Jacques Prévert Biography


(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

The son of working-class parents, Jacques Prévert was born February 4, 1900, in Neuilly-sur-Seine. At the age of fifteen, having completed his primary education—a process he obviously did not enjoy—he left school and began to earn his living. He once, in a radio interview, confessed that, had the label “juvenile delinquent” been part of the vocabulary of the early twentieth century, it would have been applied to him.

Despite his distaste for school, Prévert read a great deal and was particularly interested in the authors of the Enlightenment and their ideas about the natural rights of man, as well as such distinctions as natural evil as opposed to human evil. Nevertheless, he quickly developed a distrust of great intellectual constructs and philosophical debate. His friendship with the Surrealist painter Yves Tanguy began in the regiment in which they both served in 1920, as part of the occupation army of Thessaloníki, Greece. There he also made the acquaintance of Marcel Duhamel, who would later become a film director. The three young men went to Paris upon their demobilization and established what they jokingly called a phalanstery (after the Fourierist communes known by that name) in the no longer extant rue de Château. Raymond Queneau, who thirty years later would write critical works on Prévert, soon joined them, and their house became a gathering point for the young writers and artists of the Surrealist movement.

A shared passion for the cinema prompted them to attend films daily, sometimes three or four in a single day. Prévert and his friends, including his...

(The entire section is 658 words.)


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Although he did not publish his first book of poetry until the age of forty-six, Jacques-Henri-Marie Prévert (pray-ver) is generally considered the most popular French poet of the twentieth century. Prévert was born in the Paris suburb of Neuilly-sur-Seine into a middle-class family. His parents, André and Suzanne, had three sons; Jacques was the second of their children. His father, the author of the historical novel Diane de Maelstreck (1895), worked for Catholic charities in Paris. From 1920 until 1922, Jacques Prévert served in the French army and was assigned to Constantinople. He married twice but had only one child. In 1946, his second wife, Janine, gave birth to their daughter, Michèle. Prévert was devoted to his wife and daughter, and his only grandchild, Eugénie, brought him much happiness near the end of his life. He died of lung cancer on April 11, 1977.

Although Prévert actively supported left-wing French politics, political topics are not dominant themes in his lyric poetry. His fame rests largely on the deceptively simple poems published in his 1945 book of poems, Paroles (words), but he also worked extensively in films. He wrote screenplays for such important directors as Jean Renoir and Marcel Carné. Prévert often worked under difficult circumstances; during the German occupation of France during World War II, he and Carné created two masterpieces, Les Visiteurs du soir (evening visitors) and Children of Paradise, which was completed before the liberation of France in 1944 but not released until 1945. Nazi censorship of books and films was strict during the Occupation, and Carné and Prévert were careful to present these films as historical dramas. Les Visiteurs du soir is a moral allegory about the conflict between good and evil set in the Middle Ages. Although some censors...

(The entire section is 761 words.)