René Crevel Critical Essays


(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

René Crevel 1900–-1935

French novelist, critic, and essayist.

Despite the brevity of his life, Crevel is remembered as an integral member of the French surrealist movement. Surrealists believed that literary and art movement was dedicated to expressing the imagination as revealed in dreams, without the convention of rational thought. In literature, surrealism was confined almost exclusively to France, in the works of Andre Breton and Paul Eluard, and was based on the associations and implications of words. Throughout his works, Crevel maintained a central theme that logic was confining, and morality futile. In particular, Crevel's novels are noted for their lack of traditional structure, character development, and plot. However, in spite of his work's unconventional traits, they are also praised for tremendous wit and lucidity. In addition to the arts, Crevel was actively involved in politics. When it appeared that the two could not exist together peacefully, Crevel ended his life.

Biographical Information

Crevel was born in Paris to a troubled family. His father committed suicide while Crevel was a youth, and his death strongly affected the young boy. Despite personal problems, Crevel excelled academically, atttending high school and university in the French capital. After university, Crevel entered the French military. There, he befriended several other young writers who introduced him to members of the popular Dada movement. Crevel's new friends included Breton and Eluard, who contributed to the journal Litterature. Their journalistic endeavors, in turn, inspired Crevel to introduce his own publication, Aventure. At the same time, he began writing novels. Influenced by the French symbolist poet Arthur Rimbaud, Crevel sought to break the traditional confines of prose and narrative in favor of more uninhibited writings.

As Crevel became involved in politics, he attempted to intermingle the harshly logical world of communism with the surrealist realm of the irrational. In the mid 1920s, Crevel became ill with tuberculosis and retreated to a sanatorium in Switzerland. His illness compounded his already existent depression, and frequent absences from his intellectual milieu diminished his influence among his literary and political peers. At a gathering of communists in 1935, Crevel begged for the surrealists who were present to be permitted to speak. When the communists ignored his request, Crevel went home and hung himself.

Major Works

Crevel's output, though small, is praised for its creativity. Novels such as La mort difficile (Difficult Death; 1920) and Babylone (Babylon; 1927) are representative of his free-form style. In addition, these works are considered autobiographical for their reflections on the conflicts and development of a youthful writer. Though difficult to follow from a narrative standpoint, Crevel's novels are remembered for their vivid images and volatile emotionalism.

Critical Reception

Uniformly, critics praise Crevel's literary talents, and recent translations of Crevel's work have brought him more critical attention. Crevel was unabashedly homosexual and his work reflects the conflicts of his sexual identity. Additionally, his work points to the contradictions of the liberation of classes and communism with the surrealist's desire for freedom. In particular, Crevel's black humor offers an eccentric and amusing look at frequently tragic circumstances. Today, as his work becomes more available to readers, the beauty and emotional insights of Crevel's prose continue to be admired.