Julien Green Green, Julien (Vol. 3)

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Green, Julien (Vol. 3)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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Green, Julien 1900–

Green, a French Catholic novelist, was born in France of American parents. Although he retains American citizenship, he has lived most of his life in France. His best known novel, Moïra, exhibits his continuing obsession with puritanism and evil. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 21-22.)

No doubt Green's American origin put the full range of English and American literature within his easy grasp. The sinister, lonely country house or castle plunged in darkness, haunted by mysterious characters whose secrets the hero or victim must sooner or later discover in an atmosphere of terror, is a recurring décor in Julien Green's early novels…. The sequestration of the hero or heroine, helplessly abandoned to sadistic torments—a prevalent source of dramatic emotion in the "gothic" novel—is a recurrent situation which Green exploits with all its accompanying themes. The closed world in which the characters live is fraught with horror, peopled by villainous figures, its heroes haunted by veiled or direct threats, plunged in darkness and promised to disaster. The plots are violent and simple…. But the plots matter little in themselves, and after his first experiments in novel-writing, Green makes no effort to give his story any appearance of verisimilitude. He uses the melodramatic elements in his tale to build a nightmare of increasing tension and terror—a nightmare for the reader, but for the characters who are part of this nightmare, a terrible reality…. Green uses the techniques of the thriller and, as he freely admits, plays on the ambiguous psychology of a childish fascination with terror—his own terror and ours.

Germaine Brée and Margaret Otis Guiton, in their An Age of Fiction: The French Novel from Gide to Camus (copyright © 1957 by Rutgers, The State University), Rutgers University Press (New Brunswick, N.J.), 1957, pp. 101-05.

Technical devices, farfetched reversals of chronology and surprise effects, interior monologues, author's invocations to his characters in the second person singular, ingenuously ingenious contrivances calculated to upset the reader's expectations are disarmingly absent from Green's classical, almost Victorian, novels….

The French … have been cool to Julien Green. The homage which he paid their language and their literature by choosing French as his medium touched them less than the weirdness of his dream world, which they dubbed at once 'Anglo-Saxon.'… Julien Green, it is true, has chosen to be a solitary writer, and not to parade his nonconformism as Cocteau or Montherlant has gained publicity in doing. He was, from his most tender years onward, the dweller of a private universe of his own, in which he alternately delighted and felt stifled…. He was convinced that, much like Rilke and Kafka, he had to write fiction or to perish, like many of his characters, from insanity or suicide….

The originality of Julien Green lies in his total disregard of literary trends and fashions and in his aloofness from all groups, theories, and schools. He is one of the most cultured of contemporary novelists, at home in the world of painting and of music, in love with English and French poetry, a student of religion. His Journal may well some day rank above that of Gide for its psychological penetration, for its spiritual profundity, and for the incisiveness of literary opinions modestly offered on writers of the past and, more discreetly and never in a spirit of slander or cant, on contemporary writers….

Julien Green ranks among the dozen French novelists of the years 1930–60 who have succeeded in creating and in imposing their own universe. Like Mauriac, he has imprisoned himself in narrow precincts, geographic, social, and psychological. Frightened and persecuted little girls, atrocious middle-aged women, young men whose charm recalls the handsomest and most mysterious noblemen of Bronzino, but who are desperately searching for the key to their own torn selves in the ghosts...

(The entire section is 2,750 words.)