25 July 2016

Sylvie Giono: Jean Giono à Manosque: Le Paraïs, la maison d'un rêveur (2012)

Jean Giono à Manosque is written by Giono's daughter Sylvie, and is a biography of Le Paraïs the house as much as it is a biography of her father. But perhaps surprisingly, this little book (only just over a hundred pages) is far from being a hagiography: Sylvie says her father was far from perfect, being an egotist, very proud, seeking his own pleasure above all else. This is a man who was a stay-at-home, avoiding going anywhere, far preferring to remain in his family, but even there he was self contained, creating his own reality through his fiction. In 1954 he was nominated as a member of the Académie Goncourt in Colette's place, and when asked what was the best thing about his subsequent trips to Paris, said seeing the clock of Lyon station to take the train back to Provence. And this was in spite of a 'revolution' (for Sylvie) three years before, when Giono actually went to Italy – although it took him two years to plan the journey, and even then he had to find a friend who had a car, as Giono never learned to drive.

Maybe the above paragraph sounds a little negative towards Jean Giono, but it's not meant to be because Sylvie Giono also displays a tremendous interest in and great knowledge of her father's work and obviously recognises his huge value to French literature in general, that he was of course was not simply a 'regional' writer (whatever that may mean) but of importance not only to France as a whole but to the world.

But to return to Le Paraïs, the house, I discovered much more about it from this book than the guided tour of it we had last month. It's interesting to learn that Jean's friend the poet and artist Lucien Jacques  – who was almost a member of the family and who made a fresco in 1936 which includes the family – alludes to Giono's novel Que ma joie demeure (1935) in the fresco. L'Ange, the two-metre high wooden sculpture that dominates a room in the house, has been attributed to Pierre Puget's atelier. I remember the sculpture in a peasant's barn that Giono wanted to buy and that in the end he had to buy the barn itself, although that this may have been the head of a capitol from a Roman chapel sacked in the revolution and that Giono gave back the barn to the peasant after removing the piece from the lintel on which it stood? No, I don't remember that being mentioned. All these objects in the house fed Giono's imagination, Sylvie makes clear.

Like Lucien Jacques, Jean Giono was the son of a shoemaker and an autodidact. Giono read the Greeks in his teens, read Shakespeare, loved Victor Hugo like his father (who cried on the death of Hugo in 1885) and even read detective stories voraciously, of which Gallimard sent him four a month and he would read them all in one day. Sylvie says that Fabrice de Dongo (from Stendhal's La Chartreuse de Palme) has something of Angelo Pardi (from Le Hussard sur le toit) in him, and later speaks of 'la vengeance par l'écriture' ('revenge by literature') in Giono's famous novel, in which Manosque is struck by the plague. Giono, of course, was imprisoned, as a pacifist, for not taking sides during the Second World War, and some locals hated him for it. A little book, but there's a lot in it.

My other Jean Giono posts:

Jean Giono: L' Homme qui plantait des arbres
Jean Giono: Le Hussard sur le toit | The Hussar on the Roof
Jean Giono: Colline | Hill of Destiny
Jean Giono: Un de Baumugnes | Lovers Are Never Losers
Jean Giono in Manosque (04)

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