Enfants Terribles

by Jean Cocteau

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Places Discussed

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*Cité Monthiers

*Cité Monthiers (sih-tay mon-tee-er). District in Paris situated between the rue de Clichy and the rue d’Amsterdam. It is the site of the Lycée Condorcet, whose pupils use its streets as a playground. It is there that Paul is laid low by Dargelos’s stone-loaded snowball; the incident gives rise to his temporary confinement and his friendship with Gérard. The master’s residence, in an oblong court—which is inaccessible from the rue de Clichy because the way is blocked by wrought iron gates and hidden from the rue d’Amsterdam by a block of tenements—provides an image of confinement complementary to that of the Room.

Rue Lafitte

Rue Lafitte. Street on which Gérard’s home stands. There he lives with his guardian before moving into the house that Elisabeth inherits from Michael. In spite of Gérard’s apparent importance within the story, it never figures as a setting; when Gérard and Paul meet outside the house in the rue Montmartre they do so in cafés (their one brief long-range excursion to an unspecified seaside resort is a disaster whose risk they are not tempted to repeat).

The Room

The Room. Initially a fantasized enlargement of the children’s bedroom in their house in the rue Montmartre, beheld and sustained by virtue of their ability to enter the “Game.” The Game is a state of altered self-consciousness of which all children are capable, but a privilege that they are supposed to surrender as they grow up. Although the actual bedroom is hardly big enough to contain two small beds, a chest of drawers and three chairs, all Paul and Elisabeth’s prized possessions are crowded into it. Its door exits to a kitchen-dressing-room, whose other entrance is from the hall. The sickroom in which Paul and Elisabeth’s dying mother is lodged is initially an alien space, but when Agatha moves into it, the Room begins to expand its tacit boundaries to take it aboard.

The actual location of Michael’s far more capacious and splendid Paris residence, into which Elisabeth moves when she marries him, is never specified. To begin with, Elisabeth only claims a single room, decorated in imitation of the style of King Louis XVI, for her own, leaving the reception rooms, music room, gymnasium, and swimming pool to her husband. However, there is one room that Michael’s Americanizing renovations have never managed to tame: a huge gallery, parts of which are adapted as study, dining room, and billiard room. Although Paul initially takes over Michael’s room when he moves into the house, it is the gallery that becomes the focal point of the Room when it moves in with him. There, still insistently playing the Game, Paul establishes his own space, so spiritually isolated from the rest of the house that he has to resort to sending a letter to confess his love to Agatha—a letter which Elisabeth, still the only real cotenant of the Room, intercepts. It is, therefore, the hypothetical space of the Room in which Paul and Elisabeth remain confined thereafter, unable to release themselves even when Agatha’s attractive force seems safely neutralized by her marriage to Gérard. It is in the Room, rather than in any definable physical arena, that they both die, never having really left the Game-created refuge that turns into a prison when the moment that they should leave the Game behind passes.


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Brée, Germaine, and Margaret Guiton. An Age of Fiction: The French Novel from Gide to Camus . New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers...

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University Press, 1957. Cocteau’s novels are discussed form page 140 to page 148, which describe him as “a modern Daedalus.”

Brown, Frederick. An Impersonation of Angels: A Biography of Jean Cocteau. New York: Viking, 1968. Like most studies of Cocteau this concentrates more on his work for the cinema than on his novels. Considers the relationship between the two versions of Les Enfants Terribles.

Crosland, Margaret. Jean Cocteau. London: Peter Nevill, 1955. A biography and critical analysis. Discusses the novel version of Les Enfants Terribles on pages 166-169.

Fowlie, Wallace. Jean Cocteau: The History of a Poet’s Age. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1966. A sensitive study that includes a discussion of Les Enfants Terribles.

Steegmuller, Francis. Cocteau: A Biography. London: Constable, 1986. A biography that is fuller than Crosland’s and less florid than Brown’s.


Critical Essays