Contribution

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Alain Robbe-Grillet enjoyed immediate success in the French literary community. He received a literary prize for each of his first two novels and was referred to as one of the most talented and interesting of the young novelists who were experimenting with the novel form. However, his novels were not praised by everyone. The traditionalist literary critics, who insisted that novels should contain all the elements that made a work a novel in the nineteenth century, had little praise for his work. For them, the novel structure (plot, character, description, and narrative chronology), had been well defined by the realist writers, and contemporary novelists had only to follow the model. Although the jury for the Prix des Critiques awarded Robbe-Grillet their prize for Le Voyeur (1955; The Voyeur, 1958), some members of the jury expressed reservations about calling the work a novel. The critics employed by the newspapers and the reading public found his novels difficult and unreadable.

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Robbe-Grillet published a number of articles in newspapers and magazines in an attempt to convince his detractors that his works were readable novels. The articles changed few opinions but placed him at the head of the movement for the creation of the New Novel (le nouveau roman). Although he had no intention of setting forth a theory of the novel, the articles that contained his ideas about the novel form did precisely that in the eyes of the literary critics, whether they were favorable to him or not. Thus he disseminated not only the theoretical basis for the New Novel but a definition of the novel as a genre.

Because many of Robbe-Grillet’s novels contain elements of the mystery and detective genre, particularly espionage, murders, and murder investigations, Robbe-Grillet in reinventing the novel has enlarged the scope of mystery and detective fiction by adding greater complexity to it and by creating multilayered, multifaceted texts that are themselves mysteries to be solved.

Other Literary Forms

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Alain Robbe-Grillet was the author of numerous novels and is known principally for them. The best known are Les Gommes (1953; The Erasers, 1963), Le Voyeur (1955; The Voyeur, 1958), La Jalousie (1957; Jealousy, 1959), Dans le Labyrinthe (1959; In the Labyrinth, 1960), Topologie d’une cité fantôme (1976; Topology of a Phantom City, 1977), Angelique: Ou, L’Enchantement (1987), and Les Derniers jours de Corinthe (1994). He also published a collection of critical essays: Pour un nouveau roman (1963; For a New Novel: Essays on Fiction, 1965) as well as several movie scenarios and feature-length screenplays.

Achievements

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Alain Robbe-Grillet won several French literary prizes, including the Prix Fénéon (1954), the Prix des Critiques (1955), and a production of L’Année dernière à Marienbad (1961; Last Year at Marienbad, 1962), for which he wrote the screenplay, won the Prix du Lion d’Or at the Venice Film Festival and the Melies Prize in France.

Other literary forms

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In addition to his novels, Alain Robbe-Grillet (rawb-eh-gree-YAY) wrote short fiction, nonfiction works on the New Novel, photo-essays, and screenplays.

Achievements

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After the mid-1950’s, Alain Robbe-Grillet endeavored to explain and demonstrate the meaning of the innovative brand of fiction known as the nouveau roman, or New Novel. To him, the New Novel was a constantly evolving genre. Its form is not ready-made. Rather, it explores the human way of experiencing, understanding, and coping with the constantly changing realities of the age; it moves forward, beyond dogmas established for previous ages.

The New Novel centers on individuals and their subjective reactions and relationships to the objects or things in the world around them. It reports humankind’s limited experiences: how people see, feel, and imagine their lives. Thematic significance or meaning is given to objects or relationships only when they come into temporary existence with people. What Robbe-Grillet first called “supports”—thought-related objects and visual motifs representing part of a character’s experience—were what T. S. Eliot called “objective correlatives.” By using objects, people, and patterns of things as temporary objective correlatives, Robbe-Grillet achieves high levels of character-reader subjectivity. He forces the reader to collaborate in the work by connecting dislocated objects, experiences, and scenes and by accepting and understanding paradoxical similarities and themes.

With his first ciné-roman (film-novel), L’Année dernière à Marienbad (1961; Last Year at Marienbad, 1962), Robbe-Grillet began a second career as a writer and director of several screenplays. Additionally, he helped establish the original ciné-roman as a genre distinct from either novel or film. Usually a simplified rendering of a script with stills from the film already made, Robbe-Grillet’s film-novels contain imagery and story elements similar to those found in his novels, yet they are independently conceived and have a structural integrity uniquely their own.

In his second phase, in the 1960’s and 1970’s, Robbe-Grillet wrote his militant and sexually violent Project for a Revolution in New York. He also produced films with aberrant sexual behavior clearly depicted, such as Trans-Europ-Express (1966) and Glissements progressifs du plaisir (1974; The Successive Slidings of Pleasure, 1974).

