Jean Genet

Jean Genet (zhäN zhənā´), 1910–86, French dramatist. Deserted by his parents as an infant, Genet spent much of his early life in reformatories and prisons. Between 1940 and 1948 he wrote several autobiographical prose narratives dealing with homosexuality and crime, including Our Lady of the Flowers (tr. 1949, repr. 1963) and The Thief's Journal (tr. 1964). In 1948 he was sentenced to life imprisonment for theft, but he was pardoned through the efforts of important French writers, including Gide, Sartre, and Cocteau. Genet's first two plays, Les Bonnes (1947; tr. The Maids, 1954) and Haute Surveillance (1949; tr. Deathwatch, 1954), established him as a dramatist concerned with theater as ritual and ceremony. Considered classic examples of the theater of the absurd, his dramas portray a world of outcasts in revolt against everything that renders humans helpless, subservient, and alone. His later plays include The Balcony (tr. 1958), in which the patrons of a brothel act out their fantasies as a revolution progresses in the streets, and The Blacks (tr. 1960), a "clown show" in which black actors play the roles of their white oppressors. Other works include the play The Screens (tr. 1962) and Querelle (tr. 1974).

See his Reflections on the Theatre (tr. 1972); J.-P. Sartre, Saint Genet (1952, tr. 1963); biography by E. White, Genet (1993); and studies by R. N. Coe (1970), B. Knapp (1968, rev. ed. 1989), and H. Stewart (1989).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2014, The Columbia University Press.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Saint Genet, Actor and Martyr
Jean-Paul Sartre; Bernard Frechtman.
George Braziller, 1963
The Maids and Deathwatch: Two Plays
Jean Genet; Bernard Frechtman.
Grove Press, 1962
Dionysus in Paris: A Guide to Contemporary French Theater
Wallace Fowlie.
Meridian Books, 1960
Librarian’s tip: "Genet (1909- )" begins on p. 218
Important Nonsense
Lionel Abel.
Prometheus Books, 1987
Librarian’s tip: "The Genius of Jean Genet" begins on p. 171
Sartre and Evil: Guidelines for a Struggle
Haim Gordon; Rivca Gordon.
Greenwood Press, 1995
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 7 "The Consciousness of Genet: A Rejection of Fanaticism" and Chap. 8 "Genet's Redemption from a Life of Evil"
The Sublime Crime: Fascination, Failure, and Form in Literature of the Enlightenment
Stephanie Barbé Hammer.
Southern Illinois University Press, 1994
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 6 "Resistance, Metaphysics, and the Aesthetics of Failure in Modern Criminal Literature"
Existential Marxism in Postwar France: From Sartre to Althusser
Mark Poster.
Princeton University Press, 1975
Librarian’s tip: "Genet and the Other" begins on p. 195
Writing Marginality in Modern French Literature: From Loti to Genet
Edward J. Hughes.
Cambridge University Press, 2001
Librarian’s tip: Chap. Five "Peripheries, Public and Private: Genet and Dispossession"
Sex Drives: Fantasies of Fascism in Literary Modernism
Laura Frost.
Cornell University Press, 2002
Gay Histories and Cultures
George E. Haggerty; John Beynon; Douglas Eisner.
Garland, 2000
Librarian’s tip: "Genet, Jean (1910-1986)" begins on p. 391
Imps of the Perverse: Gay Monsters in Film
Michael William Saunders.
Praeger Publishers, 2000
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 3 "Jean Cocteau, Kenneth Anger and Jean Genet"
The Name of the Mother: Writing Illegitimacy
Marie Maclean.
Routledge, 1994
Librarian’s tip: "Genet: The Flowering of the Name" begins on p. 175
Encyclopedia of Contemporary French Culture
Alex Hughes; Keith Reader.
Routledge, 1998
Librarian’s tip: "Genet, Jean" begins on p. 268
Who's Who in Contemporary Gay and Lesbian History: From World War II to the Present Day
Robert Aldrich; Garry Wotherspoon.
Routledge, 2001
Librarian’s tip: "Genet, Jean" begins on p. 155
Avant Garde Theatre, 1892-1992
Christopher Innes.
Routledge, 1993
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 7 "Black Masses and Ceremonies of Negation"
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