Claude Simon Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

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...

(The entire section is 1132 words.)


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Claude-Eugène-Henri Simon was born on October 10, 1913, in Tananarive, the capital city of the island of Madagascar, then a French possession. He left Madagascar at a young age and spent his childhood in Perpignan, a small city in the eastern Pyrenees. His father, an army officer, was killed in World War I. In 1924, Simon entered the Lycée Stanislas in Paris, where he completed his secondary education. He decided to prepare himself for a career as a painter and studied under André Lhôte.

As a young man traveling in Europe during the 1930’s, Simon found himself in Spain at the time of the Civil War and participated in the conflict on the republican side. At the beginning of World War II, he was drafted into a cavalry regiment. In May, 1940, he took part in the Battle of the Meuse, in which France suffered a crushing defeat. He was captured by the Germans and placed in a prisoner-of-war camp, from which he escaped in November. Thereafter he lived in Paris, spending part of his time in the Perpignan region, where he was once a wine grower.

Although he began writing in the early 1940’s, Simon did not publish his first novel, Le Tricheur, until 1945. In 1960, he received the Prix de l’Express for The Flanders Road and in 1967 the Prix Médicis for Histoire. In 1963, his only theatrical work, La Séparation, based on The Grass, was produced in Paris but met with little success.

After his Nobel Prize win in 1985, Simon published photographic collections, autobiographical novels, and a work of nonfiction based on a writers’ conference. In interviews, Simon said that he preferred to think of his novels as reflections of a lived reality, rather than as direct transcriptions of a life. He continued to write, collect art, and live in Paris for most of the year and in Perpignan in the summers until his death on July 6, 2005 in Paris.