Biography of Jean Anouilh (1910-1987)

Playwright and screenwriter of French cinema, born in Bordeaux on June 23, 1910 and died in Lausanne (Switzerland) on October 7, 1987. Author of an extensive and varied theatrical production, outside formal realism models and devoid of an ideological line concrete, it reflects a concept of tragic life anchored in the contradictions of contemporary Western thought, is considered - along with other playwrights, actors and directors as Giraudoux (1882-1944) and the members of the "Cartel des Quatre" - as one of the great renewers of 20th century European dramatic literature.

Life and work

Driven a humanistic restless curiosity since his youth, he/she studied top right, although it failed to gain a first degree in that subject. He/She then joined work, during a brief period of time, in an advertising agency, until a stroke of fortune allowed him to become Secretary of the great actor and director Theatre Louis Jouvet (1887-1951), who was instrumental in forging the dramatic vocation of his young collaborator. Jouvet, firmly convinced of the need to renew the French theater of its time, was a member of the famous "Cartel des Quatre" ("group of four"), which also included Georges Pitoëff (1884-1939), Charles Dullin (1885-1949) and Gaston Baty (1885-1952), all of them are United by the need to deal with the financial problems that afflicted to the scene of the time. During its twelve years of existence (1927-1939), the "Cartel des Quatre" worked hard to rejuvenate the French of the interwar period Theatre, alternating this mounts the most significant works of the classical antiquity with the staging of the young authors of contemporary dramatic texts.

Under the aegis of these great figures of the French scene, the young Jean Anouilh began to write his first theatrical pieces when he/she was just nineteen years of age. The first thing out of her inspired pen was the series of sketches included under the name of its protagonist (Humulus), that it has only retained the piece titled Humulus le muet (mute Humulus), work in which, despite its status as first-time writing, already can be seen some of the formal and thematic characteristics that would become the authentic hallmarks of his future theatrical production. Indeed, the transgressive desire and use of an approach ironically to underestimate the social conventions are already well patent in Humulus le muet, whose young protagonist, limited to not be able to give more than one word per day, va patiently treasuring these words not with the interested target of flattery to his grandmother (an old and powerful Duchess), but other purposes much more noble - although less profitable for him - which testify your altruism and generosity, like the thank the work of bondage or the assembling its first declaration of love with shyness.

But aside from these first-time MPs, the authentic appearance of Jean Anouilh in the contemporary French scene took place at the beginning of the Decade of the 1930s, when, in the performance of the proposed refreshing of the "Cartel des Quatre", premiered his work entitled l'hermine (the ermine, 1932), which inaugurated the series of which he/she called, years later, "pièces noires" ("black pieces"). The interest of the classification of his theatrical production proposed by the own Jean Anouilh invites to reproduce it below, in order to give the reader a comprehensive repertoire of his works:

Classification of his theatre pieces

"Black pieces

In addition to l'hermine (the ermine, 1932), this section included the own Anouilh other works such as Le voyageur sans bagage (the traveller without luggage, 1937) and La sauvage (the savage, 1938), as well as their brilliant recreations of some great myths of classical antiquity Greco-Roman as Eurydice (Eurydice, 1942), Antigone (Antigone, 1944) and Médée (Medea, 1953). With Eurydice, Anouilh was added to the already extensive list of contemporary European playwrights, attracted by the classical theater and obsessed by revitalizing its myths and archetypes by placing them at the current time and providing them with a significant force within contemporary society. Thus, in the black part old and productive Orphic myth reappears incarnate in the figure of a humble violinist who makes a living playing in cafes, while stars an eventful history of love with a mediocre actress; for his part, Antigone - whose accentuation of the tragic ingredients justify, as it occurs in Eurydice and Médée, inclusion in the category of pièces noires - part of the mythic figure of the daughter of Oedipus and the theatrical treatment that gave Sophocles (496-406 B.c.) to put on the current scenarios a new heroine who, like the rest of the actor of the theatre of Anouilh, firmly proclaims its right to deny the social conventions and the moral dictates of the world that surrounds him ("Je suis là pour dire non"-"I'm here to say no"-, sentence pronounced by the protagonist of this modern tragedy anouilhiana, becomes one of the most representative of his whole oeuvre emblems). Premiered in Paris on February 4, 1944, the Antígona of Jean Anouilh was received with great acclaim by the critics and the public, and immediately aroused a powerful desire of emulation between playwrights and European stage directors, both for the original treatment of the classical myth presented by Anouilh, as by the innovative contributions of André Barsacq, responsible for installation, which should be among its boldness when it comes to put on stage a few classic characters dressed in modern clothing.

