Jean Giono 1895-1970
French novelist, poet, essayist, short story writer, and playwright.
For further information on Giono's life and works, see CLC, Volumes 4 and 11.
In the first part of his literary career, Giono was known for his passion for nature and classical subjects. The rural, small-town settings of most of his early novels and poetry reflect Giono's idealization of his own hometown environment. In the 1930s Giono changed his emphasis, expressing his confirmed pacifism in political tracts and beginning to write a cycle of historical novels.
Born March 30, 1895, Giono spent all of his life in Manosque, a small village in Provence. Although his family lacked formal education, they imparted a love for music and classical literature, which greatly influenced his later literary career. In his early novels Giono espoused a primitive view of man in harmony with nature. After military service in World War I, Giono began to embrace pacifism, which he expressed in a number of polemics against Nazism in the late 1930s. For a time Giono was seen as a minor prophet, steadfastly resisting the growing war sentiment of the time and giving counsel to the many people who flocked to Manosque to see him. Wrongly accused of collaboration with the Vichy government, he was imprisoned for a time during World War II. Although ostracized by many of his former disciples, he continued to write prolifically. Giono died October 9, 1970, in Manosque.
Classical themes and allusions influenced many of Giorno's works. In 1929 his first novel Colline (Hill of Destiny), drew on his own experience living in a village in the foothills of the Alps. During the period just before World War II, Giono wrote a number of antiwar pieces, including a novel, Le Grand troupeau (1931; To the Slaughterhouse). His autobiographical novel, Jean le bleu (Blue Boy), appeared in 1932. In 1934 and 1935 he published Le chant du monde (The Song of the World) and Que ma joie demeure (Joy of Man's Desiring), two attempts at recreating the epic form. His 1937 novel, Batailles dans la montagne, had a similar epic structure. Giono's postwar works, out of the mainstream of a French literary community which was emphasizing the absurdity of existence, achieved little popular or critical attention. In the early 1950s, however, he gained public acclaim after the publication of his novel Le Hussard sur le toit (1951; The Horseman on the Roof), an adventure story of a man who attempts to stave off the horrors of a cholera epidemic. His storytelling skill also came to public attention in two film versions of “La femme du boulanger” (“The Baker's Wife”), a story drawn from an episode in Jean le bleu.
English-language criticism of Giono's works rarely appeared before 1955, when Henri Peyre's seminal study of the contemporary French novel was published. Critics during this period and throughout the 1960s emphasized Giono's preference for rural settings and mythological themes, in contrast to the more socially aware bent of other French literary figures of his time. A number of critics throughout the 1960s and 1970s compared Giono with both his Greek epic forebears and contemporary English-language writers such as D. H. Lawrence and John Steinbeck. Until the mid 1980s, with the exception of some commentary on Giono's antiwar writings, much of Giono criticism was New Critical in nature, emphasizing close textual readings with little reference to the social contexts of the works. By the 1990s feminist critics were beginning to re-evaluate and deconstruct Giono's writings, as were others offering semiotic analyses which questioned traditional interpretations of his work.