jean genet

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j e a n   g e n e t  :   b i o g r a p h y  ]

"Anyone who knows a strange fact shares in its singularity."
- Jean Genet

biography | facts | selected books | books
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    j e a n   g e n e t  :   f a c t s

  • Name: Jean Genet
  • Born: December 19, 1910
  • Place of birth: Tanier Childbirth Clinic, Paris, France
  • Died: April 15, 1986
  • Place of death: Paris, France
  • Buried: Larache, Morocco

    j e a n   g e n e t  :   b i o g .

    Jean Genet was born on December 19, 1910, the illegitimate son of a Parisian prostitute, and orphaned seven months later. At the age of ten, he was accused of stealing. Although innocent but having been described as a thief, the young boy resolved to be a thief. "Thus," wrote Genet, "I decisively repudiated a world that had repudiated me." At the age of thirteen, after being a ward of the state, he began a life of crime and adventure. From 15 to 18 Genet was in the Mettray penitentiary, a place of hard labour, where a code of love, honour, gesture and justice was enforced by the inmates, and where his sexual awakening occurred. He then joined the French Foreign Legion in Syria. He deserted and spent more periods in prison living by petty theft, begging, and homosexual prostitution. By the age of 23, Genet was living in Spain, sleeping with a one-armed pimp, lice-ridden and begging - a period which became the basis for The Thief's Journal, his record of a journey, in which no aspect of suffering, sordidness, and degradation was spared him.

    Between 1930 and 1940, he wandered throughout Europe and he eventually, he found himself in Hitler's Germany where he felt strangely out of place. "I had a feeling of being in a camp of organized bandits. This is a nation of thieves, I felt. If I steal here, I accomplish no special act that could help me to realize myself. I merely obey the habitual order of things. I do not destroy it."

    At age 32, while in prison, he started writing his first manuscript, Our Lady of the Flowers. It was discovered and destroyed. Genet rewrote it from memory. This handwritten manuscript was smuggled out of his cell and eventually came to the attention of Cocteau and Sartre, who lobbied vigorously for a pardon from a life-sentence. More than forty intellectuals and artists petitioned the French government on Genet's behalf. Ignoring traditional plot and psychology, Genet's work relies heavily on ritual, transformation, illusion and interchangeable identities. The homosexuals, prostitutes, thieves and outcasts are trapped in self-destructive circles. They express the despair and loneliness of a man caught in a maze of mirrors, trapped by an endless progression of images that are, in reality, merely his own distorted reflection. Genet's stature as an original and important writer was cemented with Sartre's study of him in the book Saint Genet.

    After five novels, and then silence for several years, Genet re-emerged as a playwright. He wrote a number of theatrical pieces which further established his success, beginning with the production of The Maids, and followed by the other classic plays: The Blacks, The Balcony, and The Screens. Genet, believed the theatre should be an incendiary event, and was precise about how his works should be produced.

    Genet wrote of the gay world, without apology or explanation, revealing beauty in the harsh world in which his characters lived loved and died. He deeply felt a sense of solidarity with thieves, and society's dispossessed. In later life, Genet championed the causes of the Black Panthers in the United States and Palestinian soldiers in Jordan and Lebanon. His final work, Prisoner of Love, is a record of his years spent with these two groups. He died on April 15th 1986.

    j e a n   g e n e t  :   s e l e c t e d   b o o k s

      The Maids (1946) and Deathwatch (1947). Translated by Bernard Frechtman. Grove Press, 1954.

      The Balcony (1955). Translated by Bernard Frechtman. Grove Press, 1958.

      The Blacks (1955). Translated by Bernard Frechtman. Grove Press, 1960.

      The Screens (1955-58). Translated by Bernard Frechtman. Grove Press, 1962.

      Our Lady of the Flowers (1942). Translated by Bernard Frechtman. Grove Press, 1963.

      The Thief's Journal (1946-48). Translated by Bernard Frechtman. Grove Press, 1965.

      Miracle of the Rose (1943-44). Translated by Bernard Frechtman. Grove Press, 1965.

      Funeral Rites (1944-45). Translated by Bernard Frechtman. Grove Press, 1970.

      Querelle (1946). Translated by Anselm Hollo. Grove Press, 1974.

      Treasures of the Night: Collected Poems of Jean Genet. Translated by Steven Finch. Gay Sunshine, 1981.

      The complete Poems of Jean Genet. Translated by David Fisher. ManRoot, l981.

      Prisoner of Love (1986). Translated by Barbara Bray. Wesleyan University Press, 1992.

    Film: Song of Love (1950)
    Film script: The Penal Colony (1952-60)


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