Julien Green Green, Julien (Vol. 11) - Essay


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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 autonomy as phenomenon. It is because this suggestiveness is so formal and dominant that I call it by a different term: symbolism. Thus all of Green's work becomes uncommonly symbolic. This is the most remarkable aspect, I think, of Green's novels taken as a whole, and consequently it lies at the heart of his vision. (p. 11)

One observes no attempt [in Green's work], stylistically or otherwise, to crystalize a past or independent reality (except in the grossest sense that all artistic creation springs partly from the sum total of a novelist's experience). Rather, each situation, image, description, stylistic fact is assigned a specific value or role as the novel progresses, until the novel becomes a highly complex and self-contained system of signs which have little value or meaning in themselves but which, as they are repeated over and over in innumerable combinations, become the author's private set of hieroglyphs and ritual symbols….

[These] symbols do not exist to evoke a world or a concrete vision of ordinary experience of reality. Rather, the concrete world exists to provide symbols which will evoke less concrete but nonetheless terrifying, unseen, and undefined forces. (p. 12)

Green's novels are not primarily psychological, and the sense of crise in them can hardly be explained in psychological terms. Rather, the author uses psychology stylistically to evoke an atmosphere suggestive of a darker metaphysical reality, and to translate the force of that reality. Similarly, dreams do not represent a psychological aspect of Green's characterization, nor do they signify the subconscious explanation of a conscious, situation. For Green, dreaming is a process of selection: of including and excluding elements and placing them in relationship to each other in order...

(The entire section is 1568 words.)

Byron R. Libhart

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

My own contention is that the works set in America are, in fact, exceptionally significant in revealing the true Julien Green through his fiction. This belief is based in large part upon the author's stressing the age twenty in his life—the age he reached during his first stay in America from 1919 to 1922—as that point at which he attained his definitive character….

There are two general areas in which the frustrations of Green's American characters are primarily a reflection of problems in his own life: the matter of "belonging," particularly in the sense of nationality, and that of personal morality. Each of these has its complexities in Green's life. Not only does he feel somewhat divided between France and America, but as far as the "American" side of him is concerned, there is the additional problem of political loyalties within that country—that is, to the South or the North. And the matter of personal morality is, not too surprisingly, closely allied to the problem of religious commitment and to an understanding of his abnormal sexual nature…. (p. 345)

In a more general and perhaps more important way, America represents an intrusion in Julien Green's life, a threat to his early acceptance of France as his true homeland, so that the very word became almost synonymous with unhappiness for him…. (p. 346)

Green's religious faith in general was severely shaken during that sojourn because of the deep moral crisis he experienced in America, which must have caused him henceforth to consider that country the setting par excellence for frustration. For Julien Green, morality and sexuality are very closely related matters. In fact, moral decency and sexual restraint seem almost synonymous...

(The entire section is 724 words.)

Trevor Field

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

It is a temptation not always easily avoided to discuss the work of Julien Green by way of thematic or atmospheric generalizations, as opposed to an appreciation of precise narrative and artistic qualities. Gloomy, sultry, ominous; the epithets are by now very familiar—too familiar, perhaps, for they tend to deflect critical attention from Green's concern with problems of literary form and style….

In complete contrast to [the] earlier novels, which were set either in the United States or in an anonymous French province,… Épaves (1932) based on madness and death, is a restrained and muted account of a crisis in the life of a mediocre Parisian bourgeois, Philippe Cléry. (p. 103)


(The entire section is 1035 words.)