The Jacobs' saga - Max's childhood

Relationships within the family

Max was much alike his grandfather Samuel‚ who died when he was nearly 13. The portraits of him‚ which have been discovered‚ seem to be those of the poet. Depending on the different sources, the opinions Max had about his grandfather are multiple.

Grandfather Samuel
Grandfather Samuel

Max describes his grandfather as a man who was rather unkind and even sarcastic‚ but very spiritual. He said : « I loved the grandfather who never hit me I loved him and him alone‚ who blessed me and said : He here will go far […] I remember the day when somebody came to find me at school because my grandfather had died. Before hearing the news‚ I sensed it‚ and began to cry while gathering my books. »

When Max referred to his family’s history he often had a tendency to invent. He often spoke about his grandmother of Avignon‚ who seemed to be his paternal grandmother Mirthé-Léa‚ the one who had an important influence on his life. He said that she washed poor people’s feet and did not eat without cutting her meal into two parts in order for them to have their share ; she was considered the very model of prayer‚ silence‚ and wisdom. The values that grandmother spread in judaism‚ aren’t unconnected with his conversion.

The third important person in his life was his mother Prudence‚ admired but demanding‚ sometimes even nervous and impatient. Yet she loved her son a lot and Max strongly reciprocated her love. He dedicated Le Laboratoire Central (The Central Laboratory) to her.

The mother
The mother

Apart from this‚ he wrote her a letter to explain the intellectual movements of that time. Yet‚ Max also declared to Edmond Jabes in 1939 he was tormented‚ abused, and frequently beaten by his mother and his brothers‚ and that he had attempted to commit suicide about three times. He said that he had been miserable since birth. Other sources tend to indicate that once more he had exaggerated‚ and that he was not as miserable as he claimed.

His sister Mirthé-Léa
His sister Mirthé-Léa

As for his father‚ Max has pleasant memories of him. « He was a picture of dignity combined with a most glowing happiness ». On the other hand his relationship with his brothers and sisters were sometimes quite conflictual. As a result there was a coldness between Julie-Delphine‚ Gaston‚ and himself until their mother’s death. Yet‚ he loved his little sister Mirthé-Léa a lot.

Max’s studies in Quimper

Max began his studies at the grammar-school for boys La Tour d’Auvergne in Quimper. In 1894‚ he obtained the tenth honourable mention in philosophy‚ and then in 1895‚ he enrolled himself at the colonial school of Paris.

His first years at the secondary school were rather difficult. Pupils used to call him le juif (the Jew) and ill-treated him. During breaks‚ they hit him and refused to play with him. He became timid‚ and held aloof from the other pupils and from their games.

Thus he retired within himself‚ dreaming while completely awake‚ and imagining magic and marvellous stories‚ sometimes creating novels in connection with his age, hence his withdrawal towards literature and painting.

It is in that school that he wrote his first poems. His drawings were not appreciated by his teacher Mr Villard‚ his friend’s father.

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