writer, and an interesting one. And despite his indifferent rap I find the protagonist - Costals – a very attractive character. He was widely described as a misogynistic, but I think that is inaccurate. He may be cynical and sometimes less than completely honest, but it is not directed at women only. He is a writer, one of those characters who sits on the edge of society and describes it with an acerbic eye, while maintaining his own affairs in a fashion consistent with that perspective. He's much more a misanthrope, though I think he is a decent man at heart.
One of the reasons I like Costals so much is that I identify with him. We're very unalike in some ways, but often there are words coming from his mouth that I could easily have said myself. Sure he plays the angles sometimes, but he is also witheringly honest. He has no shame as they say, and no embarrassment at his more predatory ways. I like that. I don't like hand-wringing of any sort, and least of all the hypocritical sort.
Reading last night I thought at one stage that this would be a good book for women to read, if only to get some idea of how men really think. But then I thought there would be many men up in arms at that, and not just because they might feel exposed. Many would feel slandered, and by their lights possibly with good reason. Not every man is like Costals, not by a long shot, and many would be aghast at the comparison – yet I would contend that most men have some Costals in them, even if only occasionally or in the past. Most men would not be nearly as smooth with it as Costals is, and fewer still reconciled with that aspect of themselves.
Once upon a time I wanted to be the 'best' man I could possibly be. Without being aware of it it is something I have given up in recent years, and not just because it is impossible to know what 'best' is. There are certain standards I wish to conform to and there are principles that will always be important to me – which I could summarise perhaps as being honest, fair, objective and true. They're well enough even if they sound like a boy scouts oath.
There is another side of me though that I have long since let off the leash. It worries me not one iota, and in fact I take a lot of pleasure from it, and not just because pleasure is the object of it. I see little point in dressing up something as noble when in fact it is something just about primeval. I've given in to my natural instincts, allowed myself in many circumstances to go the way I feel. When I've got in trouble in the past it's often been because I've gone against those instincts and tried to act according to a higher standard. No more.
I enjoy this book so much because I relate to it very strongly. I'm not Costals and I'm not living in 1920's Paris, but not much changes in the passage of time and space. I know myself well and that's the first step towards any kind of contentment. The next step is accepting yourself for what you are. What I love about Costals is that he is so completely and unapologetically himself, with little regard for what others think of him. This doesn't make him a monster – he is capable of tenderness and kindness, but they are what they are, not affectations but simply another part of his complex self.
Ultimately you don't do anyone any favours by being anything other than utterly yourself. Sure, there are constraints on how we can act, just as there should be, but I'm giving you the tip – happiness comes from accepting who you are and being true to it.