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Vautrin, Jean 1933-

Vautrin, Jean 1933-
(Jean Herman)


Born May 17, 1933, at Pagny-sur-Moselle, Lorraine, France; son of Raymond (a doctor) and Maris (Schneider) Herman; married Anne Doat (an actress), August 9, 1963; children: four (one from previous marriage).


Agent—c/o Author Mail, éditions Grasset & Fasquelle, 61, rue des Saints-Pères, 75006, Paris, France.


Writer and movie producer. University of Bombay, teacher of French literature, 1955; worked as assistant to film directors Roberto Rossellini, 1955-57, Jacques Rivette and Vincente Minnelli, 1958, and Jean Cayrol; producer of publicity films and short features, 1958-63, and feature-length films, 1963—. Appeared in several films for theaters and television, including Le Marginal, 1983, Billy-Ze-Kick, 1985, and "Sé noire:" La nuit du flingueur, 1986.


Prix Mystère de la Critique, 1974, for Billy-Ze-Kick; Prix Magots, 1979, for Bloody Mary; Prix Goncourt, 1985, for Baby Boom, and 1989, for Un Grand Pas vers le bon Dieu; Grand Prix du Roman de la Société des gens de letters, 1986, for La vie ripolin; Chevalier de la Légion d'honneur; Officier du Mérite des Arts et des letters. Film awards include Prix Emile Cohl & Prix de la Critique, Ober- hausen, 1958, for Voyage en Boscavie; Grand Prix, Festival internationale de Tours, 1960, for Actua-Tilt; Jury's Prize, Venice Festival, 1961, for La Quille; Marilyn Monroe Prize, 1965, for Le Dimanche de la vie; Prix de L'Academie française, 1981, for Garde à vue; Prix Louis-Guilloux, 1999, for body of work.


(As Jean Herman, with Claude Miller) A bulletins rouges (screenplay adaptation), Gallimard (Paris, France), 1973.

Billy-Ze-Kick: roman (novel), Gallimard (Paris, France), 1974.

Mister Love: roman (novel), Denoël (Paris, France), 1977.

Bloody Mary (fiction), Mazarine (Paris, France), 1979.

Groom: crime-journal d'un enfant du siècle: roman (novel), Mazarine (Paris, France), 1980.

Canicule: roman (novel), Mazarine (Paris, France), 1982.

Patchwork: enfants-crimes et désespoirs, Mazarine (Paris, France), 1983.

(With Lee Marvin) Dog Day (screenplay), Lightning Video (Stamford, CT), 1985.

Baby boom (fiction), Mazarine (Paris, France), 1985.

Crime-club, photographs by Gérard Rondeau, La Manufacture (Lyon, France), 1985.

La vie ripolin (fiction; title means "Life with a Face-Lift"), Mazarine (Paris, France), 1986.

Typhon-gazoline: roman (novel), NeO (Paris, France), 1987.

(With Dan Franck) La Dame de Berlin, Fayard-Balland (Paris, France), 1987.

Dix-huit tentatives pour devenir un saint, Payot (Paris, France), 1989.

Un grand pas vers le bon Dieu: roman (novel; title means "A Big Step towards the Good Lord"), Grasset (Paris, France), 1989.

Cervantès, Vautrin, Gazier, Nouvelles Nouvelles (Paris, France), 1990.

(With Dan Franck) Le temps des cerises (fiction), Fayard (Paris, France), 1990.

(With Dan Franck) Les noces de Guernica (fiction), Fayard (Paris, France), 1990.

(With Jacques Tardi) Tardi en banlieue (art book), Casterman (Tournai, France), 1990.

Romans noirs: Billy-Ze-Kick, Bloody Mary, Groom, Canicule (novels), preface by Gérard Mordillat, Fayard (Paris, France), 1991.

(With Danielle Bigata and Alain Pujol) Absolus, Opales (Louchats, France), 1992.

Courage, chacun (fiction), Julliard (Paris, France), 1992.

