Marcel Aymé 1902–-1967
(Also wrote under the pseudonym Claquebue) French short story writer, novelist, dramatist, children's fiction writer, and essayist.
A prolific writer in various genres, Marcel Aymé is today widely admired for his short stories, most of which incorporate elements of the fantastique. Although many of Aymé's stories can be read as children's tales, critics have found them to have a more complex level of social and political allegory, and he is considered a moralist and philosopher comparable to Rabelais and Voltaire.
Aymé was born in Joigny, France, in 1902, the youngest of six children. His father, Joseph, was a blacksmith; his mother, Emma Monany, died when Aymé was two years old. Joseph Aymé sent his youngest son to live with Emma's parents in the village of Villers-Robert, where he remained for eight years. Aymé then went to live with an aunt in Dôle, a small city in the Franche-Comté region. He completed his studies there and served as a soldier in the French army. After leaving the military Aymé worked in a variety of trades, including journalism. Aymé eventually settled on a career as a fiction writer and published his first novel, Brûlebois, in 1926. In 1932 Aymé married Marie-Antoinette Arnaud. Two years later he experienced international success with the publication of his novel La Jument verte (The Green Mare), which some consider a masterpiece of Rabelaisian farce. The couple moved to the Montmartre section of Paris, where Aymé became a recognized member of the literary scene. During the German occupation of France during World War II and the widespread search for and prosecution of collaborators after liberation, Aymé continued to publish his works even though several other writers were prosecuted. Associated with the Right, Aymé wrote for collaborationist newspapers during the war, and was disgusted by what he considered the erosion of morals beginning with the occupation. In his later writings, however, Aymé was nonpartisan in skewering all politics. In 1950 Aymé gained success in the theater with Clérambard, although the play scandalized many audience members and critics. Many of his other plays were equally provocative. Also in 1950 Aymé was invited by Collier's magazine to visit the United States and contribute articles. His reaction to the country was one of discomfort, particularly with the political and business atmosphere. In the early 1960s Aymé grew more disillusioned with and troubled by the age of technology, as evidenced by his plays of the time. The rest of Aymé's life was spent quietly, writing short stories and plays.
Major Works of Short Fiction
Aymé's numerous short stories are generally better known than his longer works and, most critics agree, contain some of his best and most imaginative writing. Settings and characters in Aymé's works fall into two categories; the rural French countryside with its resident farmers, and the urban proletariat of Montmartre in Paris. Most of his short fiction involves elements of the fantastic, which sometimes takes the form of science fiction and sometimes of fantasy or fairy tales. While Aymé did feel affection for the country people about whom he wrote, and with whom he lived as a child, his stories sometimes evidence a caustic criticism that cuts across lines of geography, political partisanship, and social status. This is particularly true of his stories set in realistic environments but containing elements of science fiction, such as “La Traversée de Paris” (“Across Paris”), which takes place during the occupation of Paris, and “La Carte” (“The Life-Ration”), in which war-time shortages and rationing lead to the distribution of cards representing the number of days each citizen is allowed to live each month according to his or her “usefulness.” Other stories can be classified in the tradition of the French fabulists, featuring mythological figures and talking animals and usually ending in a moral lesson that may include a miracle. The stories in several of Aymé's most popular books, Les Contes du Chat perché (1934), Autres Contes du Chat perché (1950), and Derniers Contes du Chat perché (1958), concerning the adventures of two little farm girls and their interactions with a variety of talking barnyard animals, best illustrate Aymé's fabulist literature.
Despite his role as a celebrated literary figure prior to World War II, Aymé's reputation suffered after the liberation of France, largely because of his outspoken criticism of what he considered the hypocrisy of left-wing France after the war, but also because of his work on collaborationist newspapers. Accordingly, he was blacklisted, along with many other writers, and his work was ignored for years. Today some critics consider Aymé's stories to be among the best twentieth-century French short fiction, and ironically, many argue that his stories are best understood and interpreted in French. Locating Aymé's place within French literature, Dorothy Brodin wrote: “Aymé was a fundamentally French writer who might at times seem desperately cynical, or, on the contrary, too conservative, unless one realizes that his roots run deep in the French skeptical and humanistic tradition, the tradition of Rabelais, La Fontaine, Molière, and the eighteenth-century philosophers.”