Analysis

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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 444

Jealousy by Alain Robbe-Grillet is a translation of his La Jalousie. It's important to know that, because the original French title is a play on words that you don't understand in English unless you already know about it. "Jalousie" is "jealousy" in English. "Jalousie" is also an English word describing window blinds with wide slats that move up and down by a bar running down the center of the window. Both meanings figure largely in the novel. We won't summarize the novel here; we'll analyze it. If you want to know what's in it, read it in French or English, and check out the excellent study guide available on this website.

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It's hard to call Jealousy a novel. It doesn't have much of a plot. The characters are flat. It's got no discernible conflict, its themes are opaque, and it's hard to see how anything is resolved. Indeed, Robbe-Grillet wrote La Jalousie this way on purpose. It was his attempt at what he called "the new novel," which was meant to save literature from itself. He thought that, after a fecund hundred years to the end of World War II, the novel was lost. His experiment with new forms launched a movement, of which La Jalousie is the first, best example.

Reading the story itself is like watching a film. A person we presume is A's husband watches her and Franck. He looks at the house and its grounds. He notices everything and reports it in minute detail. You get the sense, reading it, that this could be a screenplay or precise instructions for creating a tableau. It's almost as if this is the point of the story. We assume the narrator is jealous, because we impute motives for his observations, but we're never told this is the case. We're never told anything about the narrator, and we're never told anything which could ascribe morality or judgment to the actions he witnesses. In fact, we're never told the narrator is in fact a person. We could be looking through a camera or watching a video tape.

That's the key point. Robbe-Grillet wanted to create a new way of telling a story, and he succeeded. Whether the story is any good isn't important. What is important is the telling of the story. The absence of any characterization or theme leaves a big hole, as Robbe-Grillet said, and that hole is filled by the reader. The reader becomes the narrator, not by choice, but by necessity. You fill in the missing bits out of your own experience and conflicts. It's a brilliant trick, and even if you don't agree with it, you have to recognize it.

Places Discussed

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 574

House

House. Home of the novel’s anonymous narrator and his wife, who is identified only as “A . . . ” Located at the center of a series of squares or—boxes, the house is surrounded by other squares or partial boxes—a veranda, a garden, a courtyard, and the banana plantation, which encloses the house on all four sides of its square. The narrator-husband always remains in or close to his home. Readers see nothing that lies beyond his field of vision and are consequently at the mercy of the narrator’s judgments.

A road leads from the house to a highway, which in turn, leads to the home of Franck, who is apparently A . . . ’s lover. This road, which cuts through the boundaries around the narrator’s home, constitutes then a means of escape for A . . . and Franck, who make at least one trip to a port city, several hours away by car.

The story’s three major characters spend much of their time on a veranda that surrounds the house on three sides. The narrator notes that the chairs of Franck and A . . . are always very close together, which facilitates conversation—and conspiracy. On the other hand, the narrator-husband’s chair is at the other end of a semicircle—separated from those of the others by a cocktail table and the empty chair reserved for Franck’s always-absent wife, Christiane.

The narrator’s garden, courtyard, and plantation represent his desire to carve out a civilized domain in a hostile environment—a triumph of humankind over savage nature. The garden and the courtyard separate the house from the groves of banana trees, from which shrill animal cries emanate.

Office

Office. Principal vantage point of the narrator, from which he observes A . . . , Franck, and activities on his estate. He watches what goes on around him through jalousie blinds—whose name gives the novel’s title a double meaning. Physically therefore, the narrator’s view of things is never complete—just as his knowledge of what is in fact going on between Franck and his wife is fragmented.

A . . . ’s bedroom

A . . . ’s bedroom. Directly across a corridor from her husband/narrator’s office, the room in which A . . . primps before a vanity mirror, dresses, apparently writes letters to Franck, and stares out a window, in the direction from which Franck is most likely to approach the house. This room is referred to only as A . . . ’s bedroom, not the bedroom of husband and wife. The narrator apparently sleeps in a small bedroom separated from A . . . ’s room by a bathroom. The jealous narrator/husband can see what A . . . does in her bedroom when the doors to his office and the bedroom are ajar; however, her room has corners in which A . . . cannot be seen from outside.

At the end of the novel, when the narrator’s stress is critical, he sees spots and streaks of red (blood? ) on the windowsill of A . . . ’s bedroom and nearby. The incident leaves readers with the impression that the narrator has murdered his wife and/or Franck.

Living room

Living room. Main room of the home of the narrator and A . . . One wall of the room has a red stain left by a centipede that Franck has crushed during one of his visits to the house. Later, in the narrator’s anguished view, the stain on the wall curiously resembles the red stain on the windowsill of A . . . ’s bedroom.

Bibliography

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 222

Barthes, Roland. “Objective Literature: Alain Robbe-Grillet.” In Two Novels by Robbe-Grillet: “Jealousy” and “In the Labyrinth,” translated by Richard Howard, New York: Grove Press, 1965. Important introductory essay to the standard English language edition of Jealousy by the leading French structuralist critic and proponent of objective literature.

Fletcher, John. Alain Robbe-Grillet. New York: Methuen, 1983. Good monographic overview of Robbe-Grillet’s fiction and critical theory. Section on Jealousy emphasizes the psychological aspects of the narrator’s consciousness rather than the structural patterns of his descriptions.

Leki, Ilona. Alain Robbe-Grillet. Boston: Twayne, 1983. A thorough, readable survey of the author’s life and works. Chapter on Jealousy suggests that the narrator’s paranoid psychology is produced by a generalized fear of dispossession and loss of control, not only of his wife, but also of his house and property.

Morrissette, Bruce. Alain Robbe-Grillet. New York: Columbia University Press, 1965. Short but excellent monograph by Robbe-Grillet’s premier critic. Extremely perceptive commentary on Jealousy, with a nice balance between formalist and humanist interpretative reading.

Stoltzfus, Ben. Alain Robbe-Grillet and the New French Novel. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1964. Although to an extent superseded by Stoltzfus’ later work on Robbe-Grillet, still a very useful introductory study. Sees in Jealousy the fusion of two narrative centers: the selective omniscience of the jealous husband with the hidden editorial omniscience of the author.

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