Jean Cocteau Long Fiction Analysis - Essay

Jean Cocteau Long Fiction Analysis

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Le Potomak was a crucial work in Jean Cocteau’s development, as he used it to break free of former influences and find an individual voice. Highly experimental, it is, however, not of compelling interest for any other reason, consisting as it does of an exploration of the subconscious through a hodgepodge of verse, prose, and drawings, all of which reveal Cocteau’s talents but mostly demonstrate rebellion rather than a mature concept of the novelistic art. Its writing was interrupted by World War I, and the influence of the war is apparent in the revised edition. Under the influence of Radiguet, Cocteau wrote The Grand Écart and Thomas the Impostor. Mythologizing memories of his childhood, Cocteau based The Grand Écart on a childhood visit to Venice and his recollections of boarding school. One of his recurrent images appears indistinctly in this novel in the form of the Englishman Stopwell. Like Dargelos and the Angel Heurtebise, Stopwell is an angel in the form of a tempter who brings about annihilation or metamorphosis. Thomas the Impostor was based largely on Cocteau’s own experiences during the war. Rejected for service, he posed as an ambulance driver on the Belgian front and was “adopted” by a group of Fusiliers Marins. When discovered by a superior officer, he was arrested and taken from the front. A day later, most of his comrades were killed. Rather than portraying the war as a horror, however, the novel turns it into a ghastly joke, a reflection of humanity’s chaotic mind, a cruel trick played by a Euripidean god. Being an impostor is likened to being a poet, and reality and impostorship merge only when Thomas the Impostor is shot in the Waste Land. The “Prince of Frivolity,” as Cocteau was known, uses flippant, humorous, outlandish imagery that accentuates the horror. The book is clearly one of his better novels, though not nearly equal to his next.

Children of the Game

Children of the Game is considered to be Cocteau’s most successful novel by far. In addition to being beautifully written, it is an extraordinary evocation of adolescent hopes, fears, dreams, and obsessions; it is said to have been regarded by French teenagers as capturing their alienation from adult society in the same way that J. D. Salinger articulated teen alienation in American culture. Perhaps because Cocteau, as an artist and a man, always held himself as a kind of alien visitor to the realms of the establishment from the world of subjectivity and irrationality, his sensitivity to adolescent alienation was enhanced. Children of the Game is not a realistic portrayal of adolescence, however. It is sensitive, but it is so overlaid with dream imagery and mythological overtones that whatever autobiographical elements and psychological truths it might contain are submerged.

Fragments from many mythological sources are identifiable upon even a cursory reading of the work. Cocteau was fascinated with mythology and at various times in his career wrote works dealing with Antigone, Orpheus, Bacchus, and the “Beauty and the Beast” motif. Cocteau wrote Children of the Game very rapidly—at the rate of seventeen pages a day for three weeks—while he was undergoing treatment for opium addiction, as if he were trying to let archetypal and subconscious elements flow freely onto the...

(The entire section is 1384 words.)