Julien Green Green, Julien (Vol. 11)

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(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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Green, Julien 1900–

Green, a French novelist and playwright, has also published his journals and diaries. Born in France of American parents, Green resides in France while retaining his American citizenship. His works reflect his metaphysical struggle with the questions of evil, alienation, and mortality which confront contemporary man. (See also CLC, Vol. 3, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 21-24, rev. ed.)

Wallace Fowlie

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Julien Green's Sud represents] one of the few really successful attempts in recent years at creating the pure tone of tragedy: all the ambiguities of the characters; the richness of their inner life which is communicated; the vigor, simplicity, and directness of the writing. (pp. 191-92)

The play is a tragedy on the theme of homosexuality, but it is also on a far more universal subject, and the public might well fail to recognize the immediate subject. Ian suddenly and hopelessly falls in love with Eric on meeting him, but he never confesses his love. The beauty and power of the play are precisely in this silence of Ian. It is quite possible that Ian had not been aware, or fully aware, of his nature. His meeting with Eric is a moment of illumination. (p. 192)

In his dramaturgy, as in his novels, [Julien Green] passes easily from the real world to the surreal world. A supernaturally evil atmosphere surrounds many of the scenes, and yet there is intense drama in the effort of the characters to resist their fate. Especially in Sud, Julien Green calls attention to one of the most tragic aspects of physical love in the modern world. The human problem is never described or analyzed, and yet it is seen in its religious context. For Ian, love is forbidden in that irremediable way that the French associate with the tragedies of Racine. (p. 194)

Wallace Fowlie, "Green," in his Dionysus in Paris: A Guide to Contemporary French Theater (copyright © 1960 by Wallace Fowlie; reprinted by arrangement with The New American Library, Inc.), Meridian Books, 1960, pp. 191-94.

Nicholas Kostis

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Julien Green's novels aim and unfold towards sign, which becomes identifiable as symbol. I do not wish to imply that Green is a Symbolist novelist in the same formal or historical sense as the nineteenth-century Symbolists. I do maintain that his particular style, his manner of creating a world, his process of characterization, and his own relationship to his books lead to the creation of an extremely private, perhaps hermetic work of art, which, while it has the conventional form and characteristics of a novel, is nonetheless a system of signs which represent forces and states of mind that one feels are directly affecting, even torturing the author.

On the surface, the reader meets in Green's novels what one might reasonably call characters. They are recognizable as human beings. There is a strong evocation of the three-dimensional material world; there is conventional dialogue; intensely visual descriptive passages; and the elements of psychology in characterization. On the formal level there is also a highly refined and conscious structure and style. But all this representative and recognizable reality, all these conventions, all this ordinary experience are given, through repetition and juxtaposition, 'meta-meaning', that is, meaning behind and beyond the definition and value of their phenomenal presence, a secret sense in which human figures, gestures, shadows, objects, emotions, and characteristics, in which rooms and atmosphere, all translate, like hieroglyphs, the unspecified pressures at work within the author. More simply, the symbolism I speak of is that quality of suggestiveness found in all serious novels but here carried much farther. Green evokes certain experiences and works them into a highly personal system of associations, which grow more and more rigidly defined, specific, and predictable as they recur obsessively and relentlessly. At a certain point, the phenomenon—whether it be a human being or a stream of light—becomes so strongly sign that it loses its...

(The entire section is 3,653 words.)