Jean Cocteau Additional Biography


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

It could be argued that Jean Maurice Eugène Clement Cocteau was born and bred to be an outsider. Reared by a family of stockbrokers, diplomats, and admirals, he was a product of the grande bourgeoisie française, neither entirely of the middle class nor entirely of the aristocracy. His parents, Georges and Eugénie Lecomte Cocteau, a couple who were no strangers to the arts, introduced Jean, his brother Paul, and his sister Marthe to music, theater, architecture, indeed, all the fine arts. Georges died when Jean was nine years old, and his mother, with whom he had a long and close relationship, had difficulty keeping the boy at the Petit Lycée Condorcet, where he was a poor student. Instead, Cocteau preferred to follow his own interests at home and to attend the theater regularly.

His birthplace, Maisons-Laffitte, allowed Cocteau easy access to Paris, where he involved himself in the various avant-garde movements that followed hard on one another in the early part of the twentieth century, finding comradeship in unconventional undertakings with fellow outsiders. His friends included such writers as Edmond Rostand, Catulle Mendès, Leon Daudet, Marcel Proust, and the Comtesse Anna de Noailles. By 1909, he had published his first book of poems, La Lampe d’Aladin.

Soon afterward, he met the director of the Ballets Russes, Sergei Diaghilev, a man who influenced Cocteau immensely, inspiring him to write a number of ballet scenarios. Diaghilev’s remonstrance to “Astonish me!” is claimed to have set Cocteau on his...

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(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Jean Cocteau’s background was solidly Parisian bourgeois. Georges and Eugénie Lecomte Cocteau, his parents, were a cultivated couple who introduced Jean, his brother Paul, and his sister Marthe to the fine arts. Near their suburban home, Cocteau would recall, the children played on the grounds of a “magical” castle designed by François Mansart. When living in the city with his grandparents, Cocteau would wander through rooms that contained classical busts, vases, a painting by Eugène Delacroix, and drawings by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. The celebrated violinist Pablo de Sarasate often visited Cocteau’s grandfather, who was a cellist, and they would play music together. What impressed the young Cocteau most, however, were his trips to the circus, the ice palace, and the theater, particularly the Comédie-Française. His memories of these trips, he would later come to realize, were even brighter than the real experiences. In his own productions years later, he would ask technicians to duplicate the lighting or brilliance of childhood theatrical events and be told it had been technically impossible to create such effects when he was a boy. Memory had heightened the splendor of the past, including the recollections of the castle and of his grandparents’ house; his own life began to assume mythological dimensions.

At the Petit Lycée Condorcet, Cocteau was a poor student, especially after his father killed himself in 1899 because of financial pressures. He did, however, meet the haunting Pierre Dargelos, who would become the dark “god” of Children of the Game. At the Grand Condorcet, Cocteau was frequently truant, exploiting his illnesses to stay home. Like many creative people, he was irritated by institutions, and he much preferred having his German governess sew doll clothes for a model theater to sitting behind a school desk. Réné Rocher, one of his best friends, often played with Cocteau’s miniature theaters and, in adulthood, became a director himself.

Cocteau traveled with his mother to Venice, then began study for his baccalauréat. He was more interested, however, in his first love affair—with Madeleine Carlier, ten years his senior—and his deepening involvement in theater. He became a protégé of Édouard de Max, who acted opposite Sarah Bernhardt. All of these diversions contributed to Cocteau’s failing the bachot.

De Max, however, thrust Cocteau into the public eye by organizing a reading of Cocteau’s poetry by de Max, Rocher, and other prominent actors and actresses, at the Théâtre Fémina, on April 4, 1908. Several important literary critics and many of the elite of Paris attended. Cocteau’s debut was a great success, and reviewers compared him to Pierre de Ronsard and Alfred de Musset. Subsequently, Cocteau met many literary notables, including Edmond Rostand, Marcel Proust, Charles-Pierre Péguy, Catulle Mendès, and Jules Lemaître. Comtesse Anna de Noailles particularly enchanted him, and he tried to write refined and sensual poetry like hers. He helped found the literary magazine Schéhérazade, dedicated to poetry and music, and moved into the Hôtel Biron, whose residents at the time included Auguste Rodin and his secretary, Rainer Maria Rilke.

Meeting the great impresario Sergei Diaghilev of the Ballets Russes caused Cocteau to abandon his previous enthusiasms for a while. He begged Diaghilev to let him write ballets. Diaghilev...

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(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

ph_0111201634-Cocteau.jpg Jean Cocteau Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Other Literary Forms

Jean Cocteau was a formidable artist in many genres and awesomely prolific. Among his seven novels, little read today, the most important is Les Enfants terribles (1929; Enfants Terribles, 1930, also known as Children of the Game, 1955). Among his many plays, some of the most notable are Orphée (pr. 1926; Orpheus, 1933), La Voix humaine (pr., pb. 1930; The Human Voice, 1951), La Machine infernale (pr., pb. 1934; The Infernal Machine, 1936), Les Parents terribles (pr., pb. 1938; Intimate Relations, 1952), and La Machine à écrire (pr., pb. 1941; The Typewriter, 1948). In the...

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(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Jean Maurice Eugène Clement Cocteau (kok-TOH) was born on July 5, 1889, in Maisons-Laffitte, on the outskirts of Paris, France, where he would spend most of his diverse, prolific, and well-publicized artistic career. A fragile child, he was introduced early to the arts by his family and their acquaintances. At the age of nine, his father, Georges, committed suicide, an event never mentioned in any of Cocteau’s works; Cocteau then began his intense preoccupation with the circus, the theater, and classical music. He attended primary school from the ages of eleven to fourteen, and his three failures at the baccalauréat clearly showed his lack of taste for the regimented French educational system, which he later called...

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(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

At the age of forty-one, in his 1930 account of opium addiction, Jean Cocteau would write that even a poet cannot write his own biography. In the broadest sense, however, Cocteau’s life was an exercise in being as many different poets as possible. In media ranging from fresco to film to the novel, Cocteau attempted to bring together a perfection of classical form and a wildly innovative modernity. By placing the debris of World War I on the stage of Greek tragedy behind a veil of medieval mysticism, he created a revolution not only in art but also in society. As flamboyant in life as in art, his agility and intensity continue to impress and sometimes to offend.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

An artist possessed of many extraordinary talents, Jean Cocteau (kawk-toh) astonished the world for more than five decades with the originality of his poems, novels, plays, films, paintings, drawings, and critical articles. Prolific, brilliant, and charming, Cocteau earned the admiration and friendship of intellectuals and artists from many fields: The painter Pablo Picasso, the composer Igor Stravinsky, the writer André Gide, and the filmmaker Luis Buñuel were counted among his friends. Born near Paris in 1889 into a wealthy bourgeois family, the young Cocteau enjoyed all the advantages of his situation. The theater enchanted him, as did music halls and the circus. He hated the Lycée Condorcet, which he attended from 1900 to...

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(Drama for Students)

The French poet, playwright, novelist, artist, and film maker Jean Maurice Eugene Clement Cocteau was born to a wealthy family on July 5,...

(The entire section is 826 words.)