Maxence Van der Meersch

Last updated
Maxence Van der Meersch Maxence Van der Meersch 1936.jpg
Maxence Van der Meersch

Maxence Van der Meersch (4 May 1907 – 14 January 1951) was a French Flemish writer.



Maxence, of delicate health, came from a relatively well off family — his father was an accountant. On 27 October 1918, he lost his sister, Sarah, who was just 19 years old, to tuberculosis, the disease that would eventually kill him too. His parents' marriage broke up. Marguerite, his mother, became an alcoholic, and his father, Benjamin, lived a life considered dissolute by the standards of the times. In 1927, Maxence fell in love with Thérèze Denis, a poor working-class girl, with whom he lived in Wasquehal, against the wishes of his father, who dreamt of a more prestigious union for his son. In 1929, from this union that was only regularised in 1934, a daughter, Sarah, was born, named in memory of his sister. Thérèze was the only love of Maxence's life and is the key to an understanding of his work. She was the inspiration for the protagonist of his trilogy La Fille pauvre (The Poor Girl). [1]

A lawyer by training, he in fact practiced this profession very little, preferring to devote himself to writing. [2] His work, replete with a spirit of realism, is essentially concerned with the life of the people of the Nord, his native region. [2] In 1936 he was awarded the Prix Goncourt for L'Empreinte du dieu (Hath Not the Potter). In 1943 he published Corps et âmes (Bodies and Souls), which was awarded the grand prix de l'Académie française for that year. The novel was an international success — it was translated into 13 languages. It centred round the ideas of a celebrated doctor, Dr. Paul Carton (1875-1947), for whom Van der Meersch had a profound admiration. [3] Carton emphasised the importance of cleanliness and good day-to-day living, work environment, nutrition etc.: "Le microbe n'est rien. Le terrain est tout." ("The germ is nothing. The terrain is everything.") The protagonists of the novel are followers of Carton.

Van der Meersch came from a family of freethinkers — his father was a Nietzschean atheist — but he converted to Roman Catholicism in 1936. [4] He wrote two religious biographies, one of the Curé d'Ars and the other of Thérèse of Lisieux. Quand les sirènes se taisent (1933) is set against the background of the Worker-priest movement active during strikes in northern French factories during the inter-war period. L'Elu (1936) explores the theme of the influence of the Flemish and latent religious past among a family of ostensibly successful rationalists.

Van der Meersch experienced great success in his lifetime, but today he has a far lower profile. Nevertheless, in 2010 some half a dozen of his books were still in print in France. In 1998 La société des Amis de Van der Meersch was created by a group of his admirers. In 1988 his first novel, La Maison dans la dune (1932), was made into a film by Michel Mees, with Tchéky Karyo in the principal role.


The sometimes iconoclastic, distinguished historian Richard Cobb called van der Meersch "a regionalist who had written almost exclusively about Roubaix and who had brought honour to the town by winning the Prix Goncourt." In Cobb's opinion, "He was, in fact, a clumsy stylist, a Christian-Socialist Zola, who wrote off an accumulated stock of fiches [files]." [2] [5] (Fiches meaning dossiers of people taken from real sources).


He died in Le Touquet in 1951. He had gone there to be treated for tuberculosis.





  1. Maxence Van der Meersch et la vie ouvrière dans le Nord de 1914 à 1939 Archived 2011-08-21 at the Wayback Machine , p. 7 (in French).
  2. 1 2 3 Invasion, by Maxence van der Meersch, The Neglected Books Page , February 26th, 2012
  3. Matthew Ramsey (1999). "Alternative Medicine in Modern France" Archived 2011-07-27 at the Wayback Machine , Medical History, 43: 286–322. Carton is discussed on pages 311–315.
  4. Maxence Van der Meersch et la vie ouvrière, p. 47.
  5. Richard Cobb (Author), Julian Barnes (Preface). Paris and Elsewhere (New York Review Books Classic), 2004, ISBN   978-1-59017-082-3
  6. Published with Book I: The Sins of the World in one volume entitled The Poor Girl.

Related Research Articles

Georges Duhamel French writer

Georges Duhamel was a French author, born in Paris. Duhamel trained as a doctor, and during World War I was attached to the French Army. In 1920, he published Confession de minuit, the first of a series featuring the anti-hero Salavin. In 1935, he was elected as a member of the Académie française. He was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature twenty-seven times. He was also the father of the musicologist and composer Antoine Duhamel.

Henri Troyat French author

Henri Troyat was a Russian-born French author, biographer, historian and novelist.

Francis de Miomandre

Francis de Miomandre was a French novelist and well-known translator from Spanish into French.

Salomon James de Rothschild

Salomon James de Rothschild (1835–1864) was a French banker and socialite.

Arthur Devère was a Belgian film actor. He appeared in 59 films between 1913 and 1956.

Pauline Carton was a French film actress. She appeared in more than 190 films between 1907 and 1974.

Marius-Ary Leblond

Marius-Ary Leblond is the pen name of two historians, writers, art critics and journalists, George Athénas and Aimé Merlo, cousins, from Réunion.

André Billy French writer

André Billy was a French writer.

Saturnin Fabre French actor

Saturnin Fabre was a French film actor.

Paul Joseph Edmond Carton was a French physician and practitioner of vegetarianism.

Émile Genevois was a French film actor. Genevois appeared in over ninety films and television programmes, generally in character roles.

Alice Field (1903–1969) was a French Algerian stage and film actress.

Éric Vuillard French writer and film director

Éric Vuillard is a French writer and film director. He has made two films, L'homme qui marche and Mateo Falcone, the latter based on a story by Prosper Merimee. He is the author of Conquistadors (2009) which won the Prix de l'inaperçu in 2010. He won the Prix Goncourt in 2017 for L'Ordre du jour.

<i>The House on the Dune</i> (1952 film) 1952 film

The House on the Dune is a 1952 French drama film directed by Georges Lampin and starring Ginette Leclerc, Jean Chevrier and Roger Pigaut. It was a remake of the 1934 film of the same title, which was in turn based on the 1932 novel The House on the Dune by Maxence Van Der Meersch.

The House on the Dune may refer to:

The House on the Dune is a 1932 novel by the French writer Maxence Van Der Meersch. It portrays the battle between smugglers and customs officials along the French-Belgian border.

<i>The House on the Dune</i> (1934 film) 1934 film

The House on the Dune is a 1934 French drama film directed by Pierre Billon and starring Pierre Richard-Willm, Madeleine Ozeray and Thomy Bourdelle. It is based on the 1932 novel The House on the Dune by Maxence Van Der Meersch. In 1952 the film was remade.

David Haziot French writer (born 1947)

David Haziot is a French writer. Holder of a Master of Philosophy at the Sorbonne on the cinema of Sergei Eisenstein, he then turned to fiction, biography, and essay. He obtained a prize of the Académie Française for his biography of Vincent van Gogh and the Prix Goncourt de la Biographie for his latest work about the Rouart family.

Robert Francis, pen name for Jean Godmé, (1909–1946) was a French writer, winner of the 1934 edition of the Prix Femina.

Maxime Steinberg Belgian historian (1936–2010)

Maxime Steinberg (1936–2010) was a Belgian historian and teacher who wrote extensively on the Holocaust in Belgium. He has been described as "Belgium's principal Holocaust historian" and was best known for his three-part history of the subject entitled L'Étoile et le Fusil, published in 1983–87.