Pink parts

The pieces roses ("pink" parts) of the theatre of Jean Anouilh are a series of comedies that, as the titled Le bal des voleurs (thieves, 1938 dance), Leocadia (Leocadia, 1939) and Le rendez-vous de Senlis (the appointment at Senlis, 1941), explores the seemingly idyllic world of the bourgeois salons to locate them some passionate love affairs thatDespite his apparent friendliness, continue emphasising that vitriolic, sarcastic approach which the playwright of Bordeaux is served to denounce the hypocrisy and mediocrity of the society of his time.

Brilliant pieces

L'Invitation au Château (invitation to the Castle, 1947), Répétition ou L'Amour puni (the trial or punished love, 1950) and Colombe (1951) are three works that Jean Anouilh said as the most representative of their "pieces brillants" ("bright pieces"), i.e. of those dramatic of his texts in which shines with splendour the tinsel aged and worn out those high social groups that have pushed the contemporary France into a chasm of intellectual mediocrity and moral degradation. The works in this series, Anouilh was definitively integrated into select payroll of the great French playwrights, as Molière (1622-1673), Marivaux (1688-1763) and Musset (1810-1857), eventually relentlessly to the privileged classes of their respective societies, with particular emphasis on the complaint of his vices and spiritual misery.

Sour or creaking parts

They are, as their own label indicates, those works of Anouilh where Bordeaux dramatist accentuates its particular pessimistic view of the world that surrounds him, from an Existentialist perspective which, enriched by his innate poetic sensibility and his amazing mastery of the theatrical techniques, places him very over - as far as the quality of the dramatic writing is concerned - of the great figures of French mid-20th-century Existentialism, as Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980) and Albert Camus (1913-1960). The own Anouilh stressed, among its main "pieces grincants" (literally, "parts gnashing"), entitled Ardèle ou La marguerite (Ardèle or Daisy, 1948) and Ornifle ou Le courant D'AIR (Ornifle or the air, 1955).

Other works

The rest of the extensive dramatic production of Jean Anouilh includes some titles as relevant as l'alouette (the Lark, 1953), Pauvre Bitos (poor Bitos, 1956), Becket ou l'honneur de Dieu (Becket or the honor of God, 1959), La grotte (Grotto, 1961), Cher Antoine ou L'Amour rate (Dear Antonio or failed love, 1969), Les poisson rouges ou Mon Père, ce héros (the Red fish or my father(, that hero, 1970) and L'arrestation (arrest, 1975). Maintenance, throughout all this extensive literary career, of constant fidelity to their approaches scenic provoked that, sometimes, critics achacase Anouilh an excessive repetition in the selection of topics and the construction of the characters, especially in works such as Ornifle, Pauvre Bitos and La grotte, in which deep existential nihilism unleashed after the second world war - and extended, moreover, among all the artistic and intellectual European community - reaches its heights more sour or squeaky. But the truth is that the wide variety of theatrical genres shuffled from the beginning by the playwright of Bordeaux (from light comedy to historical drama, character comedy, classical tragedy and adaptations) endowed with renewed freshness to each of their new parts - whether black, pink, bright or creaking; - and above that constant repetition in the themes and characters, imposed by their unshakeable decision to "disturb the relentless dream of the good people" - as defined by Boisdeffre. the primary purpose of the theatre of Anouilh, in their Metamorphose de la Littérature (Paris, 1950), t. II, p. 166)-, triumphant always this desire to protest angrily against vulgarity and mediocrity of social conventions and the selfishness of the surrounding world.

