Collection of Jean Genet Drafts and Proofs
Material related to Le Bagne consists of a completed film screenplay, approximately 1952-1954, and fragments of a play script, between 1958 and 1963.
Material related to Le Balcon contains drafts, autograph manuscripts, typescripts, and corrected proofs, 1955-1956, for the first edition of Le Balcon published in 1956 by L’Arbalète and Marc Barbezat.
Material related to Les Nègres includes multiple drafts, an unpublished preface to the play, and galley proofs, 1955-1957.
Material related to Le Langage de la muraille: cent ans jour après jour includes preparatory documents, and manuscript and typescript drafts for the screenplay, approximately 1981-1982, bound in three volumes.
- 1952 - 1982
- Genet, Jean, 1910-1986 (Author)
Conditions Governing Access
Conditions Governing Use
Immediate Source of Acquisition
1.67 Linear Feet (5 boxes)
Language of Materials
Jean Genet (1910-1986)
Jean Genet was born in Paris, France, to Camille Gabrielle Genet, a twenty-two years old, single, maidservant. Struggling to support herself, she turned her son over to social services when he was seven months old. In July 1911, Genet became a ward of the state and was sent to live with a foster family in Alligny-en-Morvan. He excelled at school, but also engaged in petty theft during his youth. In September 1926, after repeated criminal offenses, the state sent Genet to the Penitentiary Colony of Mettray. In March 1929 he enlisted in the French Army to gain an early release from Mettray. He served in Lebanon, Syria, Morocco, Algeria, and deserted his army post in June 1936. Genet then traveled around Europe as a vagabond, petty thief, and prostitute—experiences he recounts in Le Journal du voleur (The Thief's Journal). He returned to France in July 1937 and spent the next several years in and out of prison. In 1938 he received a dishonorable discharge from the Army on grounds of indecency.
Genet began to write during these periods of incarceration. In 1942, he completed the poem Un Condamné à Mort (The Man Sentenced to Death) and his first novel Notre Dame des Fleurs (Our Lady of the Flowers), which was published anonymously in 1943. Between 1944 and 1949, Genet wrote four novels—Miracle de la rose (Miracle of the Rose), Funeral Rites, Querelle de Brest, and Journal d’un voleur (A Thief’s Journal). In 1948, Genet faced a sentence of life imprisonment following ten convictions, until prominent literary figures including Jean Cocteau and Jean-Paul Sartre appealed on his behalf and secured a presidential pardon.
In addition to his novels, Genet experimented with drama. He wrote Haute Surveillance (Deathwatch) in 1944, Les Bonnes in 1947 (The Maids), and Splendid's in 1948. Throughout the 1950s he devoted himself to theater, writing experimental and increasingly political plays: Le Balcon (The Balcony), Les Nègres (The Blacks), and Elle (Her) in 1955, and Les Paravents between 1956 and 1961 (The Screens), a play about the Algerian War of Independence.
Genet also authored several screenplays. In 1950, he wrote and directed the short film Un Chant d'Amour, depicting the fantasies of a gay male prisoner and his prison warden. Genet was also the author of the screenplay for Le Bagne (The Penal Colony) (1952-1954); La Nuit venue/Le Bleu de L'oeil (The Night Has Come/The Blue of the Eye) (1976–1978); Divine, an adaptation of his first novel, Our Lady of the Flowers, at the request of David Bowie during the 1970s; and Le Langage de la muraille: cent ans jour après jour (The Language of the Walls: One Hundred Years Day after Day), a TV series for Antenne 2 that was abandoned in 1982 before production.
In the late 1960s Genet became politically active. He participated in demonstrations that drew attention to the living conditions of immigrants in France, was involved with Michel Foucault’s Groupe d'information sur les prisons (GIP), visited members of the Black Panther Party in the United States, and spent time in Palestinian refugee camps. He wrote articles and essays that spoke in solidarity with oppressed groups. In 1983, Genet began Un captif amoureux (Prisoner of Love), which recounts his experiences with Palestinian fighters and Black Panther Party members. He completed the book just before his death in Paris in April 1986.
Jean Genet Writing Process and Custodial Histories
Drafts of Genet’s works often appear in the personal papers of his friends and patrons (including Roland Dumas and Jacques Guérin), editors and publishers (including Paul Morihien, Marc Barbezat, and Monique Lange), his literary agent Bernard Frechtman, and others. Much of this material was later donated to repositories or sold at auction.
The group of material for Le Bagne in this collection illustrates Genet’s writing process as well as the custodial history of one of his works. He wrote the screenplay between 1952 and 1954 and set it aside in 1956. Genet started writing the theatrical play version of Le Bagne in 1958 and destroyed his last version at the time of the suicide of his partner Abdallah Bentaga in March 1964. However, two sets of drafts of Le Bagne remained: one Genet gave to his publisher, Marc Barbezat in 1963, and another he gave to his literary agent and American translator, Bernard Frechtman. In 1990 Barbezat acquired the copy owned by Frechtman at auction. Barbezat used both drafts to create a posthumous version of the theatrical play of Le Bagne published by L’Arbalète in 1994.
These materials have been arranged and described according to national and local standards. For more information, please refer to the Beinecke Manuscript Unit Processing Manual.
- Authors -- France -- 20th Century
- Authors, French
- Barbezat, Marc
- Colonie agricole et pénitentiaire de Mettray
- Demetz, M. (Frédéric-Auguste), 1796-1873
- Drawings (visual works)
- France -- Colonies
- France -- Politics and government
- France -- Politics and government -- 1870-1940
- French drama -- 20th Century
- French literature -- 20th Century
- Giacometti, Alberto, 1901-1966
- Juvenile detention homes -- France
- LGBTQ resource
- Male homosexuality in literature
- Page proofs
- Penal colonies
- Penal colonies in literature
- Plays (performed works)
- Political activists -- France
- Prison industries -- France
- Prisoners -- Fiction
- Race relations in literature
- Reformatories -- France
- Social change
- Social control in literature
- Social norms
- Social norms in literature
- Société nationale de télévision en couleur "Antenne 2"
- Tavernier, Bertrand
- Television scripts
- Guide to the Collection of Jean Genet Drafts and Proofs
- Sandrine Guérin
- September 2022
- Description rules
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description note
Part of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library Repository
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