Triolet, Elsa 1896–1970

views updated

Triolet, Elsa 1896–1970

(Ella Iurievena Kagana, Daniel Laurent)

PERSONAL: Born Ella Iurievana Kagana, September 25, 1896, in Moscow, Russia; died June 16, 1970; immigrated to France, c. 1918; daughter of Yuri Kagan (a contract law lawyer) and Helena Youlievna (a pianist); married André Triolet (a French military at-taché), 1918 (divorced); married Louis Aragon (a poet and writer), February 28, 1939. Education: Lycée Val-itzki, Moscow, Russia, 1918.

CAREER: Writer. Les Lettre Françaises, journal of the intellectual Resistance during World War II, writer and editor. Military service: Served in the French Resistance during World War II.

AWARDS, HONORS: Médaille de la Résistance, Prix Goncourt, 1945, for A Fine of Two Hundred Francs.


Na Taiti, Ateney (Leningrad, Russia), 1925.

Zemlyanichka, Coopérative des Écrivains "Le Cercle," (Moscow, Russia) 1926, translation by Léon Robel published as Fraise-des-bois, with a preface by Louis Aragon, Gallimard (Paris, France), 1974, reprinted in 1997.

Zaschchitnyi tsvet, Fédération (Moscow, Russia), 1928, translation by Léon Robel published as Camouflage, Gallimard (Paris, France), 1976.

Bonsoir Thérèse, Éditions Denoël (Paris, France), 1938, Gallimard (Paris, France), 1978.

Maïakovski, poéte russe, Éditions Sociales Inernationales (Paris, France), 1939, translation by John Rodker published as Mayakovsky, Poet of Russia: Reminiscences from a Longer Work, Hogarth (London, England), 1939.

Mille Regrets (stories; title means "A Thousand Regrets"), Denoël (Paris, France), 1941–43.

Le Cheval blanc (novel), Denoël (Paris, France), 1943, translation by Gerrie Thielens published as The White Charger, Rinehart (New York, NY), 1946, translation by Mervyn Savill published as The White Horse, Hutchinson (New York, NY), 1951.

(As Daniel Laurent) Les Amants d'Avignon (story; title means "The Lovers of Avignon"), Éditions de Minuit (Paris, France), 1943, translation published as The Lovers of Avignon, included in A Fine of 200 Francs, Reynal & Hitchcock (New York, NY), 1947.

(As Daniel Laurent) Yvette, Bibliothèque Française (Paris, France), 1943.

Qui est cet étranger qui n'est pas d'ici? ou Le mythe de la baronne Mélanie, Ides et Calendes (Paris, France), 1945, Éditions Denoël (Paris, France), 1997.

Ce n'était qu'un passage de ligne, Seghers (Paris, France), 1945.

Le premier accroc coûte deux francs (stories), Egloff (Paris, France), 1945, translation by Francis Golffing published as A Fine of 200 Francs, Reynal & Hitchock (New York, NY), 1947.

Personne ne m'aime (novel; title means "No One Loves Me"), Éditeurs Français Réunis (Paris, France), 1946.

(Translator) M. Iline, Les montagnes et les hommes, Éditions Hier et Aujourd'hui (Paris, France), 1946.

(With Raymon Peynet) Dessins animés, Bordas (Paris, France), 1947.

Les fantômes armés (novel; title means "Armed Ghosts"), Biliothèque Français (Paris, France), 1947, republished with Personne ne m'aime, as Anne-Marie I-II, 1952.

L'inspecteur des ruines (novel), Biliothèque Français, (Paris, France),1948, translation by Norman Cameron published as The Inspector of Ruins, Roy (New York, NY), 1953.

L'écrivain et le livre; ou, La suite dans les idées, Éditions Sociales (Paris, France), 1948.

(Translator) Ina Konstantinova, La jeune fille de Kachine: Journal intime et letters, Éditeurs Français Réunis (Paris, France), 1951.

(Translator, editor, and author of introduction) Maïakovski: Vers et proses de 1913 à 1930, Éditeurs Françcais Réunis (Paris, France), 1952.

Le cheval roux; ou, les intentions humaines (novel; title means "The Red Horse; or Human Intentions"), Éditeurs Français Réunis (Paris, France), 1953.

L'histoire d'Anton Tchekhov, sa vie, son oeuvre, Éditeurs Françcais Réunis (Paris, France), 1954.

(Translator) Anton Checkhov, Théâtre, two volumes, Éditeurs Français Réunis (Paris, France), 1954 1962.

(With Robert Doisneau) Pour que Paris soit, Éditions Cercle d'Art (Paris, France), 1956.