One of the greatest achievements of Jean Anouilh after the war was his foray into historical drama, to which revitalized with the same fortune that had been renovated, a few years earlier, classical tragedy. Caused a surprise recovery in l'alouette, of the historico-legendaria figure of Joan of arc (1412-1431); but it was above all his psychological study of Thomas Becket (1118-1170), masterfully embodied in which perhaps his masterpiece - Becket ou l'honneur de Dieu-, which made him one of the most prominent contemporary growers of this theatrical sub-genre. In this drama is divided into four acts, Anouilh tells the story who would go to the Christian Saints with the name of Santo Tomás de Canterbury, a man of humble origins who, thanks to their strength of will and his exquisite intellectual training, comes to be honored with the friendship of Henry II Plantagenet (1133-1189). Close friend becomes your best Advisor to the monarch, and helps to combat the temporary privileges enjoyed by the clergy of his time; but these strong ties begin to come loose when the King raised him to the rank of Primate of England, dignity that Thomas Becket takes great pride and responsibility, so far considered depositary "honour of God" and, therefore, responsible for defending their vicars of the wrongs committed by supporters of the monarch. Fleeing reprisals by the sovereign, Becket takes the road of exile with the regret of having lost the friendship of the King, pain that also afflicts Enrique II; and, although they try to seek a reconciliation, both reaffirming in their positions, so the monarch commands to his barons to give death to the prelate once it has decided to return to England. Resigned to his sad end, Becket appears solemnly dressed with their garments sacred at the Cathedral, where he/she dies slashed by four vassals of the King. Henry II promises to the people, to clarify the circumstances of the crime; but his desire to conceal the complicity of the State leads him to entrust the investigation to one of the killers.

The tragedy of the loss of friendship becomes in this work of Anouilh, above the fidelity to history, in the central subject and object of reflection of the playwright of Bordeaux, who dispensed perfectly tragic ingredients from the conversion of Becket in the depository of the "honor of God". His exceptional mastery of the technical dramatic allows you, already in full creative maturity, masterfully sharpen the psychological evolution of the Primate, and wrap it with a few dialogues of intractable expressive force, in the midst of stunning scenes that reach a comparable dramatic tension to the accomplished by the great geniuses of the universal theatre (among them, which reproduces the interview of both protagonists in a beach hit by an icy wind that symbolizes their friendship cooling).

Assessment of his work

Despite the efforts of the own Anouilh by classified and labelled his work, the truth is that black, the pink, the bright and the creaky come together in all its parts, and that the secondment of each one of them to the categories established by the author depends on greater predominance, in their respective plots plot, one of these ingredients. In his literary universe - one of the most unique and consistent history of dramatic genre - is always a fixed idea: the fight against hypocrisy and mediocrity of the social and family environment, fight which implies renunciation of happiness, even if this is can one move from the harsh conventions that regulate the society of the "other". And, in the middle of this permanent clash between the world of pure spirits and corrupted beings, always wins the anarco-nihilista message of Anouilh, embodied - in general - in young, impulsive and uncompromising characters who refuse to accept the guidelines set by their tyrannical parents, or by those who have - either in the bulky bourgeois saloons, in the environments corny of official culturein the most dazzling pages of history or the mediocre Orchestra coffee provinces - a comprehensive power sanctioned by the standard, custom and tradition.

Already almost strike adding that virtuosity constructive of Jean Anouilh, his amazing mastery of the theatrical language, the dramatic techniques and the most rich and varied scenic resources, reinforced in all its parts the angry cry of protest that holds your message, ever directed against the hypocrisy, vulgarity and the selfishness of those who know comfortably in an unfair and corrupted world. This is why, after the bright glare of his comic effects and the expressive cynicism of their irony and sarcasm, to beat always an undercurrent of bitterness nihilistic and existential pathos, which gives his pieces of a tragic dimension rarely achieved in contemporary theatre.

Scholar of the works of some classics of modern dramaturgy French - as Musset, Marivaux, Giraudoux or Claudel (1868-1955)-, and of other great universal authors that influenced decisively in the theatre of the 20th century - as the Italian Luigi Pirandello (1867-1936) and Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) English - Jean Anouilh excelled also as screenwriter, in an era in which dramatic genre began to be seriously threatened by the big screen. His was the script for the film entitled Monsieur Vincent (1947), French Director Maurice Cloche, a biography of San Vicente de Paúl (1581-1660), who was awarded the Hollywood Oscar for best foreign film in 1948.


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LUPPÉ, r. de. Anouilh (Paris, 1959).

MAUROIS, André. Of Gide to Sartre (Barcelona, 1968).

NICOLL, Allardyce. History of World Theatre (from Aeschylus to Anouilh) (Madrid: Aguilar, 1964).