Genet, Jean

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.
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Genet, Jean

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).

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