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Robbe-Grillet, Alain 1922-2008

Robbe-Grillet, Alain 1922-2008


See index for CA sketch: Born August 18, 1922, in Brest, France; died February 18, 2008, in Caen, France. Novelist, essayist, screenwriter, and director. Robbe-Grillet was a giant of twentieth-century French literature, a prolific and award-winning author and founding member of the avant-garde movement typified by the nouvelle roman or "new novel." By traditional standards it was hardly a novel at all, for in Robbe-Grillet's hands, the form did away with plot, character development, narrative continuity, and structured format. The theme, to the extent that there was one, was objective description. In Robbe-Grillet's experimental novels, reality is not a constant; the concrete alternates constantly with the imaginary. Les Gommes (1953) has been described as a thriller in which a murder may or may not have occurred and the detective may or may not be the murderer. In this case the detective at least has a name; even that element is missing from some later novels. Psychological tension mounted in his later writing as his work grew more confident and complex; some later works also added elements of erotica and violent sex that some critics found unsettling. Robbe-Grillet's work was not for everyone, but the literati called him a genius and critics delved into his writings with great enthusiasm. Robbe-Grillet commented on his own work and the literature movement that he spearheaded in his essay collections, like Pour un nouveau roman (1963) and Generative Literature and Generative Art: New Essays (1983). Robbe-Grillet wrote screenplays, such as Last Year in Marienbad (1961), which was widely screened at U.S. art theaters and became the subject of animated critical discussion. He refused to adapt any of his own fiction for the screen, believing as he did that literature and film are not interchangeable forms of the same art, but he did, in several cases, direct the films that he had written. Robbe-Grillet spent most of his career as a writer and filmmaker, but prior to 1953 he worked briefly as a statistician in Paris and an agronomist in the French (or former French) holdings of Morocco, French Guinea, Martinique, and Guadeloupe. He also worked as a literary advisor for the Paris publisher Editions de Minuit, which later published nearly all of his original work. Robbe-Grillet's literary output was prolific, especially considering the intellectual intensity that he poured into it. He published at least three dozen titles over fifty years, though his pace declined as he aged. By that time, however, his position in French letters was secure. Robbe-Grillet won many distinguished prizes for his groundbreaking work, including the Prix Louis Delluc and a Berlin International Film Festival Award for best screenplay. He was decorated an officer of the French Legion of Honor and the French National Order of Merit, and was elected to the French Academy in 2004. Much of Robbe-Grillet's work has been published in English translation, including his autobiography, Le Miroir qui revient (1985).



International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers, Volume 4: Writers and Production Artists, 4th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 2000.

Ramsay, Raylene L., The French New Autobiographies: Sarraute, Duras, and Robbe Grillet, University Press of Florida (Gainesville, FL), 1996.

Robbe-Grillet, Alain, Le Miroir qui revient, Editions de Minuit (Paris, France), 1985, translation by Jo Levy published as Ghosts in the Mirror, Calder (London, England), 1988, Grove Press (New York, NY), 1989.


Chicago Tribune, February 19, 2008, sec. 3, p. 6.

Los Angeles Times, February 19, 2008, p. B11.

New York Times, February 19, 2008, p. A23.

Times (London, England), February 19, 2008, p. 53.

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