Michel Tournier Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Michel Édouard Tournier (tewr-nyay) is one of the most widely read, most honored, and certainly most controversial and thought-provoking of contemporary European writers. He was born in Paris on December 19, 1924, the son of Alphonse and Marie-Madeleine (Fournier) Tournier, who had met while studying German at the Sorbonne. Alphonse’s educational career was curtailed by World War I; after being wounded, he abandoned professional ambitions and founded an international bureau which dealt with musicians’ copyrights. Tournier’s favorite toy was the phonograph; from childhood on, he enjoyed music but even more the power of the spoken word. Marie-Madeleine’s legacy was equally formative. While she gave up her teaching plans for child-rearing, she never lost her love for Germany, which she passed on to her children. Tournier’s maternal great-uncle, Gustave Fournier, had taught German in Dijon, and tales about Gustave and Edouard, Tournier’s grandfather, during the Prussian occupation of the 1870’s form the basis of some of Tournier’s autobiographical vignettes in The Wind Spirit. His own childhood was laced with train excursions to the Black Forest; these happy occasions took place within the growing shadow of Nazism. Tournier was not a diligent student nor was he a prodigious reader. Yet he was attracted to writers such as Hans Christian Andersen, whose works combine fantasy with reality. Tournier has said that he wishes his own works to be comprehensible to any twelve-year-old child. His stories in The Fetishist, and Other Stories, his rewriting of Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe (1719) in Friday, and the novel The Four Wise Men reflect his early reading.

When he was four years old, Tournier underwent a routine tonsillectomy. To the nervous and hypersensitive young boy, the operation was a nightmare, an invasion. It gave Tournier a sense of alienation and a mistrust of other people. This feeling of solitude and separation was furthered by his experiences during World War II. Too young for active service, Tournier first saw the war from a perspective of youthful exuberance. At the beginning of the Occupation, his family lived in the Parisian suburbs, but their home was soon commandeered by German officers, and the Tourniers were socially categorized by their germanistik sympathies. The family moved to an apartment in Neuilly while Tournier stayed at a summer cottage in Villers-sur-Mer and, later on, in the village of Lusigny. In spring, 1944, by chance he was away from Lusigny when his foster family was deported to Buchenwald for having...

(The entire section is 1069 words.)


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Michel Édouard Tournier was born in Paris on December 19, 1924, to parents who were both specialists in the German language, a fact that undoubtedly influenced their son’s career. He studied law and philosophy at the Sorbonne in Paris with well-known thinkers such as the philosopher Gaston Bachelard and the ethnologist Claude Lévi-Strauss, as well as at the University of Tübingen in Germany. He earned the equivalent of master’s degrees in both letters and law but failed the enormously difficult agrégation, the examination required for entry into university teaching, in 1949. After this failure, Tournier gave up the idea of an academic career and became a director and producer for the French radio and television network from 1949 to 1954. During those years, he also published the translations from German already mentioned. Beginning in 1955, he spent three years as a journalist and then became the director of literary services for the publishing house Plon. That was to prove to be his last employment in the business world. With the success of Friday in 1967, Tournier left Plon in 1968, after ten years with that firm, to devote himself to full-time writing.

Tournier’s achievements as a novelist are particularly impressive in view of the fact that he published his first novel (actually his fourth, in the order in which he wrote them) at the comparatively late age of forty-three. His novels have continued to intrigue readers, and his reputation seems assured. Tournier resides in the picturesque Chevreuse Valley, a few miles southwest of Paris.