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The Conspiracy is the last and most acclaimed novel by French writer and activist Paul Nizan, who died two years after its publication fighting the Germans at the Battle of Dunkirk. Hailed by Jean-Paul Sartre as Nizan’s masterpiece, the book centers upon the figure of Bertrand Rosenthal, a misguided philosophy student studying in pre-war Paris. Eager to foment a revolution and having little grasp of his own motives, Rosenthal draws a small group of disciples into a conspiracy both fatuous and deadly. Simultaneously, he plunges into a forbidden—and ultimately tragic—love affair as the intertwined plots move inexorably toward their twin destinations of betrayal and death.
The Conspiracy won the coveted Prix Interallié in 1938. This new edition includes Walter Benjamin’s critique of the book, available here for the first time in English.
empty as a dried-up riverbed. From time to time a dark police vehicle would pass slowly by, its tyres crunching over the sand. At last a noise was heard coming from the West, then a swelling tide of shouts in which were intermingled relief, anger and joy. — If it’s another instalment of last night, said Rosenthal, it’s going to be a really trashy affair. — Can’t tell, said Laforgue. Let’s not forget the people who were calling for Jaurès last night outside the Chamber, as if they had
evening of my wedding, my husband took me to one of his villages, which was in the guberniya of Kiev. It was terrible, the peasants insulted us and someone threw an axe at the head of one of the horses. At daybreak we escaped through the back gate of the park, and the four-horse carriage that had brought us to Kiev remained behind in the stables. At Kiev I lost my husband and it was two years before I saw him again. The Bolsheviks arrested me, but a little Jewish student of seventeen or eighteen,
bored at La Vicomté, had decided to take a fortnight’s winter holiday at Davos and cut short his summer holiday. The bags were unpacked in Avenue Mozart and Avenue de Villiers. Bernard telephoned Catherine to say he wished first to see her elsewhere than beneath the family roof: he asked her to meet him at eleven the following morning, in front of the Triumphal Arch in the Place du Carrousel. Bernard did not like the dresses and hats women were beginning to wear in that late autumn season.
inattentive, unaware as a flower, which lets its dapple-grey tentacles drift as it waits to close them upon a crab, a shrimp, a sinking shell. At last Bernard received a letter from Catherine, in November. She entreated him not to write any more, not to seek any further meetings. ‘Understand,’ Catherine wrote, ‘that I simply do not want to see you any more. My poor Bernard, I am not cut out for your challenges and your love of storms: you demanded too much of a woman like any other.
colleagues lived there like us. I always tell myself that embalmers, makers of mummies, must have lived in this same way, among themselves; and that this is the destiny of those who work among impure things – of spies, policemen, the functionaries of death and dying. I felt this at fifteen, and I was quite right to believe I should not recover from it. There is nothing more shameful than death, and men are wise to hide it from themselves, like Noah’s sons their father’s nakedness. I have never