“I have no biography,” wrote Jean-Marie-Lucien-Pierre Anouilh around the age of thirty-five to one of his earliest critics, “and am quite pleased not to have any.” Going on to sketch in such bare essentials as a year of law school and two years in advertising, with some desultory work in films, Anouilh observed that he had discovered the theater at an early age and had fortunately (he claimed) never had to resort to journalism. Thus did Anouilh drape about his life a screen of privacy that more or less protected him for the rest of his life. To an even greater degree than in the case of most prolific authors, Anouilh’s work was his life, and vice versa.
Anouilh’s “life in the theater” began in late 1929 or early 1930, when he succeeded the scenarist and playwright Georges Neveux as secretary to the eminent director Louis Jouvet, who had “discovered” and developed the playwriting talents of Jean Giraudoux, by then France’s most eminent dramatist. Almost at once, Anouilh began to try his hand at writing plays, initially without much success; later he withdrew certain of his early efforts from circulation, and they remain to this day in a limbo perhaps well deserved. One of the few anecdotes attaching itself to the playwright’s early life holds that on Anouilh’s marriage in 1932 to the actress Monelle Valentin, Jouvet “gave” the young couple some opulent stage properties left over from his production of Giraudoux’s...
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