Le rendez-vous des étrangers (novel; title means "Meeting Point of Foreigners"), Gallimard (Paris, France), 1956.

Le monument (novel), Gallimard (Paris, France) 1957.

Elsa Triolet choisi par Aragon (collection), edited by Louis Aragon, Gallimard (Paris, France) 1960.

Les manigances: Journal d'une égoïste (novel; title means "Wangling: Journal of an Egoist"), 1962.

Oeuvres romanesques croisées d'Elsa Triolet et Aragon (collection; forty-two volumes), Laffont (Paris, France) 1964–74.

(Editor) La poésie russe (bilingual edition), Seghers (Paris, France), 1965.

Le grand jamais (novel; title means "It Will Never Happen"), Gallimard (Paris, France), 1965.

Écoutez-voir (novel; title means "Look and Listen"), Gallimard (Paris, France), 1968.

(Translator) Marina Tsvétaeva, Marina Tsvétaeva, Gallimard (Paris, France), 1968.

La mise en mots, Skira (Geneva, Switzerland), 1969.

Le rossignol se tait à l'aube (novel; title means "The Nightingale Falls Silent at Dawn"), Gallimard (Paris, France), 1970.

Proverbes d'Elsa, compiled by Jean Marcenac, preface by Edmonde Charles-Roux, Éditeurs Français Réunis (Paris, France), 1971.

(With Viktor Borisovich Shklovskii and Richard Sheldon) Zoo; or, Letters Not about Love (includes seven letters by author), translated by Richard Sheldon, Cornell University Press (Ithaca, NY) 1971.

Chroniques théâtrales: Les Lettres Françaises, 1948–1951 (criticism), edited by M. Lebre-Peytard, Gallimard (Paris, France), 1981.

Trois inédits, 1999.

Correspondance: 1921–1970, edited by Léon Robel, Gallimard (Paris, France), 2000.


Roses à crédit (title means "Roses on the Installment Plan"), Gallimard (Paris, France) 1958, reprinted, 1998.

Luna-Park, Gallimard (Paris, France) 1959.

L'âme (title means "The Soul"), Gallimard (Paris, France) 1963.

Contributor to books and collections, including Trois inédits, Société des amis de Louis Aragon et Elsa Triolet (Rambouillet, France), 1999; works have been translated in several languages, including Czech, Spanish, German, Russian, Portuguese, and Japanese.

SIDELIGHTS: French-émigré writer Elsa Triolet was a chronicler of her tumultuous times. In her novels she wrote about her childhood in Russia, her experiences with the French Resistance during World War II, and her disenchantment with politics during the postwar years. For several years she published theater reviews, and her translations of works by Russian poets and dramatists brought what would become classic works to wider audiences. She was also influential in her journalism and other work for the Resistance during World War II and as the wife of famous French poet and communist leader Louis Aragon, who composed five volumes of verse that each were inspired by Triolet in some way.

Born in Moscow, Triolet fled her homeland during the Russian Revolution and settled in Paris. Several people early encouraged Triolet to pursue a writing career. She and literary critic Viktor Shklovsky, a one-time suitor, had been corresponding regularly. Unknown to Triolet, Shklovsky published several of her letters to him in a work called Zoo; or, Letters Not about Love, so titled because Triolet had made Shklovsky, whose love was unrequited, promise that he not write love letters to her. When Shklovsky showed Russian novelist and dramatist Maxim Gorky the work, Gorky told him that the best part of the work was the series of letters by Triolet, known as "Alya" in the signed letters. When Shklovsky revealed Triolet's identity, Gorky encouraged her to write for publication.

In the late 1920s Triolet saw the publication of her first novels, which she wrote in Russian and were later translated into French. With Na Taiti, she recounts her experience of living in Tahiti. In the semiautobiographical Zemlyanichka, which was translated fifty years later as Fraise-des-bois, she describes the life of a middle-class Russian girl nicknamed Fraise-des-bois growing up before the 1917 Russian Revolution. Told in alternating third person by the governess and first person by the child, the story focuses on the girl's interior life. She is fraught with feelings of worthless-ness, jealousy of an older sister, and fear of a future of suffering, loneliness, and death.

During 1938, Triolet published her first novel written originally in French. Bonsoir Thérèse contains five very different episodes dealing with a person called Thérèse, who appears in many forms: as a woman who leaves her husband, as the city of Paris, as a person trying to name a perfume, as a woman who in an epiphany sees herself as she truly is, and finally as a wife who kills her arms-trafficking husband and then commits suicide.

