Jean Anouilh (1910-1987)

Prolific French playwright, whose works ranged from high drama to absurdist farce. Anouilh's career spanned over five decades. Although he cannot be linked with any particular school or trend, he partly adopted Sartre's existentialist views and was also influenced by the way Louis Jouvet and Jean Giraudoux created theater. Anouilh hated publicity, and remained reclusive all his life. Often his unsuccessful protagonist, idealistic and intransigent, is in conflict with the world of compromise and corruption.

ANTIGONE: Vous me dégoûtez tous avec votre bonheur! Avec votre vie qu'il faut aimer coûte que coûte. On dirait des chiens qui lèchent tout ce qu'ils trouvent. Et cette petite chance pour tous les jours, si on n'est pas trop exigeant. Moi, je veux tout, tout de suite, - et que ce soit entier - ou alors je refuse! Je ne veux pas être modeste, moi, et me contenter d'un petit morceau si j'ai été bien sage. Je veux être sûre de tout aujourd'hui et que cela soit aussi beau que quand j'étais petite - ou mourir. (from Antigone)
Jean Anouilh was born in Bordeaux. His father was a tailor and mother a violinist, who played in the orchestra of a casino near Bordeaux. After completing his early schooling, Anouilh studied law for a short time at the Sorbonne, and worked then as a copywriter at Publicité Damour. He also wrote comic scenes for the cinema. In 1931-32 Anouilh was secretary to the actor and director Louis Jouvet at the Comédie des Champs-Elysées. Since 1936, Anouilh worked on several screenplays, alone or in collaboration, including LES DÉGOURDIS DE LA ONZIÈME (1936), VOUS N'AVEZ RIEN À DÉCLARER (1937), CAVALCADE D'AMOUR (1939), LES OTAGES (1939), MONSIEUR VINCENT (1947), ANNA KARENINA (1948), based on Leo Tolstoy's famous novel, PATTES BLANCHES (1949), CAROLINE CHÉRIE (1951), LE CHEVALIER DE LA NUIT (1953), LA MORT DE BELLE (1961), directed by by Edouard Molinaro and based on Simenon's novel, and LA RONDE (1964), directed by Roger Vadim and based on Arthur Schnitzler's play.
As a playwright Anouilh started already at the age of 12. In 1929 he collaborated with Jean Aurenche on his first play, HUMULUS LE MUET. It was followed in the same year by MANDARINE. Anouilh's early plays were produced by Aurélien Lugné-Poe, a theatrical innovator, and the Pitoëffs, whose repertoire also included Paul Claudel, Jean Cocteau, André Gide, and Luigi Pirandello.
In 1931 Anouilh married the actress Monelle Valentin. At the age of twenty-five Anouilh decided to devote himself entirely to writing. During the next years Anouilh completed several plays and gained comparative success with the production of Y AVAIT UN PRISONNIER (1935) before his breakthrough work LE VOYAGEUR SANS BAGAGE (1937), which was adapted also to film. Its hero is an amnesiac who, discovering that he had been a vile young man, discards his old self. Since then a new Anouilh play was seen in Paris almost every season.
Anouilh's early works were realistic and naturalistic studies of a sordid and corrupt world. Under the influence of such writers as Giraudoux, Cocteau, and Vitrac, Anouilh found a new angle into writing. Also classical French theater and the Italian dramatist Pirandello shaped his work. He often used the theater as the setting of his plays and struck a balance between farce and seriousness. "Thanks to Molière," Anouilh once said, "the true French theatre is the only one that is not gloomy, in which we laugh like men at war with out misery and our horror. This humor is one of France's messages to the world."
Anouilh grouped his plays under adjectives descriptive of their dominant tone: "black" (tragedies, realistic plays), "pink" (fantasy dominates), "brilliant" (combination of pink and black plays in aristocratic environments), "jarring" (black plays with bitter humour), "costumed" (with historical characters), "baroque," and mes fours (my failures). These adjectives occurred in the titles of each of his collections of plays.
