Other literary forms

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 171

Although the novels of Blaise Cendrars (SAHN-drawr) had many admirers, including Henry Miller, his most critically respected work is his poetry. Combining his adventurous autobiography with complex, strong imagery and powerful emotion, Cendrars’s most praised books of poetry are his extraordinary early efforts, Les Pâques à New York (1912; Easter in New York, 1966); La Prose du Transsibérien et de la petite Jehanne de France (1913; The Trans-Siberian Express, 1964); and Le Panama: Ou, Les Aventures de mes sept oncles (1918; Panama: Or, The Adventures of My Seven Uncles, 1931). His poetry is most important for its audacious expression of modernism. Other important collections include Dix-neuf Poèmes élastiques (1919); Kodak (1924; English translation, 1976); and Feuilles de route (1924, 1927). Une Nuit dans la forêt (1929) and Vol à voiles (1932) were alleged by Cendrars to be autobiographical nonfiction, but critics assert they are largely fictionalized. His nonfiction “novels” and short stories, as well as his prose poems, are difficult to categorize using conventional terms. Cendrars was also an editor, essayist, journalist, translator, screenwriter, film director, ballet scenarist, and radio dramatist.

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Achievements

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Blaise Cendrars as a writer made direct use of his personal life and experiences to an unusual degree. This has made critics uneasy with assessing his literary accomplishments, as if the writer’s life is somehow separate from his work, or should be. Miller, whose own work incorporated a great deal of autobiography, was impressed with Cendrars’s work and praised it for its luminosity, calling Cendrars a “continent of letters.” Others, however, see Cendrars as a technically proficient writer who was at his best in his free-wheeling poetry. Both his poetry and prose, however, are praised for their rich, powerful, restless, modern imagery and strongly evocative effects.

Blaise was an independent man who did not ally himself with any literary movements, but he was nevertheless a great influence on Surrealism and other modern movements. Only late in his life did he attain any substantial critical recognition, receiving the Legion of Honor in 1959 and the Grand Prix Littéraire de la Ville de Paris in 1961.

Bibliography

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Albert, Walter, ed. Selected Writings of Blaise Cendrars. 1966. Reprint. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1978. In his critical introduction, editor Walter Albert suggests that Cendrars lacked discipline and form and that his work thus never achieved its rich potential. Includes a preface by Henry Miller.

Bochner, Jay. “An American Writer Born in Paris: Blaise Cendrars Reads Henry Miller Reading Blaise Cendrars.” Twentieth Century Literature 49, no. 1 (2003): 103-122. Examines the relationship of Cendrars and Miller and contrasts their writings. Bochner finds fault with the authors’ writing styles, maintaining that Miller has trouble keeping “the flow” of his work “flowing,” while Cendrars’s problems are “believability and form.”

Bochner, Jay. Blaise Cendrars: Discovery and Re-Creation. Buffalo, N.Y.: University of Toronto Press, 1978. Full-length study of Cendrars’s life and works, providing a thorough and balanced assessment of his complete oeuvre. Includes an index and a bibliography.

Bursey, Jeff. “Blaise Cendrars.” Review of Contemporary Fiction 24, no. 1 (Spring, 2004): 58-93. An overview of some of the elements of Cendrars’s novels and memoirs, in which Bursey, in his own words, hopes to “initiate more interest in this neglected artist whose work spans genres, media, isms, wars, continents, and oceans.”

Cendrars, Blaise. Complete Postcards from the Americas: Poems of Road and Sea. Translated by Monique Chefdor. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976. Translator Chefdor’s introduction provides a useful and detailed overview of Cendrars’s life and work in this collection of Cendrars’s poetry.

Chefdor, Monique. Blaise Cendrars. Boston: Twayne, 1980. A good introduction to Cendrars’s life and works. One of the volumes in the Twayne World Authors series.

Chefdor, Monique. Introduction to Complete Postcards from the Americas, by Blaise Cendrars. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976. Gives a useful and detailed overview of the life and work of Cendrars.

Leamon, Amanda. Shades of Sexuality: Colors and Sexual Identity in the Novels of Blaise Cendrars. Atlanta: Rodopi, 1997. Leamon uses the color spectrum and elements of disguise to describe the structures and symbolism of Cendrars’s novels, focusing on his treatment of men in relation to women. A specialized, scholarly study that requires some knowledge of Cendrars’s work. Includes a bibliography and an index.

Miller, Henry. The Books in My Life. 1952. Reprint. New York: New Directions, 1969. Miller devotes an entire chapter to Cendrars, one of his favorite authors and a highly influential contemporary.

Miller, Henry. Preface to Selected Writings of Blaise Cendrars. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1978. An insightful and valuable piece by the well-known novelist, who was strongly influenced by Cendrars.

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Critical Essays