While France was occupied by the Nazis during World War II, Triolet was very active in the Resistance Movement and continued to write for a Resistance newspaper and produced two novels and numerous short stories, all designed to encourage other patriots. Mille Regrets contains eight of these stories. The novel Le Cheval blanc, translated into English as The White Charger and The White Horse, tells the episodic story of a young man named Michel Vigaud, who runs away from school to join the navy and wanders the world until the onset of World War II, when he dies in battle. Discussing the novel in Comparative Literature Studies, Lorene M. Birden noted that in writing the book Triolet likely drew from her knowledge of Russian oral epic literature.

Triolet also published several works under the pseudonym Daniel Laurent, including Les amants d'Avignon, which was published by an underground press during the war. It was later collected in Le premier accroc coûte deux cents francs, a collection of four novellas that was translated into English and published as A Fine of 200 Francs. In the story "Les amants," the author tells the tale of Juliette, a courier during the Resistance, and is one of Triolet's most anthologized works. "La vie privée d'Alexis Slavsky, artiste peintre," portrays how the war marred the ability of artists and intellectuals to create. The novellas "Notebooks Buried under a Peach Tree" and "A Fine of 200 Francs" complete the collection.

During the postwar years, Triolet published her darkest novels. She wrote the novels Personne ne m'aime and its sequel les fantômes armés, known collectively as Anne-Marie I-II, at the end of 1944 and early in 1945. Told in the third person by the narrator Anne-Marie and in the first person by Jenny, Personne ne m'aime revolves around thwarted Jenny's desire to find true love during World War II. Though she is a famous actress, she feels that no one loves her. In the end she develops breast cancer and commits suicide rather than suffer further. Anne-Marie, who has been the witness to Jenny's plight, becomes the central character of the second half of the book and is the primary protagonist in Les fantômes armés. Anne-Marie suffers a broken marriage, works for the Resistance, falls in love with another fighter who is later killed, and sees the Liberation. In the sequel, she tries to reassemble her life, becoming a photographer, but finding no place to fit in the mixed-up world of postwar politics and potential civil war between former collaborators and resistance fighters. According to a contributor to the Dictionary of Literary Biography, the second novel "sustains the suspense begun in the first book and develops at the same time a psychologically satisfying portrait of a thinker able to act in extraordinary situations and a truthful description of the intricate military and political circumstances of the Resistance movements."

In The Inspector of Ruins, Triolet tells the story of Antonin, who is a man adrift following his wife's death. As the narrator, Antonin tells of his wanderings in a genial tone, but his life turns out tragically. "Triolet showed an uncanny mastery in rendering the conditions in postwar Western Europe," wrote a Dictionary of Literary Biography contributor. The writer went on to note: "Many scenes are … highly dramatic, with a superb sense of the commonplace and of the exceptional. Most secondary characters in this novel are well developed, some of them memorably."

From 1948 to 1951, Triolet published theater reviews in the communist periodical Lettres françaises, which were later collected and republished in 1981 as the well-received Chroniques théâtrales: Les Lettres Françaises, 1948–1951. Among the writings are reviews of Parisian theaters and works by a number of noted French playwrights. Writing in World Literature Today, B.L. Knapp praised Triolet for her understanding of the "particular genius at work" and her "personal reactions, expressed in a continuously exciting and poetic style." Times Literary Supplement contributor John Weightman commented that the reviews "provide invaluable insights for the reader interested in the French theatre as a historical phenomenon." He added, "Without constituting great theatrical criticism her articles are full of surprises, and even have a sort of naïve freshness."

The author's works from the 1950s include translations of the two-volume plays of Anton Checkhov and the works of other notable writers. Although never an official member of the Communist Party, Triolet became disenchanted with the communist movement and quit the communist literary organization Conseil national des écrivains. In her 1957 novel Le monument, she portrays an Eastern European artist who has been commissioned to sculpt a larger-than-life statue of Stalin. When the statue mars the city vistas, the artist commits suicide. In this way, Triolet questioned the validity of social realism.

In 1959 Triolet published the first two volumes of her tenuously linked "Age de Nylon" trilogy. In Roses à crédit, Triolet satirizes the desire to attain material goods, portraying a young and intelligent woman who has grown up in poverty and who squanders her intelligence in amassing gadgets. Luna-Park tells of the discovery of a volume of letters in which the letter writer wrote about the desire to be part of the first voyage to the moon. Four years later L'âme appeared. This novel tells the story of a Nazi concentration camp survivor. A Dictionary of Literary Biography contributor described the book as "intellectually, politically, and morally … perhaps one of the finest French novels of the twentieth century."

