The Life and Story of Jean Anouilh

Jean Anouilh

Jean Anouilh, a French dramatist, had a successful five-decade career. He is well-known and admired by his wide range of expertise in the theatrical arts – from the classical and respected high drama up to the light and famous absurdist plays. He is best known for his 1944 rendition of Antigone, the last of installment of the Theban plays written by Sophocles, a Greek tragedian.

Personal Background

Louis Jouvet

Jean Marie Pierre Anouilh hails from Bordeaux, France and was born in June of 1910. His father was a dressmaker while his mother was a violinist at an orchestra. Many critics speculate how his parents’ professions might have influenced young Anoulih’s passion for craftsmanship and the arts. His primary and secondary education was in Paris, and subsequently, he pursued law for almost two years.  Anouilh was slowly directed to a career in theatre after working for an advertising agency in 1929. His leading role was to write publicity and comic scripts until 1931. For a brief period, he enlisted and served in the military, but after coming back, he was lucky enough to be hired as secretary to Louis Jouvet, one of the best and famous actor and director at the time.

Because of his dedication to his work in the theatre, Anouilh’s first marriage to actress Monelle Valentin ended in a divorce. However, Valentin became an inspiration for Anouilh’s many heroine creations in his plays. Later on, in 1953, he married another actress named Charlotte Chardon. A child by this marriage, Catherine, also became an actress and was eventually to star in her father’s plays.

Early Career and Eventual Breakthrough

Jean Anouilh’s humble beginnings as a playwright began early on in his childhood when he fell in love with stage plays. He started writing his first plays at the age of 12 where he also took time to frequent theaters to learn and be inspired. As a young playwright, he had to find his own artistic style in the theater, as his early plays focused more on theatricality than substance.His first big success in the field of theatre and drama came in 1937 with the play Le Voyageur sans bagages or Traveler without Luggage. The play launched his career, reputation, and popularity as a playwright in the local and international stage. As Anouilh’s profession developed, he grew to become more than a playwright but a director as well. This development was a result of his focus on the technical aspects of his plays’ production.

Theatrical Influences and Artistic Style

The works of established playwrights Jean Giraudoux and Luigi Pirandello were the preliminary inspiration of Jean Anouilh. Their work shifted away from realistic theatre and instead, focused on theatre that is influenced by illusion, fantasy, and the artistic value and sensibilities of poetry.

Luigi Pirandello

It was through the essence of this new style of theatricality that Anouilh demonstrated his intertwining view of theatre, man, and reality. For most of his plays, he was preoccupied with the question of man’s capability to maintain integrity in a world that forces him to compromise morality. Anouilh, through his plays, wanted his audience to look closely at men’s motives and even their most admirable principles and sentiments.