During World War II Anouilh's LÉOCADIA (1940) became a hit. The lyrical fantasy depicted a prince whose love, Léocadia, has died but who finds a new love in a young milliner who resembles her. In 1944 he gained a wide audience with ANTIGONE, a version of Sophocles' classical drama, because of its thinly disguised attack on the Nazis and on the Vichy government, led by Marshal Pétain. Otherwise Anouilh remained mostly aloof from politics, but in the late 1950s he clashed with General de Gaulle.
Anouilh's "costumed" plays often mixed reality with illusion and were presented as improvisations. Antigone opens with the insturction: "Set without historical or geographical implications. Three identical doors. At curtain rise all the characters are onstage, chatting, knitting, playing cards, and so on." In the tragedy the heroine rejects the authoritarian King Creon and chooses death. The playwright's own wife had a personal triumph in the main role.
After the war Anouilh was the most successful playwright in Europe. In the United States he enjoyed fame with the "costumed" plays to which he turned in the 1950s. Among them was L'ALOUETTE (1953, The Lark), about Joan of Arc, translated into English by Lillian Hellman. "By 1955 I needed money," said Hellman later in Pentimento. "I wish I could tell myself that was why I adapted Jean Anouilh's The Lark. But my reason was not money: I was feeling mischievous ..."
The play was first performed in Paris on October 14, 1953. In New York it was staged at Longacre Theatre in 1955, starring Julie Harris. The American director William Wyler had read the play in Paris in 1955 and wrote: "... about Joan of Arc and it's too late for that, or too early". BECKET (1959), which won a Tony Award and the Antoinette Petty Award for Best Play of the Season (1960-61), was filmed with Peter O'Toole as Henry Plantagenet and Richard Burton as Thomas à Becket. "Did you love me when I made you Chancellor? I wonder sometimes if you're capable of love," says Henry. The film suggest that behind their lonstanding friendship was a sexual motivation, which prompted Newsweek to write that Anouilh, "by descending to the realm of the psychic and implying a sexual attraction between the two, muddies the issue."
Anouilh's sexual farce LA VALSE DES TORÉADORS (1952, The Waltz of the Toreadors) also became an international hit. Its hero, General Saint Pé, appeared in several plays as a caricature of the author. The title was inspired by Georges Bizet's famous 'March of the Toreadors' from Carmen. In John Guillermin's film version from 1962 the events took place just prior to the outbreak of World War I. Peters Sellers played a licentious retired army general, whose mistress falls in love with his son. "And under this carnival disguise the heart of an old youngster who is still waiting to give his all. But how to be recognized under this mask? This is what they call a fine career." (from The Waltz of the Toreadors) Sellers based the voice of the general on the Earl of Dudley, whom he knew.
In the 1950s Anouilh dealt with his clash with General de Gaulle in L'HURLUBERLU (1958) and LE SONGE DU CRITIQUE (1960). His works began to lose their critical favour with the emergence of such playwrights as Ionesco and Beckett. He did not write for a while. He then returned with plays which were marked by conservative attitudes and in which his principal character longs for the past. These works include LA CULOTTE (1978), in which the theme was women's liberation. In the 1980s Anouilh directed some of his own plays as well as those of other authors. He died in Lausanne, Switzerland on October 3, 1987. Divorced from Monelle Valentin, he was survived by his second wife, Nicole Lançon, and four children.
Anouilh also wrote ballets and translated and adapted works from such authors as Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde, and Graham Greene. Little Molière (1959), originally written as a film scenario, depict the unhappy relationship between the writer and his wife. Leonardo Bercovici's film Monsoon (1952) was based on Anouilh's play. LE SCÉNARIO (1976) was Anouilh's attack on the movie world.
