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Jean Anouilh

Jean Anouilh was born in Bordeaux on June 23, 1910. After completing his early schooling, Anouilh studied law for a short time at the Sorbonne, and then worked as a copywriter at Publicité Damour. He also wrote comic scenes for the cinema. In 1929 he collaborated with Jean Aurenche on his first play, Humulus Le Muet. It was followed in the same year by Mandarine. In 1931 Anouilh married the actress Monelle Valentin and became secretary to Louis Jouvet's Comédie des Champs-Élysées. At the age of twenty-five Anouilh decided to devote himself entirely to writing. During the next years Anouilh completed several plays and gained comparative success with the production of Y Avait Un Prisonnier (1935) before his breakthrough work Le Voyageur Sans Bagage (1937). After that a new Anouilh play was seen in Paris almost every season. During World War II Anouilh's Léocadia (1940) became a hit. The lyrical fantasy depicted a prince whose love, Léocadia, has died but who finds a new love in a young milliner who resembles her. In 1944 he gained a wide audience with Antigone, a version of Sophocles' classical drama, because of its thinly disguised attack on the Nazis and on the Vichy government. After the war Anouilh was the most successful playwright in Europe. Likewise, he enjoyed much fame in the United States with his "costumed" plays—plays that mixed reality with illusion and were presented as improvisations—to which he turned in the 1950s. Among them are L'alouette (1953, aka "The Lark"), about Joan of Arc, which was staged in New York at Longacre Theatre in 1955; Becket (1959), which won a Tony Award; and La Valse Des Toréadors (1952), whose hero, General Saint Pé, appeared in several plays as a caricature of the author. In the 1950s Anouilh dealt with his clash with General de Gaulle in L'hurluberlu (1958) and Le Songe Du Critique (1960). His works began to lose their critical favor with the emergence of such playwrights as Ionesco and Beckett. He did not write for a while. He then returned with plays that were marked by conservative attitudes and in which his principal character longs for the past. These works include La Culotte (1978), in which the theme was women's liberation. In the 1980s Anouilh directed some of his own plays as well as those of other authors. He died in Lausanne, Switzerland on October 3, 1987.


Samuel French Titles by Jean Anouilh