One of the principal French writers of the New Novel, Claude-Eugène-Henri Simon (see-mohn) has combined the exploration of new modes of novelistic discourse with a trenchant view of the human condition to create a unique fictional universe. He was born in Tananarive, Madagascar (then a French possession), on October 10, 1913. He left the African island one year later when, with the onset of World War I, his father, an army officer, was called up for active military service. After his father was killed in the war, Simon spent his childhood in Perpignan, a small town in the eastern Pyrenees. Simon received his secondary education at the Collège Stanislas in Paris and later studied at both Oxford and Cambridge universities. He then began to train as a painter with André Lhote, who had been one of the early cubist painters. Paintings of various kinds appear in several of Simon’s novels. Simon spent the years 1936 to 1939 traveling in Europe. His peregrinations included a brief stay in Spain, where he participated in the Civil War on the Republican side. When World War II started, Simon was drafted into a cavalry regiment. After the French defeat at the Battle of the Meuse, he was captured by the Germans but managed to escape from his prison camp. Simon’s reflections on the two wars in which he took part appear in La Corde raide (the tightrope), a journal that he published in 1947. War is a major theme in many of Simon’s novels, for, in addition to its specific devastation, it exposes the chaos underlying the apparent order of existence as well as emphasizing humankind’s lack of progress. After the war, Simon returned to the Pyrenees region, settling in the village of Salses and becoming a vintner. He later moved to Paris, where he stayed.
Simon’s first novel, Le Tricheur (the cheater), was published in 1945. The works that he produced during the 1940’s and 1950’s, which constitute his first phase, present many of the themes that appeared in later, better-known novels but are largely traditional in form. Yet The Wind and, to a lesser extent, The Grass already point toward the more innovative fictions of Simon’s second period with respect to such matters as narrative perspective, temporality, and the nature of representation. The anonymous narrator of The Wind attempts to restore the reality of a series of incidents in a small town in southern France. The ceaselessly blowing wind is a metaphor of the destructive passage of time that blurs events and characters. The narrator succeeds in establishing a pattern of criminal activities but begins to suspect that his discovery is an invention created by his desire to give meaning to the events he is investigating, by language that has imposed its own...
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