The three books that are termed Robbe-Grillet’s “romanesques,” Ghosts in the Mirror, Angélique: Ou, L’Enchantement (Angelique: or, enchantment), and Les Derniers Jours de Corinthe (last days of Corinthe), began a third cycle. Since these works integrate personal memories with artistic theories and invented obsessions, some critics have called them “autofictions” or “autobiographical fictions.”

Robbe-Grillet is known in the United States as an iconoclastic breaker of traditions as well as for the novels The Voyeur and Jealousy and the film Last Year at Marienbad. None of these early works, however, offers more than a suggestion of the full extent of the experimentations of his third phase.

Bibliography

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Fletcher, John. Alain Robbe-Grillet. New York: Methuen, 1983. This short study is by one of the best critics of French twentieth century fiction, who takes a thematic approach. Fletcher concludes that Robbe-Grillet has hastened the demise of modernism even though Robbe-Grillet felt that he had championed it.

Fragola, Anthony N., and Roch C. Smith. The Erotic Dream Machine: Interviews with Alain Robbe-Grillet on His Films. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1995. Presents Robbe-Grillet’s ideas on film techniques and their similarities and differences from the elements of the novel.

Harger-Grinling, Virginia, and Tony Chadwick, eds. Robbe-Grillet and the Fantastic. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1994. Analyses of Robbe-Grillet’s work and experimental methods by critics and former students of Robbe-Grillet.

Hellerstein, Marjorie H. Inventing the Real World: The Art of Alain Robbe-Grillet. Selinsgrove, Penn.: Susquehanna University Press, 1998. Discusses the real world as defined by Robbe-Grillet and how he creates it.

Jefferson, Ann. The Nouveau Roman and the Poetics of Fiction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980. A survey of the French New Novel that covers Robbe-Grillet in several chapters, including two on The Erasers and Jealousy. Jefferson describes his narratives as “unnatural.” This study, although it covers novelists other than Robbe-Grillet, is useful for setting his writing into perspective and seeing Robbe-Grillet as a part of a French literary movement of the 1950’s and 1960’s.

Leki, Ilona. Alain Robbe-Grillet. Boston: Twayne, 1983. Leki takes each of Robbe-Grillet’s major novels and discusses it in turn, finishing with Un Regicide. She concludes that after the debate on subjectivity and objectivity diminished, the discussions focused on Robbe-Grillet’s use of narrative strategies. Excellent study for general survey of this work. Includes a good bibliography.

Morrisette, Bruce. The Novels of Robbe-Grillet. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1975. A translation of a French-language work by an American expert on Robbe-Grillet. Morrisette is, along with Fletcher, the dean of criticism on Robbe-Grillet, and in this study takes the reader through the major novels by examining such themes as the maze, the narrator and his doubles, and the cinematic novels.

Nelson, Roy Jay. “Mental-Representation Fiction,” in Causality and Narrative in French Fiction from Zola to Robbe-Grillet. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1990. Nelson approaches Robbe-Grillet by discussing the narrative, which he calls a description of mental representation.

Ramsey, Raylene L. The French New Autobiographies: Sarraute, Duras, and Robbe-Grillet. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1996. Analyzes the genre of autobiographical fiction as practiced by three prominent French writers.

Ramsay, Ralene L. Robbe-Grillet and Modernity: Science, Sexuality, and Subversion. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1992. Ramsay discusses modernity, complementarity, myth, and sado-eroticism, all elements of Robbe-Grillet’s narrative. The study also includes interviews with Robbe-Grillet, which shed light on the creative process. Excellent survey. Contains a bibliography.

Robbe-Grillet, Alain. Two Novels: “Jealousy” and “In the Labyrinth.” Translated by Richard Howard. Introductions by Roland Barthes, Bruce Morrissette, and Anne Minor. New York: Grove Press, 1965. The three introductory essays discuss Robbe-Grillet’s work in regard to theory of the novel and to development of the New Novel.

Roland, Lillian Dunmars. Women in Robbe-Grillet: A Study in Thematics and Diegetics. New York: P. Lang, 1993. Views women’s roles in the novels, in particular the ways they provide a variety of perspectives.

Smith, Roch Charles. Understanding Robbe-Grillet. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2000. Excellent introduction and guide for the reader new to Robbe-Grillet’s fiction. Contains in-depth analysis of major novels. Selected bibliography. Indexed.

Stoltzfus, Ben. Alain Robbe-Grillet: The Body of the Text. London: Associated University Presses, 1985. Stoltzfus contends that Robbe-Grillet exaggerates images of sex and violence in his novels in order to expose and undermine them.

Unwin, Timothy, ed. Cambridge Companion to the French Novel. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003. Contains a chapter on reality and its representation in the nineteenth century novel as well as theoretical discussions of the novel and its changes from nineteenth century to New Novel. Chronology, guide to further reading, and index included.

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