During the 1960s, Triolet voiced her opposition to the persecution of Soviet authors such as Sakharov and Solzhenitsyn and the 1956 invasion of Czechoslovakia. In her novel Le grand jamais and its sequel Écoutezvoir, the author ponders the nature of historical truth. In the novels, the writer Régis, who considers historical truth a joke, dies and his widow, Madeleine, fights to prevent his followers from misrepresenting him. In the process, however, she discovers that even she does not really know her husband.

Troilet's work has suffered from neglect by critics and scholars. This neglect may be because she was misidentified as a communist by noncommunists and as being too unorthodox to suit the communist literary establishment.



Adereth, Max, French Resistance Literature: The Example of Elsa Triolet and Louis Aragon, Rodopi (Amsterdam, The Netherlands), 1990.

Adereth, Max, Elsa Triolet and Louis Aragon: An Introduction to Their Interwoven Lives and Works, Edwin Mellen (Lampeter, England), 1994.

Beaujour, Elizabeth Klosty, Alien Tongues: Bilingual Russian Writers of the "First" Emigration, Cornell University Press (Ithaca, NY), 1989.

Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 72: French Novelists, 1930–1960, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1988.

Desanti, Dominique, Les Clés d'Elsa, Ramsay (Paris, France), 1983.

Elsa Triolet (exhibition catalogue), Bibliothèque Nationale (Paris, France), 1972.

Holmes, Diana, Ordinary Heroines: Resistance and Romance in the War Fiction of Elsa Triolet, Berghahn (New York, NY), 1999.

Mackinnon, Lachlan, The Lives of Elsa Triolet, Chatto & Windus (London, England), 1988.

Madaule, Jacques, Ce que dit Elsa, Denoël (Paris, France), 1961.

Marcou, Lilly, Elsa Triolet: Les Yeux et la mémoire, Librairie Plon (Paris, France), 1994.


Arkansas Review, fall, 1994, Lorene M. Birden, "Verbal Repetition and Structure in the Works of Elsa Triolet," pp. 125-151.

Atlantic, September, 1949, Monica Stirling, "Elsa Triolet," pp. 76-78.

Atlantis, fall, 1988, Helena Lewis, "Elsa Triolet, et le parti communiste français and the Peace Movement in the Era of the Cold War," pp. 90-96.

Belles Letters, winter, 1993, Helena Lewis, "Elsa Triolet," pp. 32-36.

Comparative Literature Studies, summer, 1998, Lorene M. Birden, "Elsa Triolet's Le Cheval blanc As a French Bylina," pp. 255-277.

Economist, October 4, 1997, "Behind Their Men: French Muses," p. 90.

Kliatt, September, 1986, E. Barbra Boatner, review of A Fine of 200 Francs, p. 39.

French Cultural Studies, October, 1990, Margaret Atack, "Narratives of Disruption, 1940–1944," pp. 233-246; June, 1995, Susan E. Winer, "The Consommatrice of the 1950s in Elsa Triolet's Roses à crédit, pp. 123-144.

New York Times Book Review, August 17, 1986, Patricia T. O'Conner, review of A Fine of 200 Francs, p. 32.

Romantic Review, January-March, 2001, Dominique Jullien, "Aragon, Elsa Triolet: Love and Politics in the Cold War," p. 3.

Studies in Twentieth Century Literature, summer, 2001, Lorene M. Birden, "The 'Incongruous Stranger,' As Structural Element in the Novels of Elsa Triolet," pp. 322-349.

Times Literary Supplement, January 9, 1969, review of Écoutez-voir, p. 45; April 30, 1970, review of Le rossignol se tait à l'aube, p. 485; September 22, 1972, review of Le cheval roux; ou, les intentions humaines, p. 1086; October 9, 1981, John Weight-man, review of Chroniques théâtrales: Les Lettres Françaises, 1948–1951, p. 1158.

Women's Review of Books, October, 1986, Sonya Michel, review of A Fine of 200 Francs, pp. 11-12.

World Literature Today, spring, 1977, B.H. Monter, review of Camouflage, p. 299; spring, 1982, B.L. Knapp, review of Chroniques théâtrales, pp. 307-308.

Yale French Studies, number 27, 1961, Konrad Bieber, "Ups and Downs in Elsa Triolet's Prose," pp. 81-85, Marie-Monique Pflaum-Vallin, "Elsa Triolet and Aragon: Back to Lilith," pp. 86-89.


Elsa Triolet, (March 6, 2005), Web site devoted to author.

Louis Aragon-Elsa Triolet Equipe de Recherche Interdisciplinaire, (March 6, 2006), Web site devoted to the works of author and Louis Aragon.