Biography (Dictionary of World Biography: Twentieth Century)
Article abstract: From the years before World War I until his death in 1963, Cocteau enriched the cultural life of France with his highly creative contributions to such diverse fields as literature, ballet, art, and cinema. His works express with great lucidity a pessimistic view of the world that continues to fascinate admirers of Cocteau’s films, novels, plays, and poems.
Jean Cocteau was born on July 5, 1889, in Maisons-Laffitte, a small town outside Paris. His father, Georges, was a wealthy businessman and his mother, Eugénie, was very interested in art and music. His maternal grandfather was both an avid art collector and a respected cellist. Art and music played an integral part in Cocteau’s childhood and adolescence. After Georges Cocteau’s death in 1899, his widow Eugénie moved to Paris with her two sons, Jean and Paul, and her daughter Marthe. During his adolescence, Cocteau frequented Parisian literary salons and composed well-crafted but rather conventional poems. He was not yet an original artist.
During the years before World War I, Cocteau met the eminent Russian ballet impresario Sergey Diaghilev and the composer Igor Stravinsky. Their creative transformations of musical conventions inspired Cocteau to seek equally imaginative and disciplined ways to express his own poetic vision. Lasting friendships with such poets as Max Jacob and Guillaume Apollinaire, with painters...
(The entire section is 1880 words.)
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Biography (Critical Survey of Drama, Second Revised Edition)
It could be argued that Jean Maurice Eugène Clement Cocteau was born and bred to be an outsider. Reared by a family of stockbrokers, diplomats, and admirals, he was a product of the grande bourgeoisie française, neither entirely of the middle class nor entirely of the aristocracy. His parents, Georges and Eugénie Lecomte Cocteau, a couple who were no strangers to the arts, introduced Jean, his brother Paul, and his sister Marthe to music, theater, architecture, indeed, all the fine arts. Georges died when Jean was nine years old, and his mother, with whom he had a long and close relationship, had difficulty keeping the boy at the Petit Lycée Condorcet, where he was a poor student. Instead, Cocteau preferred to follow his own interests at home and to attend the theater regularly.
His birthplace, Maisons-Laffitte, allowed Cocteau easy access to Paris, where he involved himself in the various avant-garde movements that followed hard on one another in the early part of the twentieth century, finding comradeship in unconventional undertakings with fellow outsiders. His friends included such writers as Edmond Rostand, Catulle Mendès, Leon Daudet, Marcel Proust, and the Comtesse Anna de Noailles. By 1909, he had published his first book of poems, La Lampe d’Aladin.
Soon afterward, he met the director of the Ballets Russes, Sergei Diaghilev, a man who influenced Cocteau immensely, inspiring him to write a number of ballet...
(The entire section is 639 words.)
Biography (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition)
Jean Cocteau’s background was solidly Parisian bourgeois. Georges and Eugénie Lecomte Cocteau, his parents, were a cultivated couple who introduced Jean, his brother Paul, and his sister Marthe to the fine arts. Near their suburban home, Cocteau would recall, the children played on the grounds of a “magical” castle designed by François Mansart. When living in the city with his grandparents, Cocteau would wander through rooms that contained classical busts, vases, a painting by Eugène Delacroix, and drawings by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. The celebrated violinist Pablo de Sarasate often visited Cocteau’s grandfather, who was a cellist, and they would play music together. What impressed the young Cocteau most, however, were his trips to the circus, the ice palace, and the theater, particularly the Comédie-Française. His memories of these trips, he would later come to realize, were even brighter than the real experiences. In his own productions years later, he would ask technicians to duplicate the lighting or brilliance of childhood theatrical events and be told it had been technically impossible to create such effects when he was a boy. Memory had heightened the splendor of the past, including the recollections of the castle and of his grandparents’ house; his own life began to assume mythological dimensions.
At the Petit Lycée Condorcet, Cocteau was a poor student, especially after his father killed himself in 1899 because of financial...
(The entire section is 1416 words.)
Biography (Critical Survey of Poetry)
Other Literary Forms
Jean Cocteau was a formidable artist in many genres and awesomely prolific. Among his seven novels, little read today, the most important is Les Enfants terribles (1929; Enfants Terribles, 1930, also known as Children of the Game, 1955). Among his many plays, some of the most notable are Orphée (pr. 1926; Orpheus, 1933), La Voix humaine (pr., pb. 1930; The Human Voice, 1951), La Machine infernale (pr., pb. 1934; The Infernal Machine, 1936), Les Parents terribles (pr., pb. 1938; Intimate Relations, 1952), and La Machine à écrire (pr., pb. 1941; The Typewriter, 1948). In the opinion of many critics, Cocteau’s greatest achievements were in the cinema. His masterpieces—which he both wrote and directed—include Le Sang d’un poète (1932; The Blood of a Poet, 1949), La Belle et la bête (1946; Beauty and the Beast, 1947), Les Parents terribles (1948; Intimate Relations, 1952), Les Enfants terribles (1950), Orphée (1950; Orpheus, 1950), and La Testament d’Orphée (1959; The Testament of Orpheus, 1968). Cocteau also wrote scenarios for ballets by various composers, notably for Erik Satie’s Parade (1917), for Darius Milhaud’s Le Boeuf sur le toit (1920), and for Les Mariés de la tour...
