Home About International University Project Conferences Courses Lectures Projects Publications Readings Contribute Contact      

home \ Thomas International Center \ obiter dicta \ jenuary 2009 - ship board romance

McInerny Center Home


Chair in Public Philosophy

Annual McInerny Banquet

Program in Philosophical Studies


Obiter Dicta


In The Press

Thomas International Center
Jenuary 2009


Ralph McInerny


Ship Board Romance



In 1900, Paul Claudel returned from a diplomatic post in China to discover whether he had a monastic vocation. He was advised that he did not, and once more he was off to China. On board the ship was a young mother and her children whose spouse more or less ignored her during the voyage, wheeling and dealing, making contacts so that he could prosper in China. Claudel, the monk manqué, fell in love with the young matron; in China he moved her and her family into his official residence while the perhaps complacent husband was busy elsewhere. When, some months later, the young woman took her older children back to Europe to place them in schools there, she was carrying Claudel's child. This episode was to provide the basis for Claudel's powerful play, Le partage du midi. The woman divorced her first husband, married another, and never saw Claudel again.         

This story is told by Thérèse Mourlevat in La Passion de Claudel, la vie de Rosalie-Rylska based on some thirteen years of friendship with Claudel's daughter, Louise, the fruit of the adulterous union. Louise at first was led to believe her father was her mother's first husband, then his second, and finally learned the truth. She learned it because Claudel accepted responsibility for his child, provided for her, saw to her religious education. Claudel subsequently married but neither his wife nor children knew of Louise until 1955 when Claudel died.        

Claudel became the greatest French poet of his time and a dramatist of unusual power. He has left us a vivid account of his conversion, which took place in Notre Dame on Christmas Eve 1886. His lapse with Rosalie seared his soul. Perhaps, sub specie aeternitatis, it was the making of him as a Catholic and a poet.

Every human life is a mystery and some are more mysterious than others.  Claudel became a ferocious Catholic and, like Maritain, sought to convert others, even, improbably, André Gide. The revelation of his turn of the century illicit love affair enhances his reputation. His acceptance of the results of the illicit liaison, his sense of responsibility, his surreptitious support, both material and spiritual, do him credit. Poetae nascuntur, it is said. So are their daughters, legitimate and otherwise. In a most complicated and difficult situation, Claudel acted well.


Ralph McInerny