Alain Robbe-Grillet (French: [a.lɛ̃ ʁɔb ɡʁi.jɛ]; 18 August 1922 – 18 February 2008) was a French writer and filmmaker. He was one of the figures most associated with the Nouveau Roman (lit.'new novel') trend of the 1960s, along with Nathalie Sarraute, Michel Butor and Claude Simon. Robbe-Grillet was elected a member of the Académie française on 25 March 2004, succeeding Maurice Rheims at seat No. 32. He married Catherine Robbe-Grillet (née Rstakian).

Alain Robbe-Grillet
Robbe-Grillet in 2006
Born(1922-08-18)18 August 1922
Brest, Finistère, France
Died18 February 2008(2008-02-18) (aged 85)
Caen, France
Years active1953–2008
Known forLast Year at Marienbad
Les Gommes
La Jalousie
SpouseCatherine Robbe-Grillet

Biography edit

Alain Robbe-Grillet was born in Brest (Finistère, France) to a family of engineers and scientists. He was trained as an agricultural engineer. During the years 1943 and 1944, he participated in compulsory labor in Nuremberg, where he worked as a machinist. The initial few months were seen by Robbe-Grillet as something of a holiday. In between the very rudimentary training he was given to operate the machinery, he had free time to go to the theatre and the opera.


In 1945, he completed his diploma at the National Institute of Agronomy. Later, his work as an agronomist took him to Martinique, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, and Morocco. In 1960, he was a signatory to the Manifesto of the 121 in support of the Algerian struggle for independence. He died in 2008 in Caen after succumbing to heart problems.[1]

Work edit

Robbe-Grillet's first published novel was The Erasers (Les Gommes), which was issued by Les Éditions de Minuit in 1953. After that, he dedicated himself full-time to his new occupation. His early work was praised by eminent critics, such as Roland Barthes and Maurice Blanchot. Around the time of his second novel, he became a literary advisor for Les Éditions de Minuit and occupied this position from 1955 until 1985. After publishing four novels, in 1961, he worked with Alain Resnais, writing the script for Last Year at Marienbad (L'Année dernière à Marienbad), and he subsequently wrote and directed his own films.

Being interview by Mirja Bolgar

In 1963, Robbe-Grillet published For a New Novel (Pour un Nouveau Roman), a collection of previously published theoretical writings concerning the novel. From 1966 to 1968, he was a member of the High Committee for the Defense and Expansion of French (Haut comité pour la défense et l'expansion de la langue française). In addition, Robbe-Grillet also led the Centre for Sociology of Literature (Centre de sociologie de la littérature) at the Université Libre de Bruxelles from 1980 to 1988. From 1971 to 1995, Robbe-Grillet was a professor at New York University, lecturing on his own novels.

Although Robbe-Grillet was elected to the Académie française in 2004, in his eighties, he was never formally received by the Académie because of disputes regarding the Académie's reception procedures. Robbe-Grillet both refused to prepare and submit a welcome speech in advance, preferring to improvise his speech, as well as refusing to purchase and wear the Académie's famous green tails (habit vert) and sabre, which he considered outdated.

Style edit

His writing style has been described as "realist" or "phenomenological" (in the Heideggerian sense) or "a theory of pure surface". Methodical, geometric, and often repetitive descriptions of objects replace (though often reveal) the psychology and interiority of the character. The reader must slowly piece together the story and the emotional experience of jealousy, for example, in the repetition of descriptions, the attention to odd details, and the breaks in repetitions, a method that resembles the experience of psychoanalysis in which the deeper unconscious meanings are contained in the flow and disruptions of free associations. Timelines and plots are fractured, and the resulting novel resembles the literary equivalent of a cubist painting. Yet his work is ultimately characterized by its ability to mean many things to many different people.[2]

Novels edit

Robbe-Grillet wrote his first novel A Regicide (Un Régicide) in 1949, but it was rejected by Gallimard, a major French publishing house, and only later published with minor corrections by his lifelong publisher Les Éditions de Minuit in 1978. His second novel, The Erasers (Les Gommes), superficially resembles a detective novel, but it contains within it a deeper structure based on the tale of Oedipus. The detective is seeking the assassin in a murder that has not yet occurred, only to discover that it is his destiny to become that assassin.[3]

His next and most acclaimed novel is The Voyeur (Le Voyeur), first published in French in 1955 and translated into English in 1958 by Richard Howard. The Voyeur relates the story of Mathias, a traveling watch salesman who returns to the island of his youth with a desperate objective. As with many of his novels, The Voyeur revolves around an apparent murder: throughout the novel, Mathias unfolds a newspaper clipping about the details of a young girl's murder and the discovery of her body among the seaside rocks. Mathias' relationship with a dead girl, possibly that hinted at in the story, is obliquely revealed in the course of the novel so that we are never actually sure if Mathias is a killer or simply a person who fantasizes about killing. Importantly, the "actual murder," if such a thing exists, is absent from the text. The narration contains little dialogue, and an ambiguous timeline of events. Indeed, the novel's opening line is indicative of the novel's tone: "It was as if no one had heard." The Voyeur was awarded the Prix des Critiques.

