Study Guide

Jean Giono

Jean Giono Biography

Biography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

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,...

(The entire section is 1000 words.)

Jean Giono Biography (Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Jean Giono was born in 1895 at Manosque, a rural village in southern France where, except for extended military service during World War I, he would spend his entire life. His father, a cobbler, and his mother, a launderer, had married when they were no longer young, and Jean was their only child. His childhood, recalled in Blue Boy and elsewhere, appears to have been a reasonably happy one, although lived close to the poverty line and in close touch with the forces of nature. In 1911, faced with the declining health of his father, Jean cut short his formal education to take a job in the local branch of a national bank; with time out for military service, he would remain with the bank until 1930, when he at last believed himself capable of earning a living from his writings; it was in that year that he bought the house in which he would spend the remaining forty years of his life, and in which he would receive visitors attracted from throughout the world by the increased success of his writings. In 1920, soon after the death of his father, he married Élise Maurin; the couple had two daughters, Aline in 1926 and Sylvie in 1934.

As early as 1931, with To the Slaughterhouse, Giono began to express in his writings the deep and obdurate pacifism that was the result of nearly five years of enlisted service during World War I. With the publication of his rural epics, notably The Song of the World and Joy of Man’s Desiring, Giono’s pacifism gradually fused with his glorification of rustic life to produce the phenomenon of Contadour, a back-to-the-soil movement that anticipated by some thirty years many similar communal experiments in the United States and Western Europe. According to critic and Giono expert Maxwell Smith, the Contadour experience arose more or less by accident when, in the fall of 1935, the number of youthful “pilgrims” to Giono’s home in Manosque exceeded the Gionos’ capacity for hospitality, and Élise suggested to her husband that he take some of their uninvited guests “for a walk.” Knapsacks on backs, Giono and some three dozen of the faithful set off soon thereafter on an extended hike through areas that Giono especially loved or about which he had written. When, after several days, the leader happened to sprain his ankle near the tiny town of Contadour, the group decided that they had found what they had been seeking. Housed at first in a barn, the group later bought land for sheep...

(The entire section is 1008 words.)