Autour de Germinal d'Emile Zola: un auteur, une oeuvre, un film, Présence et action culturelles (Brussels, Belgium), 1993.

Symphonie Grabuge: roman (novel), Grasset (Paris, France), 1994.

(With Dan Franck) Mademoiselle Chat (fiction), Fayard (Paris, France), 1996.

(With Robert Doisneau) Robert Doisneau, Jean Vautrin: jamais comme avant, Cercle d'Art (Paris, France), 1996.

Le roi des ordures: roman (novel), Fayard (Paris, France), 1997.

Un monsieur bien mis: récit (fiction), Fayard (Paris, France), 1997.

Untel, père & fils, Cercle d'Art (Paris, France), 1998.

Le cri du peuple: roman (novel), Editions Grasset & Fasquelle (Paris, France), 1999, translation published as The Voice of the People, Weidenfeld & Nicolson (London, England), 2002.

Histoires déglinguées (fiction), Fayard (Paris, France), 1999.

J'ai fait un beau voyage: photo-journal 1955-58, Cercle d'Art (Paris, France), 1999.

(With Dan Franck) Les aventures de Boro, reporter photographe. [5], Boro s'en va-t-en guerre, Fayard (Paris, France), 2000.

L'homme qui assassinait sa vie: roman (novel; title means "The Man Who Killed His Life"), Fayard (Paris, France), 2001.

Le journal de Louise B.: roman (novel), Laffont (Paris, France), 2002.

Quatre soldats français: chanson-feuilleton en 10 couplets et un fredon, Laffont (Paris, France), 2004.

Si on s'aimait: nouvelles (fiction), Fayard (Paris, France), 2005.

Author or coauthor of screenplays as Jean Herman unless otherwise noted, including La Quille, 1961; Le Chemin de la mauvaise route, 1963; Adieu l'ami, 1968; Popsy Pop, 1971, L'Oeuf (adapter), 1972; Le Grand escogriffe (as Jean Vautrin), 1976; Flic ou voyou, 1979; L'Entourloupe, Garde à vue (adapter), 1981; Le Margina, 1983; Rue barbare (adapter, as Jean Vautrin), 1984; Urgence (as Jean Vautrin), 1985; Charlie Dingo (as Jean Vautrin), 1985; Bleu comme l'enfer, 1986; also author or coauthor of screenplays for television; author of prefaces to books; works have been published in Spanish, Italian, Japanese, and Korean.


Le cri du peuple was adapted into a comic book by Jacques Tardi, Casterman (Paris, France), 2001.


Jean Vautrin is the literary pseudonym of Jean Herman, who borrowed the name from the character of the master criminal in Balzac's La Comedie humaine. Although Vautrin writes fiction that may be variously classified as picaresque, detective novels, serial novels, and roman noirs, his first love is the roman policier or detective novel. Vautrin seems to alternate writing blackly humorous novels with more lighthearted serial adventures, such as those of Boro (Les aventures de Boro, reporter photographe. [5], Boro s'en va-t-en guerre), and has collaborated with Dan Franck on several books. Since the early seventies, Vautrin has published more than a dozen novels and two collections of short stories. A distinctive characteristic of Vautrin's work is the author's delight in words, displayed in verbal pyrotechnics.

Vautrin's detective novels are parodies of the genre, suffused with humor, which does not imply that the writer does not take the genre seriously. He is particularly attracted by the "negative purity" or black-and-whiteness of the detective novel, which he would like to see taken more seriously by the public and raised to a literary art by writers. He argues that this genre need never grow stale; though certain of its features remain eternally the same—good guy, bad guy, villain—stock characters like villain, vamp, and detective may appear in new guises, while contemporary folkways and mores may breathe new life into such fiction. Among those who have influenced Vautrin are Dashiel Hammett and Raymond Queneau.

The novel L'homme qui assassinait sa vie ("The Man Who Killed His Life") begins with a man used to being a kingpin let out of prison after serving a three-year sentence. He emerges to find himself abandoned by all he knew and facing an unknown and very bleak world. He resolves to destroy what remains of his life. This roman noir also features the seedy detective Gus Carape and takes place in Bordeaux and Toulouse, a region the author knows well.

