Other Literary Forms

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Although Jules Romains published works in a number of genres simultaneously, his emphasis shifted. In the 1910’s, he published mostly poetry, and in the 1920’s, he produced primarily drama. The 1930’s was his decade for writing novels, and from the 1940’s to his death in 1972, his interest lay in nonfiction, especially political essays and literary criticism.

In 1904, at the age of eighteen, Romains published his first volume of poetry, L’Âme des hommes. Four years later came a major work, La Vie unanime, which illustrates his concept of unanimism, a theory of collectivity. Europe (1916) contrasts the peace of prewar Europe with the current chaos and expresses horror at the devastation of World War I. The contrast between peacetime and war again emerges in Ode Génoise (1925). In his most ambitious work, L’Homme blanc (1937), Romains attempted an epic poem reminiscent of Victor Hugo’s five-volume La Légende des siècles (1859-1883).

Although Romains continued to publish poetry until the 1950’s, he is better known for his fiction. He wrote several works of short fiction, including Le Bourg régénéré (1906) and Nomentanus le réfugié (1943). His first novel, Mort de quelqu’un (1911; Death of a Nobody, 1914), illustrates the formation and dynamics of groups that arise from events, in this case the death of a little-known railway...

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(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Jules Romains is outstanding among twentieth century French authors both for his vast literary output and for unanimism, the theory of collectivity he originated and which imbues his work. Although Romains is known primarily as a novelist for his Men of Good Will and as a playwright for Dr. Knock, he made broad contributions to literature. A prolific author, over a span of nearly seventy years he produced poetry, drama, short fiction, novels, articles, and essays.

Despite having produced more than one hundred volumes of literature, Romains’s fame stems primarily from his masterpiece, the twenty-seven-volume roman-fleuve entitled Men of Good Will, which he referred to as the principal work of his life. Written between 1932 and 1946, the work spans exactly one-quarter of a century, from October 6, 1908, to October 7, 1933. In the first volume, Le 6 Octobre (1932; The Sixth of October, 1933), as Parisians go about their daily activities, they read in the newspapers of the intended annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina by the Austro-Hungarian Empire, a key event in the sequence of crises leading to the outbreak of World War I. The final volume, Le 7 Octobre (1946; The Seventh of October, 1946) is again set in Paris, where, as people head for work, they listen to news of Adolf Hitler, who has recently ascended to power. Men of Good Will is an uneven work, with volumes 15 and 16,...

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Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Jules Romains (ROH-man) began his literary career with poetry: His first published work was L’Âme des hommes (1904; the soul of men). La Vie unanime (1908; the unanimist life), his most popular collection of poems, is written in the unanimist vision, the theory that those principles unifying humanity take precedence over individual differences in literary representation. Un Être en marche (1910; a being in march) takes as its theme a walk in Paris. Odes et prières (1913; odes and prayers) is Romains’s least unanimist volume of poetry. Le Voyage des amants (1920; the lovers’ voyage) is an extended poem to his first wife, Gabrielle. Europe (1916) and Ode Génoise (1925) are on the theme of war. Chants des dix années (1928; songs of ten years) is a recapitulation of earlier poems with some new additions. L’Homme blanc (1937; the white man) is Romains’s most ambitious poetic project, a kind of La Légende des siècles (1859-1883; a five-volume work by Victor Hugo). Pierres levées (1957; lifted stones), written during World War II, returns to the theme of war. Choix de poèmes (1948; selection of poems) and Maisons (1953; homes) conclude Romains’s poetic works. Although most of his poetry has not been translated into English, Romains is a respected poet in the French literary tradition.

Romains gained his fame through the theater. He began his drama career in 1911 with the production and publication of L’Armée dans la ville (the army in the city) and continued it with one of his best plays, Cromedeyre-le-Vieil, written between 1911 and 1918. This verse play, set in the Velay, was produced by Jacques Copeau in 1920 and published the same year. Another dramatic work, Donogoo-Tonka: Ou, Les Miracles de la science (pb. 1920; Donogoo, 1937) and performed at the Théâtre Pigalle in 1930, is “a heroic comic epic of modern publicity.” The play, first conceived as a film, was made into a film in 1936 (Donogoo Tonka, with Reinhold Schünzel). Published in 1921 was the play M. Le Trouhadec...

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(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Known for the sheer volume of his work, Jules Romains is one of the most impressive figures of twentieth century French literature. He excelled in all literary domains: poetry, drama, fiction, and the essay. Although he worked at all four simultaneously, each genre dominated a given decade of his life: poetry, from 1908 to 1916; drama, from 1920 to 1930; fiction, from 1932 to 1946; the essay, from 1952 to 1966. As a poet, Romains is noted especially for La Vie unanime; as a dramatist, for Dr. Knock, a satire on imaginary invalids; and as an essayist, for his attitude toward war, before and during World War II.

Romains’s novels, however, are most likely to assure his immortality. Men of Good Will, consisting of twenty-seven volumes and more than eight thousand pages, is impressive for its bulk alone; it is one of the longest novels in all Western literature. Intended as the portrayal of an age and the study of modern, as opposed to traditional, values, it remains one of the most detailed documentaries of the period between 1908 and 1933. At the same time, it contains reflections on the great questions that tormented Western Europe at the turn of the twentieth century—a continent on the verge of an impending cataclysm that was to erupt as a world war. Immensely popular, the twenty-seven volumes assured the author’s fame and financial independence.

Romains excelled in short fiction as well. His early stories, written from a unanimist viewpoint, show the growth of collective consciousness from an idea. In Le Bourg régénéré, for example, a scribbled piece of graffiti returns a lethargic town to a vigorous existence; in Death of a Nobody, the death of a relatively unknown man creates a number of...

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(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Boak, Denis. Jules Romains. New York: Twayne, 1974. Widely acclaimed as the definitive biographical and literary source on Romains, Boak’s study comprehensively covers the life and work of the writer.

Madden, David. “David Madden on Jules Romains’s Death of a Nobody.” In Rediscoveries II. New York: Carroll & Graf, 1988. Madden discusses Romains’s Death of a Nobody, a novel in which the roots of his ideas of unanimism can be seen.

Moore, Harry T. Twentieth-Century French Literature to World War II. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1966. Romains’s contributions as a playwright between the world wars are examined for their Unanimist themes and comedic characteristics.

Stansbury, Milton H. French Novelists of Today. Port Washington, N.Y.: Kennikat Press, 1966. Choosing Romains in part for his “colorful personality,” Stansbury offers a condensed biography and survey of Romains’s most recognized writings.