Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1873
Alain Robbe-Grillet 1922-
French novelist, screenplay writer, short story writer, essayist, and autobiographer.
The following entry presents an overview of Robbe-Grillet's career through 1996. For further information on his life and works, see CLC, Volumes 1, 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 14, and 43.
A provocative literary experimenter, theoretician, and filmmaker, Alain Robbe-Grillet is one of the most influential and vigorously disputed French literary figures of the postwar period. As a leading proponent of the nouveau roman, or New Novel, during the 1950s and 1960s, Robbe-Grillet was instrumental in the formulation of avant-garde literary techniques that challenged basic assumptions about the possibility of truth, the function of literature, and the integrity of plot, character, and chronology in the conventional novel. Drawing attention to the indefinite, disconcerting quality of human experience and imagination, Robbe-Grillet's trademark fiction features the use of ambiguous narrators, surreal temporal dislocations and juxtapositions, sadoerotic imagery, and chosisme, a literary style involving meticulous description of external objects and activities. His groundbreaking novels Le Voyeur (1955; The Voyeur), La Jalousie (1957; Jealousy), and Dans le labyrinthe (1959; In the Labyrinth) became important models for subsequent antinovels and foreshadowed the literary theories of postmodernism.
Born in Brest, France, Robbe-Grillet was raised in the coastal region of Brittany by his eccentric mother and father, an engineer and former soldier; both parents were atheists with extreme right-wing sympathies. As a young reader Robbe-Grillet was captivated by Lewis Carroll's Alice stories and the exotic settings of Rudyard Kipling's novels. After receiving a secondary education at lycées in Paris and Brest, he won admittance to the Institut National d'Agronomie in 1942. However, his studies were interrupted by the Second World War, during which, under the terms of the Nazi Occupation of France, he was forced into compulsory labor service in Nuremberg, Germany, where he worked as a lathe operator in a Nazi tank factory from 1943 to 1944. Eventually graduating in 1945, Robbe-Grillet found employment at the National Institute for Statistics in Paris. He visited Bulgaria in 1948 to help rebuild railways as a volunteer member of the International Reconstruction Brigade. From 1948 to 1951 he worked as an agronomist for the Institute des Fruits et Agrumes Coloniaux, a position that included posts in Morocco, Guinea, Guadelope, and Martinique. He completed a first novel, Un Régicide, in 1948, but it was rejected by publishers and remained in manuscript until 1978. In 1951 Robbe-Grillet abandoned his scientific career to devote himself to full-time writing. His first published novel, Les Gommes (1953; The Erasers), received the Fénéon prize in 1954. He also contributed essays on literature to the newspaper L'Express and literary journal Critique. Many of these articles were reprinted in Pour un nouveau roman (1963; For a New Novel) along with his polemical writings on the New Novel. With the 1955 publication of The Voyeur, Robbe-Grillet received the Prix des Critiques award and became the center of critical controversy. Robbe-Grillet fortified his reputation as the leading representative of the New Novel movement with Jealousy in 1957 and In the Labyrinth in 1959. In 1955 he was employed as literary director at Editions de Minuit, the publisher of his books as well as those of Samuel Beckett and other New Novelists, including Claude Simon, Nathalie Sarraute, and Michel Butor. Robbe-Grillet married Catherine Rstakian in 1957.
During the 1960s, he produced a volume of short fiction, Instantanés (1962; Snapshots), and the novel La Maison de rendez-vous (1965; The House of Assignation ). He also turned to...
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