Early life (1897–1939)
Louis Aragon was born in Paris. He was raised by his mother and maternal grandmother, believing them to be his sister and foster mother, respectively. His biological father, Louis Andrieux, a former senator for Forcalquier, was married and thirty years older than Aragon's mother, whom he seduced when she was seventeen. Aragon's mother passed Andrieux off to her son as his godfather. Aragon was only told the truth at the age of 19, as he was leaving to serve in the First World War, from which neither he nor his parents believed he would return. Andrieux's refusal or inability to recognize his son would influence Aragon's poetry later on.
Having been involved in Dadaism from 1919 to 1924, he became a founding member of Surrealism in 1924, with André Breton and Philippe Soupault under the pen-name "Aragon". In the 1920s, Aragon became a fellow traveller of the French Communist Party (PCF) along with several other surrealists, and joined the Party in January 1927. In 1933 he began to write for the party's newspaper, L'Humanité, in the "news in brief" section. He would remain a member for the rest of his life, writing several political poems including one to Maurice Thorez, the general secretary of the PCF. During the
World Congress of Writers for the Defence of Culture (1935), Aragon opposed his former friend André Breton, who wanted to use the opportunity as a tribune to defend the writer Victor Serge, associated with Leon Trotsky's Left Opposition.
Nevertheless, Aragon was also critical of the USSR, particularly after the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (1956) during which Joseph Stalin's personality cult was denounced by Nikita Khrushchev.
The French surrealists had long claimed Lewis Carroll as one of their own, and Aragon published his translation of The Hunting of the Snark in 1929, "shortly before he completed his transition from Snarxism to Marxism", as Martin Gardner puts it. Witness the key stanza of the poem in Aragon's translation:
||Ils le traquèrent avec des gobelets ils le traquèrent avec soin
Ils le poursuivirent avec des fourches et de l'espoir
Ils menacèrent sa vie avec une action de chemin de fer
Ils le charmèrent avec des sourires et du savon
Gardner, who calls the translation "pedestrian" and deems the rest of Aragon's writings on Carroll's nonsense poetry full of factual errors, says that there is no evidence that Aragon intended any of it as a joke.
The Commune (1933–1939)
Apart from working as a journalist for L'Humanité, Louis Aragon also became, along with Paul Nizan, editor secretary of the journal
Commune, published by the Association des Écrivains et Artistes Révolutionnaires (Association of Revolutionary Writers and Artists), which aimed at gathering intellectuals and artists in a common front against fascism. Aragon became a member of the directing committee of the Commune journal in January 1937, along with André Gide, Romain Rolland and Paul Vaillant-Couturier. The journal then took the name of "French literary review for the defence of culture" (« revue littéraire française pour la défense de la culture »). With Gide's withdrawal in August 1937, Vaillant-Couturier's death in autumn 1937 and Romain Rolland's old age, Aragon became its effective director. In December 1938, he called as chief editor the young writer Jacques Decour. The Commune journal was strongly involved in the mobilization of French intellectuals in favor of the Spanish Republic.
Director of Ce soir (1937–1953)
In March 1937, Aragon was called on by the PCF to head the new evening daily,
Ce soir, which he was charged with launching, along with the writer Jean-Richard Bloch. Ce soir attempted to compete with Paris-Soir. Outlawed in August 1939, Ce soir was re-opened after the Liberation, and Aragon again became its lead, first with Bloch then alone after Bloch's death in 1947. The newspaper, which counted Emile Danoën among its collaborators, closed in March 1953.