Alain Robbe-Grillet (rawb gree-yay) was the leading practitioner of the avant-garde movement in French fiction known as the New Novel. He was the son of Gaston and Yvonne Canu Robbe-Grillet. His father was an engineer, a profession that Robbe-Grillet later followed. The young Robbe-Grillet spent some time at a seaside locale much like the one he describes in perhaps his most famous novel, The Voyeur; the family soon moved to Paris, where Robbe-Grillet spent most of the remainder of his youth.
The German occupation of France in World War II was a nightmare for the entire nation, but it was especially traumatic for Robbe-Grillet, whose parents embraced extremely unpopular, conservative political views. Eventually, Robbe-Grillet was sent to work in German factories as a virtual slave laborer. Yet these traumatic years are reflected in no direct way in Robbe-Grillet’s fiction; indeed, he vociferously objects to the use of fiction as a political tool.
Robbe-Grillet seemed to have been largely unfazed by this experience. Instead, he pursued studies at the Institut National Agronomique, and in 1945 became chargé de mission at the Institut National des Statistics in Paris. From 1949 to 1951 Robbe-Grillet was an engineer with the Institut des Fruits et Agrumes Coloniaux, working in Morocco, French Guinea, Martinique, and Guadeloupe—the tropical locales of the latter three prefiguring the setting of his novel Jealousy. Robbe-Grillet turned completely toward literature in the early 1950’s, publishing his novel The Erasers in 1953.
Robbe-Grillet was an immediate sensation in a society that values its literature highly. The Erasers won the Fénelon Prize in 1954, and The Voyeur won the prestigious Prix des Critiques in 1955. Robbe-Grillet’s influence on the direction of French literature was felt in another way when he became literary adviser to the avant-garde publisher Éditions de Minuit in 1954. With the publication of Jealousy and In the Labyrinth, Robbe-Grillet...
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