Le cri du peuple ("The Cry of the People") mingles detective fiction with the historical novel, taking place during the Paris Commune from March through May, 1871. Like most of the work of this former filmmaker, it is scenic in composition and would lend itself easily to film. Writing in the French Review, Donald C. Spinelli noted that the author "does not recount the Commune as much as he shows it to us, allows us to taste it and even smell it." In a review of the English translation of the novel, a Kirkus Reviews contributor called the book "an old-fashioned narrative that builds up a head of steam quickly and has plentiful enough action."

The sleuth Harry Whence, a private eye in Mexico City, his moll, Lola, and the slovenly police inspector Fernando Cabrera all figure in the roman policier Le roi des ordures. Harry is on the run from an unsavory past and soon finds himself tracking down the drag queens who stole the wheelchair of a sick dwarf. Meanwhile, Lola may give herself to the gangster Don Rafeal Guiterrez Moreno, a tremendously wealthy ruler of the city's garbage dump. Cabrera is also an unsavory character who is hoping to use Harry to possibly do away with Moreno. Writing in the French Review, James T. Day commented that "some fans of the genre may enjoy the suspense" and that "other readers may take more delight in Vautrin's outrageous portrayals."

Un grand pas vers le bon Dieu ("A Big Step towards the Good Lord") won the Prix Goncourt. With action set between the 1890s and 1920s in Cajun country in Louisiana, the novel alternates between third- and first-person narration and achieves the considerable feat of being told in Cajun dialect. This atmospheric picaresque is populated by a host of colorful personalities: the pioneer Edius Raquin, his daughter Azeline (a.k.a Lolly Mae), his grandson Jim Trompette, and a host of secondary characters. Noting that the novel is "full of ludicrous (and sometimes lewd) twists and turns," Review of Contemporary Fiction contributor John Taylor added that the author "convincingly re-creates the exuberance and the melancholy of a period."

In La vie ripolin ("Life with a Face-Lift"), Vautrin focuses on an autistic child who never speaks and his father, who has never addressed him. The novel, which is set in France under the Occupation and during the Algerian war, has been compared with the fiction of Céline. The novel's conceit reflects Vautrin's view of present-day society as somewhat autistic.

Le journal de Louise B. features Vautrin highlighting his command of various writing styles as he focuses on underside of life in Auxerre, France. The story revolves around the rape by six teenagers of a young teacher named Louise Anarcange, who develops a split personality (thus, "Louise B."). Louise A and Louise B soon are at odds with each other as Louise contemplates a violent revenge. Writing in World Literature Today, Roland A. Champagne commented that the author's "intertextual style … creates a rocking rhythm that imitates the movement of the time-honored pendulum."



France, Peter, editor, The New Oxford Companion to Literature in French, Clarendon Press (Oxford, England), 1995.


Booklist, September 15, 1990, review of Un grand pas vers le bon Dieu: roman, p. 144; May 15, 2003, Margaret Flanagan, review of The Voice of the People, p. 1641.

Francophonies d'Amérique, Volume 2, 1992, David J. Cheramie, review of Un grand pas vers le bon Dieu.

French Review, December, 1990, Etienne Brunet, "Que l'emprunt vaut rin," review of Un grand pas vers le bon Dieu, pp. 273-288; February, 1992, Dominique S. Thévenin, review of Un grand pas vers le bon Dieu, pp. 523-523; February, 1999, James T. Day, review of Le roi des ordures: roman, pp. 605-606; February, 2001, Donald C. Spinelli, review of Le cri du peuple: roman, p. 607.

Kirkus Reviews, December 15, 2002, review of The Voice of the People, p. 1801.

Review of Contemporary Fiction, spring, 1991, John Taylor, review of Un grand pas vers le bon Dieu, pp. 336-337.

World Literature Today, October-December, 2003, Roland A. Champagne, review of Le journal de Louise B.: roman, p. 110.

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