Next, he wrote La Jalousie in 1957, one of his few novels to be set in a non-urban location, in this instance a banana plantation. In the first year of publication only 746 copies were sold, despite the popularity of The Voyeur. Over time, it became a great literary success and was translated into English by Richard Howard. Robbe-Grillet himself argued that the novel was constructed along the lines of an absent third-person narrator. In Robbe-Grillet's account of the novel the absent narrator, a jealous husband, silently observes the interactions of his wife (referred to only as "A...") and a neighbour, Franck. The silent narrator who never names himself (his presence is merely implied, e.g. by the number of place settings at the dinner table or deck chairs on the verandah) is extremely suspicious that A... is having an affair with Franck. Throughout the novel, the absent narrator continually replays his observations and suspicions (that is, created scenarios about A... and Franck) so much so that it becomes impossible to distinguish between 'observed' moments or 'suspicious' moments. 'Jalousie' is also translatable as Persian blinds, the horizontal shutters common in France that are usually made of wood or sometimes metal. Over the course of the novel the main character looks through his blinds repeatedly in different scenes, the 'jalousie' he looks out to the world that mutates ever so slightly each time.

In 1984 he published what he described as an intentionally traditional autobiography, entitled Le Miroir qui revient, translated into English as Ghosts in the Mirror by Jo Levy (1988).

Films edit

Robbe-Grillet's career as a creator of fiction was not restricted to the writing of novels. For him, creating fiction in the form of films was of equal importance. His film career began when Alain Resnais chose to collaborate with him on his 1961 film Last Year at Marienbad. The film was nominated for the 1963 Academy Award for Writing Original Screenplay and won the Golden Lion when it came out in 1961. In the credits it was presented as a film equally co-authored by Robbe-Grillet and Resnais.

Robbe-Grillet then went on to launch a career as a writer-director of a series of cerebral and often sexually provocative feature films which explored similar themes to those in his literary work (e.g. Voyeurism, The Body as Text, The 'Double'). He commenced with L'Immortelle (The Immortal One) (1962) which won the coveted Louis Delluc Prize of 1962. This was followed by his most commercially successful film after Last Year at Marienbad: Trans-Europ-Express (1966) starring Jean-Louis Trintignant, who worked with Robbe-Grillet on his next four films, his French-Slovak film L'homme qui ment/Muž, ktorý luže (The Man Who Lies) (1968), L'Eden et après/Eden a potom (Eden and After) (1970), Glissements progressifs du plaisir (Progressive Slidings towards Pleasure) (1974) and Le jeu avec le feu (Playing with Fire) (1975). It was almost a decade before the appearance of his next feature film, La belle captive (The Beautiful Captive) (1983), where Robbe-Grillet enlisted the services of Henri Alekan as cinematographer. Subsequently, more than a decade passed before Robbe-Grillet got behind the lens again, this time filming a mystery thriller on a small Greek island with Fred Ward starring as the confused Frank in Un bruit qui rend fou (A Maddening Noise, aka: The Blue Villa) (1995). Before his death in 2008 Robbe-Grillet was to direct one more film, Gradiva (C'est Gradiva qui vous appelle) (2006) which brought once more to the fore his preoccupation with sadism and bondage in his fiction. Perhaps the best introduction to the film works of Alain Robbe-Grillet is the volume The Erotic Dream Machine by Professors Roch C.Smith and Anthony N. Fragola. Also of great value is the volume In the Temple of Dreams: The Writer on the Screen in which Robbe-Grillet explains the relationship between his literary fiction and his cinematic fiction (ed. Edouard d'Araille, 1996).

