Jean Genet Additional Biography

Biography

(Critical Guide to Censorship and Literature)

0111206314-Genet.jpg Jean Genet in 1963. (Library of Congress) Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Abandoned by his mother, Genet was handed over to foster parents when he was only one year old. At fourteen he apprenticed himself to a typographer near Paris. He ran away first from the typographer and then from other homes and institutions in which he was placed, beginning a life of wandering and stealing. In order to get out of an agricultural penitentiary in 1929, he joined the French army. After serving one full tour of duty, he re-enlisted, only to desert in 1936. This was followed by years of stealing and being sentenced to prison terms.

While in prison, Genet started to write poetry and to work on a novel, Our Lady of the Flowers (1944), an autobiographical fiction about criminal life and homosexual passion that was secretly printed and circulated by admirers of his work. In 1944, having spent most of his life in and out of prisons, he was freed as a result of support from the admirers of his writing. After World War II ended, he published numerous poems, novels, and plays, and the philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre began to champion his writing.

Despite Genet’s literary success, his work remained highly controversial. In 1948 French authorities banned his radio script “The Criminal Child.” In 1951 all of his books were legally prohibited from sale in the United States, and when Our Lady of the Flowers was finally published in the U.S., in 1963, his American publishers worried about censorship.

Un...

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Biography

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Jean Genet has often been compared to his late-medieval predecessor, the thief and poet François Villon. That Genet was a thief is undeniable; the interest and the mystery lie in how he became transmuted into a poet.

Little is known with certainty about Genet’s early life because for both literary and personal reasons, he took pains to transmute the events of his life into his “legend.” Born on December 19, 1910, in a public maternity ward in the rue d’Assas in Paris, the child of a prostitute, Gabrielle Genet, and an unknown father, Genet was adopted by the Assistance Publique (the national foundling society) and sent off to foster parents in the hill country of Le Morvan, between Dijon and Nevers. There, he took to petty thievery and, by the age of ten, was branded irrevocably as a thief. By his early teens, he was confined to a reformatory for juvenile criminals at Mettray, a few miles north of Tours, where he was subjected to homosexual seductions and assaults. Details about the next ten years of his life are scarce; one way or another, he became a male prostitute, a pickpocket, a shoplifter, and a remarkably unskilled burglar. He traveled from place to place, eventually making his way to Spain and then to North Africa, where he developed a sense of kinship with the Arab victims of colonization that would later emerge in The Screens. Yet he also, during this period, had become an assiduous autodidact who, when once arrested for stealing a volume of the poetry of Paul Verlaine, was more concerned with the quality of the verse than with the commercial value of the book.

In Genet’s life, these two strains, criminality and poetry, seem to have run together in comfortable harness for twelve years or more. When he was sixteen, according to one source, he worked as guide and companion to a blind poet, René de Buxeuil, from whom he learned at least the rudiments of French prosody (and perhaps the principles of Maurrassian Fascism). Some years later, in 1936 or 1937, Genet deserted the Bataillons d’Afrique (the notorious Bat’ d’Af’—the punitive division of the French Army in North Africa) after striking an officer and stealing his suitcases, illegally crossing frontiers in Central Europe, and running a racket in questionable currency. During the same period, however, he also taught French literature to the daughter of a leading gynecologist in Brno, Moravia, and wrote her long letters in which explications of Arthur Rimbaud’s “Le Bateau ivre” (“The Drunken Boat”) alternate with laments for the fall of Léon Blum’s Front Populaire in June, 1937.

It is unknown which arrest and what cause led...

(The entire section is 1087 words.)

Biography

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

The career of Jean Genet has often been compared to that of his late-medieval predecessor, the thief and poet François Villon. That Genet was a thief is undeniable; the interest lies in how he was transformed into a poet.

The solid facts concerning Genet’s early life are few, because, for reasons that are both literary and personal, he took great pains to transmute them into his “legend.” Born on December 19, 1910, in a public maternity ward on the Rue d’Assas in Paris, the child of a prostitute and an unknown father, Genet was adopted by the Assistance Publique (the national foundling society) and, as soon as he could crawl, was sent off to foster parents in the hill country of Le Morvan, between Dijon and...

(The entire section is 1154 words.)

Biography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Jean Genet (zhuh-neh), celebrated by philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre as a model of existentialist commitment, produced in his novels and plays an ethical stance of adhering to and flaunting the immorality of which French society and law found him guilty. For him, criminality was not a pursuit of gain or power but a matter of choice, a way of life. He imbued this way of life with his own aesthetic and religious principles. His years in the reformatory and his ten prison sentences attest a life lived largely in illegitimacy. As he lived, so had he been born—illegitimately in a maternity hospital, where his mother, a Parisian prostitute named Gabrielle Genet, abandoned him. He was reared as a public charge by country people; accused by...

(The entire section is 862 words.)

Biography

(Drama for Students)

Genet was born on December 19, 1910, in Paris, France. He was the illegitimate son of Gabrielle Genet, a prostitute, and an unknown father....

(The entire section is 505 words.)