Short Story #142: A Career by Andre Maurois
Title: A Career
Author: Andre Maurois
Four life-long friends who are successful in different fields convene together to meet the nephew of one of their group who has just written his first book. As the group welcomes the young man, their dialogue leads down a path to talk about a fifth member whom no longer is part of their group. They go into the history of the group to explain why he has disappeared from the group. The group of them became friends in school and swore an oath that they would form network and do their best efforts to help one another succeed in all possible ways until each had reached their level of success in their respective fields. They all but forget this pledge until some years after graduating, when they are reunited by chance. Over the next few years, they slowly build their careers. Central to their success is Chalonnes, the man who had been lost to the group. His abilities were supremely critical and regularly helped to refine their different works (one was a writer, another a painter, a third was a playwright/director and the last was in politics). Time and again, his insight and his ability to convince others of the value of his friends works help out his friends. However, his efforts at success in writing the great novel, a book of profound philosophy and such bear no fruit--mostly because he has never written them. Eventually, the friends band together to find a way to get Chalonnes to finally sit down and write his great novel through the use of another friend who is great at coxing works from authors. When Chalonnes finishes his book and shares it with his friends, they are mortified at how bad it is and does as best they can to disuade him from publishing it without telling him outright that it is bad. Chalonnes gets it published and while his friendlier critics avoid saying bad things about it, they don't particularly love it while other critics don't both reviewing it at all. The public sincerely dislikes it and Chalonnes becomes miserable as a result, which also leads many to associate with him little as he scorns any and all who don't absolutely love his work. His friends attempt to help but he finds them at fault for his current situation.
ReflectionChalonnes demise is sad in that his skillset did so much to help others but was not necessarily meant for traditional artistic output. That is, as editor and reviewer, he was powerful but as producer of content, not so much. I found it interesting to think about this element within our lives and ask ourselves about what we do. Even if it is not traditional artistic output, can it be art? In some ways, it reminds me of Scott McCloud's discussion of what constitutes art in his book, Understanding Comics. He argues that anything that doesn't contribute to our survival can be considered art, but then so too can things that contribute to our survival if they are given added flair. In this way, Chalonnes was a supreme artist in that all he did was help his friends succeed in their arts. I also found that his lingering view of his own writing as a career or feeling like it was a job--not a calling also indicated that he was actually led astray by his friends who tried to force him down that path. He had already found his calling.
Short Story #141 out of 365
Rating: 4 (out of 5 stars)
Date Read: 5/20/2014
Source: Great French Short Stories edited by M. E. Speare. The World Publishing Company, 1943. You can find this story and others in this anthology at this resource.
For a full listing of all the short stories in this series, check out the category 365 Short Stories a year.
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