For further reading: Jean Anouilh: Life, Work and Criticism by C.N. Smith (1985): Interpreting Events by P. Hernadi (1985); The Theatre of Jean Anouilh by H.G. McIntyre (1981); Jean Anouilh by L.W. Falb (1979); Jean Anouilh by M. Archer (1971); Jean Anouilh by A.M. Della Fazia (1969); Le théâtre de Jean Anouilh by P. Jolivet (1961); The World of Jean Anouilh by L.C. Pronko (1961); Jean Anouilh by R. Luppé (1959); Jean Anouilh by H. Gignoux (1946) - Note: Anouilh's daughter Catherine Anouilh is a stage and screen actress. - Muita suomenoksia: Medeia, 1951-52; Eyridike, 1957, suom. Katri Ingman
Selected works:
  • HUMULUS LE MUET (with Jean Aurenche) - Humulus the Mute (tr. Michael Benedikt, 1964)
  • MANDARINE, 1929
  • JEZABEL, 1932
  • L'HERMINE, 1932 - The Ermine (transl. 1966; in Five Plays, Vol. 1, 1958)
  • LA MANDARINE, 1933
  • LA SAUVAGE, 1934 - The Restless Heart (tr. Lucienne Hill, 1958) - Villilintu (suom. Toini Havu, 1949)
  • LE VOYAGEUR SANS BAGAGE, 1937 - Traveller Without Luggage (tr. by John Whiting, 1959) - Matkamies ilman matkatavaroita (suom. Arvi Kivimaa) - film 1944, dir. by Jean Anouilh
  • LE RENDEZ-VOUS DE SENLIS, 1937 - The Rendezvous at Senlis / Dinner with the Family (tr. by Edward Owen Marsh, 1958) - Tervetuloa Senlis'iin / Perhejuhla (suom. Helvi Nurminen, 1965)
  • LE BAL DES VOLEURS, 1938 - Thieves' Carnivals (tr. Lucienne Hill) - Varkaiden tanssiaiset (suom. Klaus Kalima, 1947)
  • LÉOCADIA, 1940 - Time Remembered (tr. by Patricia Moyes, 1956) / Leocadia (translated by Timberlake Wertenbaker, 1987)
  • EYRYDICE, 1942 - Legend of Lovers (translated by Kitty Black, 1952) / Eyrydice (tr. Peter Meyer, 1997) - Eurydike (suom. Katri Ingman, 1950)
  • ANTIGONE, 1944 - Antigone (adapted by Lewis Galantiere, 1946; tr. by Barbara Bray, 1991; Dan Freeman, 2000) - Antigone (suom. Eino Kalima, 1947)
  • ORESTE, 1945
  • ROMÉO AT JEANNETTE, 1946 - Romeo and Jeannette (tr. Miriam John, in Five Plays, Vol. 1, 1958) - Romeo ja Jeannette (suom. Anna-Maija Tallgren ja Tyyni Tuulio, 1948)
  • MÉDÉE, 1946 - Medea (tr. by Arthur Klein, 1957; Mykola Ponedilok) - Medeia (suom. Katri Ingman, 1951)
  • L'INVITATION AU CHÂTEAU, 1947 - Ring Round the Moon (adapted by Christopher Fry, 1950) - Linnan vieraskutsut / Juhlat linnassa (suom. Eino Kalima, 1949)
  • MONSIEUR VINCENT, 1947 (film script) - film dir. by Maurice Cloche, starring Pierre Fresnay, Aimé Clairiond, Jean Debucourt, Lise Delemare
  • ARDÈLE, OU LA MARGUERITE, 1948 - Ardele (tr. by Lucienne Hill, in Five Plays Vol 2., 1959) - Ardèle eli onnenkukka (suom. Eino Kalima)
  • ÉPISODE DE LA VIE D'UN AUTEUR, 1948 - Episode in the Life of an Author
  • CÉCILE, OU L'ÉCOLE DES PÈRES, 1949 - Cécile, or The School for Fathers - Isien koulu (suom. Marja Rankkala, 1954)
  • LA RÉPÉTITION, 1950 - The Rehearsal (tr. by Pamela Hansford Johnson and Kitty Black, 1961)
  • COLOMBE, 1951 - Colombe (tr. by Dennis Cannan, 1951) / Mademoiselle Colombe (tr. by Louis Kronenberger, 1954) - Colombe (suom. Marja Rankkala ja Marja Samooja, 1953)
  • DEUX SOUS DE VIOLETTES, 1951 - film, dir. by Jean Anouilh
  • LA VALSE DES TORÉADORS, 1952 - The Waltz of the Toreadors (tr. by Lucienne Hill, 1953) - Toreadorien valssi (suom. Ritva Arvelo, 1977) - film 1962, dir. by John Guillermin, starring Peter Sellers, Dany Robin, Margaret Leighton
  • L'ALOUETTE, 1953 - The Lark (tr. by Lillian Hellman, 1956; Christopher Fry, 1956) - Leivonen (suom. Raimo Hakamies, 1954)
  • CÉCILE, 1954 - Cécile (transl.)
