In Who's Who in France 1969-1970, Jean Grenier is described as 'universitaire (en retraite), homme de lettres'. For some he is an intriguing philosopher and essayist, for others he is primarily the master of Albert Camus. Between 1930 and 1981, seventeen different volumes by Grenier were published by Gallimard, not counting revised editions, and some two dozen by other publishing houses. Between 1922 and his death in 1971 he wrote articles and essays for more than 120 different reviews and newspapers, ranging from the best-known to the most obscure. He was a teacher until his retirement in 1968, holding posts in Avignon, Algiers, Naples, Cherbourg, Albi, Vanves, Montpellier, Lille, Alexandria, Cairo and finally Paris. For much of his career, therefore, he was away from the centre of French literary and philosophical life, and out of the lime-light, although he did attend some of the major congresses and debates during the summer vacations. The critics paid little attention to him until 1957, when three of his books were published simultaneously by Gallimard. Attention then faded again until 1968. In that year Gallimard published his Albert Camus (souvenirs), which brought him to the notice of a wider public, and he was also awarded the Grand Prix National des Lettres. The publication of his important correspondence with Camus in 1981 has brought Grenier into fresh prominence.
Grenier was born in Paris in 1898 and brought up in Saint-Brieuc after the early divorce and remarriage of his mother. His childhood was uneventful. He had no brothers or sisters, and he attended the same school, the Institution Saint-Charles, until his baccalauréat in 1915. His philosophical and literary vocations thereafter went hand in hand. His studies prepared him for a career as a teacher of philosophy (licence 1917, agrégation 1922), while his friendships with such men as Louis Guilloux, Edmond Lambert and Max Jacob encouraged him to write. He combined the two interests in his first articles for La Vie des lettres et des arts and Philosophies (1922-25). During this period he was trying his hand at writing short novels, but he had not yet found the right medium for his particular talent. That came in 1926 after a visit to Greece. In the following year Daniel Halévy published Grenier's first lyrical essay 'Interiora rerum', of which Gaëtan Picon has said that it gave him 'le sentiment d'une ceuvre dont les chances n'étaient pas inégales à celles de quelques jeunes écrivains voisinant avec lui, et qui allaient devenir célèbres': these others were writers like Malraux, Chamson and Henri Petit. In 1927, on his return from a . . .