Paul Bénichou, a critic recognized by students of French literature as one of the premier scholars of the 20th century, died in a Paris hospital on Monday, May 14. He was 92 years old.
Born in Algeria to a Jewish-Spanish family, he attended secondary school in Paris and then enrolled in the Ecole Normale Superiéure, where he was fellow-student of Sartre and d’Aron.
In 1939, Bénichou married Gina Labin, a lawyer and writer, who survives him. During the German occupation Bénichou had to leave France and took refuge in Argentina. There he worked at the French Institute in Buenos Aires and became a friend of Jorge Luis Borges.
It was during this forced exile that he gathered together materials for his first book, “Morales du Grand Siècle.” In 1958, he was invited to be a professor at Harvard. He taught in the Department of Romance Languages and Literature for two decades. In 1973, he published the first part of a vast fresco on French Romanticism, “Le Sacre de l’ écrivain,” which was followed by three other important books. His last work is a lively critique of Mallarmé’s poems, “Selon Mallarmé.”