Jean Giono (zhyaw-noh), whose works have often been compared to those of Thomas Hardy in England and those of his contemporary William Faulkner in the United States, was one of the best-known and most widely read French “regional” novelists of the twentieth century. Unabashedly rural in theme, accomplished and sophisticated in style, Giono’s writings and his actions anticipated the pacifism and the “simple life” that was pursued by artists during the 1960’s and 1970’s. Giono was turned against war by his long service in the trenches during World War I, and he was denounced during and after World War II for his obdurate pacifism, but he regained both critical and popular favor during the last two decades of his life with an innovative writing style that combines history and fiction.
The only child of an aging cobbler and his laundress wife, Jean Giono was born in Manosque, the small village in the south of France where he also died seventy-five years later. He left Manosque only for the nearly five years of his military service and, subsequently, for a brief transfer to Marseilles in connection with his bank job. In Blue Boy Giono vividly recalls the cavernous, ill-insulated building in Manosque that served during his youth not only as the family home but also as his parents’ combined workplace. A promising student in nearly every subject except literature, Giono left school at the age of sixteen because of his father’s precarious health. He found work almost immediately in the local branch of a national bank; excepting the time spent in wartime service, Giono remained with the same bank until the age of thirty-five, when his earnings as a writer proved sufficient to support his family and to buy the house in which he spent the rest of his life.
In 1920 Giono married Elise Maurin, with whom he had two daughters. He devoted his spare time to voracious reading of Greek and Latin classics in French translation; such a reading habit, formed while he was still in school, also suited the budget within which the young banker attempted to support his family, which for a time included his widowed mother and an uncle. The landscape around Manosque closely resembled the descriptions of ancient Greek and Roman territory, and before long Giono was plotting his first novel, Naissance de l’“Odyssée” (birth of the Odyssey), a tongue-in-cheek retelling of the Ulysses legend, which was,...
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