An Inventory of His Collection at the Harry Ransom Center
Gabriel Marcel, generally regarded as the first French existential philosopher, was born in Paris in 1889 and died there in 1973. An only child in an upper-middle class family, Marcel early excelled in his studies and demonstrated an aptitude for philosophical inquiry. Shortly after Marcel began his academic career in philosophy, World War I broke out and he served in the French Red Cross, an experience that contributed to an increasingly humanistic aspect in his philosophy. In 1919 Marcel married Jacqueline Boegner, a professor at the Schola Cantorum; they adopted a son, Jean.
From 1914 Marcel kept a series of philosophical notebooks that reveal the evolution of his thought away from traditional academic philosophy and toward one influenced by the writings of Soren Kierkegaard. These notebooks were eventually published in 1927 under the title Journal Métaphysique. Later Marcel continued this practice of publishing directly from his journals with Être et Avoir (1935) and Présence et Immortalité (1959). The development of Marcel's philosophy led to his embracing Catholicism in 1929. His evolving "Christian existentialism" caused, in the years following World War II, his being contrasted in the popular press with Jean-Paul Sartre and the atheistic existentialism Sartre expounded and popularized.
Following his service in World War I, Marcel's academic career became an intermittent one, as he typically earned his living as a literary critic, editor, or publisher's reader. Marcel was, in these various capacities, instrumental in making contemporary foreign literature better known in France.
From an early age Gabriel Marcel evinced a keen interest in the dramatic, inventing dialogues with imaginary siblings. He had written plays as a schoolboy, and by the early 1920s Marcel had had his plays performed. His plays often demonstrated concerns manifest in his philosophical writings, and one, Le Monde Cassé (1933), is accompanied in its published version by a notable philosophical essay, "Position et Approches Concrètes du Mystère Ontologique."
Music had been an integral part of the Marcel household in his childhood, and in his adult life Gabriel Marcel was fond of piano improvisations. It was only in 1945, however, that he undertook--with the assistance of his wife--formal composition, setting down his musical interpretations of the poems of, among others, Baudelaire and Rilke.
Following the death of his wife in 1947 Marcel continued to write, teach, and travel. The major international recognition Gabriel Marcel received before his death was the German Peace Prize, awarded him at the Frankfurt Book Fair in 1964.
Further biographical information on Gabriel Marcel may be found in his "An Autobiographical Essay" in The Philosophy of Gabriel Marcel (LaSalle, Ill.: Open Court, c1984).
The Gabriel Marcel material assembled by Darwin Yarish, a Canadian student of Marcel, is arranged in three series: works, correspondence, and miscellaneous. The works series comprises a collection of over fifty notebooks kept by Marcel over the years. In many of these notebooks he wrote down his quotidian thoughts, composed drama, or recorded his reactions to the events of the Second World War. Other notebooks contain a draft of an unpublished novel, literary criticism, musical compositions, and some fragmentary literary and philosophical jottings. The philosophical notebooks represent a significant portion of Marcel's recorded thought from as early as 1908 to the mid-1960s, and, in fact, represent about half of the total number of notebooks in the archive. Drama, from juvenile efforts to several plays written in the mid-1940s, form the second-largest portion of the archive.
The 55 notebooks that make up the works series have been arranged by genre into philosophy and philosophical journals, dramas, other literary materials, journals combining dramatic and philosophical materials, World War Two diaries, and music. While there is usually more than one notebook in each folder, the following folder list identifies Marcel's title for each notebook, separated by colons. The notebooks are all written in Marcel's hand with the exception of the plays Le Quatuor en Fa Diese (a typescript) and Le Regard Neuf, which is in the hand of Mme. Marcel. The manuscripts of Existentialisme et Humanisme and Mystère de l'Être include manuscript notes in the hand of Jeanne Delhomme.
About half of the plays represented in the collection are unpublished; the published drama Le Quatuor, Chapelle Ardente, Iconoclaste, L'horizon, and Le Regard Neuf are represented in manuscript.
The unpublished materials include Marcel's World War II journals (from 19 June 1940 to the end of 1944), together with the manuscript for his only (and unpublished) novel, L'Invocation a la Nuit.
Among the materials contained in the philosophical notebooks are manuscripts for a major portion of the Journal Métaphysique, as well as Être et Avoir, Homo Viator, and Mystère de l'Être.
The correspondence series supplements the works series and represents, in the main, letters of condolence Marcel received in 1947 upon the death of his wife Jacqueline. There is also a small group of letters from Marcel to Darwin Yarish written in the last four years of the philosopher's life, together with a few notes from Marcel's sister-in-law Genevieve Boegner to Yarish. Among the letters of condolence are found notes from Jean Pierre Alterman, Denis Huisman, Julien Lanoë, Rosamond Lehmann, and Max Picard.
The miscellaneous series contains a substantial amount of material which supports the works and correspondence series. The largest fraction comprises several hundred clippings of articles by and about Gabriel Marcel, interviews with him, reviews of his works, and (most particularly) coverage of his receiving the German Peace Prize in 1964. These clippings are from contemporary European newspapers and literary journals and are in various languages, German predominating. A small number of photographs (about 15) of Marcel and his Parisian neighborhood, together with a few theatrical programs, completes this series.
While the representations of Marcel's work in philosophy and dramatic writing is quite strong in the archive, there is very little personal material or material representing his work as an editor, literary critic, or publisher's reader.
Open for research
Gift and purchase, 1981-1983.
Bob Taylor, 1994
Gabriel Marcel Papers--Folder List