Cultural references edit

  • The Australian composer Lindsay Vickery has written an opera based on the novel Djinn.
  • Frédéric Beigbeder refers to Robbe-Grillet in his novel Windows on the World.
  • In the movie Sideways, Miles (Paul Giamatti) explains to Maya (Virginia Madsen) that his unpublished novel "evolves – or devolves – into a kind of a Robbe-Grillet mystery – but (with) no real resolution."
    • In the commentary section of the Sideways DVD, Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church discuss the Robbe-Grillet reference during the scene when Miles is explaining his novel to Maya in (what Church dubs) the "lair of the white grape." When the line is mentioned Church says: "I love that—Robbe-Grillet. That gets a very good laugh." Paul Giamatti chimes in with: "What the hell?!" Church adds, "it's the height of ostentation." To which Giamatti agrees: "Nothing could be more pretentious." Then he disparages his own character stating: "What a jackass!"
  • The Scottish scholar and novelist Michael Innes (nom de plume for J.I.M. Stewart) quotes Robbe-Grillet's detailed geometric description of a veranda at length in his mystery Death at the Chase (1970). The detective character John Appleby has a son Bobby who is said to be a practitioner of "le nouvelle écriture."

Bibliography edit

Filmworks available as ciné-novels edit

  • 1960: L'Année dernière à Marienbad Les Éditions de Minuit ASIN: B005MP60NO
  • 1963: L'Immortelle Les Éditions de Minuit ASIN: B0014Q17Z6
  • 1974: Glissements progressifs du plaisir Les Éditions de Minuit ASIN:B0048IY7OK
  • 2002: C'est Gradiva qui vous appelle Les Éditions de Minuit ISBN 978-2-7073-1793-3

Other works edit

In 1975, Robbe-Grillet and René Magritte published a book entitled La Belle Captive. The book is referred to as a "roman" (novel) and is illustrated with 77 paintings by Magritte interspersed with discourse written by Robbe-Grillet.[5] The eponymous film La Belle captive, written and directed by Robbe-Grillet, was released in 1983.[6]

In 1981, Robbe-Grillet and Yvone Lenard published Le Rendez-vous (The Meeting) in the United States as a textbook for intermediary French courses that included an original novel and grammar exercises.[7] As Trinity College professor Sara Kippur explains, "As a language-learning tool, Le rendez-vous advanced a systematic approach that introduced students to increasing complex verb tenses and grammatical constructions."[8] Le Rendez-vous was released in the United States a month before Djinn was released in France. The text of Djinn was identical to that of Le Rendez-vous absent the grammar exercise and with the addition of the prologue and epilogue.[8]

Collaborations edit

  • Temple aux miroirs, with Irina Ionesco (1977)

Filmography edit

See also edit

References edit

  1. ^ Douglas Johnson (19 February 2008). "Alain Robbe-Grillet obituary". The Guardian. Retrieved 23 April 2010.
  2. ^ Donadio, Rachel (24 February 2008). "He Was Nouveau When It Was New". The New York Times. Retrieved 23 April 2010.
  3. ^ One of the first to discuss the deeper Oedipal structure in The Erasers was Bruce Morrissette, in a 1960 article entitled "Oedipus and Existentialism: Les Gommes of Robbe-Grillet."
  4. ^ "Robbe-Grillet interview". DailyMotion. 26 October 2007. Retrieved 24 February 2010. Robbe-Grillet repeatedly referred to this book in interviews as not belonging to his literary work, e.g. on Ce soir (ou jamais !) on 24 October 2007. He is reported to have declined an invitation to read extracts from the novel at a literary festival by saying, 'Parce que ce n'est pas de la littérature, c'est de la masturbation!' Les Inrockuptibles; numéro 639, 26 février.
  5. ^ La Belle Captive. Belgium: Cosmos Textes. 1975.
  6. ^ "La Belle Captive". IMDb. Retrieved 1 September 2014.
  7. ^ Robbe-Grillet, Alain (1981). Le rendez-vous. Yvone Lenard, Rinehart, and Winston, Inc Holt. New York. ISBN 0-03-056248-1. OCLC 7578659.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  8. ^ a b Kippur, Sara (2020). ""Robbe-Grillet in America: The Nouveau Roman Meets the Language Textbook"". Publications of the Modern Language Association of America. 135 (3): 492–510. doi:10.1632/pmla.2020.135.3.492. S2CID 225913007 – via Modern Language Association.

Further reading edit

  • Gardies, André (1972) Alain Robbe-Grillet. Paris: Seghers (étude par André Gardies; textes et documents)
  • Immoral Tales: European Sex & Horror Movies 1956-1984 (1994) by Cathal Tohill and Pete Tombs dedicates a chapter to his films.
  • The Erotic Dream Machine: Interviews with Alain Robbe-Grillet on His Films (2006) by Anthony N. Fragola, Alain Robbe-Grillet and Roch Charles Smith. Translated to Persian by Ebrahim Barzegar.
  • Jeffries, S (15 September 2007). "French force". Film. London. Archived from the original on 19 September 2007. Retrieved 23 September 2007.

External links edit