Francis Jammes Critical Essays


(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

Francis Jammes 1868-1938

French poet and novelist.

Francis Jammes was a French poet whose early work exemplified nineteenth century romanticism's fascination with the natural world. At their best, his poems and novels, which included Le Roman du liévre (The Romance of the Rabbit) exhibited a spontaneity and unself-conscious joyousness which brought Jammes friends and admirers among such noted literary figures as André Gide and Stephane Mallarmé. However, the work that followed his 1905 conversion to Catholicism tended toward self-consciousness and a didactic quality that diminished his legacy among succeeding generations.

Biographical Information

Jammes spent most of his life in the Pyrenees foothills, where his father held several successive government posts. His father died when Jammes was 20, and Jammes continued living with his mother for many years afterward. Always a lackluster student, he studied law briefly and worked for a time as a notary's assistant, but generally he spent his time in peaceful and pastoral pursuits, taking long walks and observing the natural world in a precise detail which he translated into his later poetry and prose poems. His first poems appeared in 1891, when he arranged to print 50 copies of Six Sonnets. A second volume attracted the attention of Mallarmé, Gide, and others, and Jammes began a series of interactions with leading literary figures that included a lengthy correspondence with Gide. Thereafter he published various poems, books, and articles. His friendship with another leading poet, Paul Claudel, led to his conversion to Catholicism in 1905. In 1906, when he was 38 and still living with his mother, Jammes married and eventually fathered seven children. He continued to write during the three remaining decades of his life, but commentators have maintained that his best work lay behind him. He died in 1938.

Major Works

Jammes first established himself with such poetic works as those collected in Six Sonnets and Vers. Within a few years, he was moving into narrative with Un jour, which depicted a day in the life of a poet. There was not much activity in Un jour, though in the companion pieces La Naissance du poéte (The Birth of the Poet) and La Mort du poéte (The Death of the Poet), he dramatized stages of the poet's life. In 1897 he published a short manifesto in the literary journal Mercure de France, wherein he sketched a model for a poetic style that incorporated naturalistic and sensual elements. His best-regarded poetry appears in the collection De l'Angelus de l'aube ál'Angelus du soir, published in 1898, wherein he explored a variety of themes, always according to the rubric of naturalism—or "Jammism," as his style would come to be called. Around the turn of the century, he entered the last fruitful phase of his career with the publication of several novels depicting young girls in often tragic circumstances. The title character of Clara d' Ellébeuse, for instance, is obsessed with a mystery surrounding a deceased woman named Laura who had become pregnant by her uncle. Ultimately Clara, swept up in the drama of people she has never met, finds herself succumbing to a possible seducer of her own, the poet Roger. She poisons herself and dies on Laura's grave. The most famous of Jammes's novels is the more lighthearted The Romance of the Rabbit. In it, the Hare goes through numerous adventures on earth and winds up in heaven, where he finds that he misses the dangers of his earthbound existence. The quantity of Jammes's output in the next decades was high, but his writings were not well-regarded. His only other noteworthy works were his three-volume Mémoires, published from 1921 to 1923.