Alain Robbe-Grillet was born on August 18, 1922, in Brest, Finistère, France. He received his early education at the lycée Buffon in Paris, the lycée in Brest, and the lycée Saint Louis in Paris. Growing up in a family of scientists and engineers, he chose to study mathematics and biology. In 1944 he graduated from the Institut National d’Agronomique with a degree in agricultural engineering. During World War II, he was sent to Germany to work in a tank factory. He was an engineer at the Institut National de la Statistique in Paris from 1945 to 1948. Then from 1949 to 1951 he was an agronomist with the Institut des Fruits et Agrumes Coloniaux in Morocco, in French Guyana, in Martinique, and in Guadeloupe, where he was involved in the supervision of banana plantations.
In 1951, Robbe-Grillet suffered from ill health. While recuperating, he wrote Les Gommes (1953; The Erasers, 1964). With the publication of this novel, he began a new career as a writer. Although The Erasers was his first published novel, it was not the first novel that he had written. In 1949, while working in his sister’s biology laboratory, he had written Un Régicide (1978; a regicide). This novel was not published until 1978. The Erasers brought him considerable attention from the literary community and recognition as one of the major new authors whose works were referred to as the New Novel. In 1954, The Erasers received the Prix Fénélon. The following year, Robbe-Grillet published The Voyeur, for which he received the Prix des Critiques, and became a literary consultant for the French publishing house Les Editions de Minuit. He remained in this capacity through 1985. On October 23, 1957, he married Catherine Rstakian, a film and theater actress.
In spite of Robbe-Grillet’s insistance that he was a writer and not a theoretician of the novel, he came to play an ever more important role in the controversy between the traditionalists, who insisted that novels must use the conventions established by the novelists of the nineteenth century, and the New Novel writers who believed the novel must be reinvented or die from stagnation. Robbe-Grillet continued to write novels, publishing La Jalousie (Jealousy, 1960) in 1957 and Dans le Labyrinthe (In the Labyrinth, 1960) in 1959.
In 1961, Robbe-Grillet embarked on yet another career when he was asked to write the screenplay for a film to be directed by Alain Renais. The result of their collaboration was the film L’Année dernière à Marienbad (1961; Last Year at Marienbad). Robbe-Grillet, fascinated by film as an art form, felt compelled to direct a film as well as write the screenplay for it. Between 1963 and 1968, he wrote and directed three black-and-white films: L’Immortelle (1963; The Immortal One), Trans-Europ-Express (1966), and L’Homme qui ment (1968; The Man Who Lies).
In 1963, still insisting that he did not have a theory of the novel, Robbe-Grillet published Pour un nouveau roman (For a New Novel, 1965), a collection of essays exploring his own view of the novel and critically applying these ideas to several contemporary novels. In 1965, he published La Maison de rendez-vous (English translation, 1966), a novel influenced by his work in film. From 1966 to 1968, he served as a member of the Haut-Comité pour la Défense et l’Expansion de la Langue Française.
During the 1970’s, Robbe-Grillet was primarily involved in filmmaking. He spent 1980 to 1988 as the director of the Centre de la Sociologie de la Littérature at the University of Brussels. At this time, he began writing a three-volume imaginary autobiography, which he did not finish until 1994. He also taught and lectured at several university campuses, among them New York University and Washington University. In 1981, working with Yvonne Lenard, he wrote a mystery story for use in teaching intermediate French entitled “Le Rendez-vous” (the meeting). Robbe-Grillet considers this work, which he had to create while respecting the restriction of a progressive...
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