  • ORNIFLE, OU LE COURANT D'AIR, 1955 - Ornifle (tr. by Lucienne Hill, 1970)
  • PAUVRE BITOS, OU LE DÍNER DE TÊTES, 1956 - Poor Bitos (tr. Lucienne Hill, 1964)
  • L'HURLUBERLU, OU LE RÈACTIONNAIRE AMOUREUX, 1958 - The Fighting Cock (tr. by Lucienne Hill, 1960) - Rakastunut kenraali (suom. Raimo Hakamies, 1959)
  • ORESTE, 1959
  • Five PLays, Vol. 1, 1958 (contains Antigone, Eurydice, The Ermine, The Rehearsal, Romeo and Jeannette)
  • Five Plays, Vol. 2, 1959
  • BECKET, OU L'HONNEUR DE DIEU, 1959 - Becket, or The Honour of God (tr. by Lucienne Hill, 1960) / Beckett (tr. Jeremy Sams, 1991; Stephen Raphael, 2004) - Becket eli Jumalan kunnia (suom. Leo Kontula, 1994) - film 1964, dir. by Peter Glenville, starring Richard Burton, Peter O'Toole, John Gielgud
  • L'ORCHESTRE, 1962 - The Orchestra (translated by Miriam John, 1975) - Orkesteri (suom. Ritva Arvelo, 1971)
  • LA GROTTE, 1961 - The Cavern (tr. Lucienne Hill, 1966)
  • LA FOIRE D'EMPOIGNE, 1962 - Catch as Catch Can (tr. Lucienne Hill)
  • LE BOULANGER, LA BOULANGÈRE ET LE PETIT MITRON, 1964 - Rakas minä eli Leipurit (suom. Raimo Meltti, 1969)
  • ARDÈLE AND PAUVRE BITOS, 1965 (ed. by R.T. Riva)
  • Seven Plays, Vol. III, 1967
  • CHER ANTOINE, 1969 - Dear Antoine (tr. by Lucienne Hill, 1971) - Rakas Antoine eli Romutettu rakkaus (suom. Raimo Meltti, 1970)
  • THÉÂTRE, 1951-1970 (7 vols.)
  • LE DIRECTEUR DE L'OPÉRA, 1972 - The Director of the Opera (tr. by Lucienne Hill, 1973)
  • TU ÉTAIS SI GENTIL GUAND TU ÉTAIS PETIT, 1972 - You Were So Nice When You Were Young
  • LE SCÉNARIO, 1976
  • VIVE HENRI IV, 1978
  • LA CULOTTE, 1978 - Pöksyt (suom. Matti Brotherus, 1979)
  • LE NOMBRIL, 1981 - Number One (translated by Michael Frayn, 1985)


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