(The entire section is 4212 words.)
Biography (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Jean Maurice Eugène Clement Cocteau (kok-TOH) was born on July 5, 1889, in Maisons-Laffitte, on the outskirts of Paris, France, where he would spend most of his diverse, prolific, and well-publicized artistic career. A fragile child, he was introduced early to the arts by his family and their acquaintances. At the age of nine, his father, Georges, committed suicide, an event never mentioned in any of Cocteau’s works; Cocteau then began his intense preoccupation with the circus, the theater, and classical music. He attended primary school from the ages of eleven to fourteen, and his three failures at the baccalauréat clearly showed his lack of taste for the regimented French educational system, which he later called being “badly brought up.”
Cocteau’s adolescence was spent living with his stylish and independently wealthy mother, Eugénie, whose influence he admits never diminished even with his artistic successes. Although his attempts at independence, including marriage to the actress Madeleine Carlier, failed, his mother received with hospitality his homosexual friends, and Cocteau pursued an active career in Paris’s fin de siècle high society and artistic circles. After the 1908 performance of several of his poems, he was introduced to the director of the Ballets Russes, Sergei Diaghilev, and to the innovative composer Igor...
(The entire section is 687 words.)
Biography (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
At the age of forty-one, in his 1930 account of opium addiction, Jean Cocteau would write that even a poet cannot write his own biography. In the broadest sense, however, Cocteau’s life was an exercise in being as many different poets as possible. In media ranging from fresco to film to the novel, Cocteau attempted to bring together a perfection of classical form and a wildly innovative modernity. By placing the debris of World War I on the stage of Greek tragedy behind a veil of medieval mysticism, he created a revolution not only in art but also in society. As flamboyant in life as in art, his agility and intensity continue to impress and sometimes to offend.
(The entire section is 118 words.)
Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
An artist possessed of many extraordinary talents, Jean Cocteau (kawk-toh) astonished the world for more than five decades with the originality of his poems, novels, plays, films, paintings, drawings, and critical articles. Prolific, brilliant, and charming, Cocteau earned the admiration and friendship of intellectuals and artists from many fields: The painter Pablo Picasso, the composer Igor Stravinsky, the writer André Gide, and the filmmaker Luis Buñuel were counted among his friends. Born near Paris in 1889 into a wealthy bourgeois family, the young Cocteau enjoyed all the advantages of his situation. The theater enchanted him, as did music halls and the circus. He hated the Lycée Condorcet, which he attended from 1900 to 1902, finding the classrooms gloomy and the teachers uninspiring. He began writing at an early age and read his first poems aloud at the Théâtre Fémina on April 4, 1908; soon after, he founded a literary magazine with several friends.
As a young man, Cocteau became interested in all the new movements which flourished around him in Paris—Surrealism, Dadaism, cubism—and he was fascinated by the promise of cinema. A keen interest in music prompted him to cultivate a relationship with the composer Eric Satie, who was surrounded by numerous fledgling composers. These musicians, along with several others, eventually formed a group...
(The entire section is 695 words.)
Biography (Drama for Students)
The French poet, playwright, novelist, artist, and film maker Jean Maurice Eugene Clement Cocteau was born to a wealthy family on July 5, 1889, in the small town of Maisons-Lafitte near Paris, France. His father committed suicide when Cocteau was ten years old. Cocteau was attracted to the theater at an early age. He loved to see his mother dressed for the theater, created toy theaters, and staged productions with his siblings. He briefly attended school, but was expelled.
By 1916, Cocteau was associating with an avant-garde group in Paris which included the painters Amedeo Modigliani and Pablo Picasso; the writers Marcel Proust, André Gide, and Guillaume Apollinaire; and the Russian ballet master Sergei Diaghilev. Diaghilev challenged Cocteau to write a scenario for a ballet, and the result was the ballet Parade (1917). The music was composed by Erik Satie, and the sets and costumes were by Picasso. The first performance caused a scandal because of its modernist nature. The audience rioted, and Cocteau commented that had it not been for the presence of Apollinaire, who was dressed in his military uniform and had a war wound, the authors of the ballet would have been attacked.
Though Cocteau was exempted from military service in World War I, he went to the front as a volunteer and drove ambulances. His reputation for frivolity was not helped by the fact that he had an outfit designed by a couturier for him to wear there, but the war...
(The entire section is 826 words.)