Giono, Jean (Vol. 11)
Giono, Jean 1895–1970
Giono was a French novelist, poet, essayist, playwright, short story writer, editor, and screenwriter. His work centers around the peasant culture of his native Provence, showing the interdependence of man and nature, and the importance of the individual. Strongly influenced by the Greek tragedies, he endeavored to translate into provincial form the complexities of the ancient classics. His early work is characterized by its rich, pastoral lyricism, his later style becoming more psychologically oriented, if slightly less poetic. Three of his novels have become films directed by Marcel Pagnol. (See also CLC, Vol. 4, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 45-48; obituary, Vols. 29-32, rev. ed.)
Norma L. Goodrich
[Le Grand Théâtre] falls neither into the category of literary criticism, nor into that of prose fiction. Although it purports ostensibly to be a 'conversation' between the boy Jean Giono and his father …, its first section is largely the latter's monologue…. Le Grand Théâtre is both theology and that branch of philosophy termed eschatology [doctrines concerned with finality of the world, life, or matter]…. [The second section] serves primarily to illustrate apocalypse in our century. Giono here, then, has not only re-written the most famous of all apocalyptic texts [from the Bible], but has furthermore modified and re-stated it. (pp. 116-17)
As we approach this complicated work—and when has Jean Giono regaled us with simplicity?—it will be less crucial to list the author's recollections of his best-known predecessor than to discuss his variations and his additions to the text attributed to John of Patmos. They are modern additions, which stem largely from two specialized areas: mathematics and astronomy. Giono's artistic method, always distinctive and unpredictable, consists here of a sliding from well-known apocalyptic to his own illustration thereof. It may also be of some interest to note in passing how Giono's approach here differs from that of D. H. Lawrence, for example, since he is a novelist to whom Jean Giono is often compared…. (p. 117)
Like Revelation, the father, or...
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While Giono [in Naissance de l'Odyssée] tells what "really" happened in legendary Ithaca, he cajoles the reader into a suspension of disbelief, a tongue-in-cheek reminder of the ancient epic, which creates the comic element in this modern companion piece to the Odyssey. (p. 378)
In this world of deception all existence runs its course free of convenient aid from Olympus. Ulysses must struggle for himself and with himself in a universe devoid of conventional godheads, be they anthropomorphic or transcendent. Giono has preferred to create a world where the presence of the supernatural is manifested in all creation, rather than in a traditional being or man-chosen object. (p. 379)
It hardly need be reiterated that in Homer's account Ulysses often comes to the fore as a schemer, the power of which is only matched by his physical prowess…. The leitmotiv of Giono's narrative finds its origin in [Athena's observation that she and Ulysses "are both adept at Chicane"], while it is also at this point in the Odyssey—Ulysses having returned to Ithaca—that Giono begins the novel proper. (p. 380)
As Homer tells us, there was disharmony upon Olympus which prevented Ulysses from reaching his home in blessed safety. As a parallel, Part I of Giono's novel ends on a note of doubt and fear. Walking along, Ulysses senses an "inquiétude" walking alongside him as a reminder that he has...
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Throughout the period from the publication of Colline in 1929 to that of L'Eau vive in 1943, there are constant references in Giono's writings to the power of language and its role in the world. Often these references develop into a major theme within particular works; even where they do not, they still help to form a leitmotiv that recurs persistently during some fifteen years of Giono's career, and which throws light in a hitherto unexplained way on his view of the role and significance of language….
[Giono's] fascination with speech is manifested, throughout the 'peasant' writings, by a constant stress on the physical utterance of words, even on the workings of the speech-organs themselves. In L'Eau vive, Giono recruits one of his favourite images—the snake—to describe the writhing of the tongue in the darkness of the mouth…. (p. 289)
This stress on the spoken word can be seen as appropriate to the settings and characters of Giono's pre-war writings. If he wanted to write of language at all, then, in these novels of peasant life, it had to be of the spoken tongue and not of the written language…. Yet this in itself clearly does not account for the emphasis laid on speech. For one thing, Giono's first fictional work, Naissance de l'Odyssée, written before he embarked on the cycle paysan, although published later than the early books of that series, already shows...
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