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Genet: A Biography [Kindle Edition]

Edmund White
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $22.00
Kindle Price: $13.00
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Book Description

In this revelatory biography of Jean Genet, we have the first full-scale life of one of the great -- and controversial -- figures of twentieth-century literature. Edmund White shows us the writer in all his permutations: poet, dandy, homosexual, thief; a 'thug of genius', as Simone de Beauvoir called him.

Moving from Genet's illegitimate birth in 1910 to his foster childhood in a farming village in central France, Edmund White explores the early milieu that transformed an inherently theatrical child into a petty criminal and prodigiously original writer, whose most startling creation may have been his invention of himself. Accused of stealing and running away, Genet was sent to reform school at Mettray, where his imagination flourished under the spell of an all-male communal life and his first homosexual experiences. In the 1930s, he deserted from the army and travelled in Europe as a vagabond, prostitute and thief, always on the lam from the police and the military. In 1942, he emerged from one of several prison stays with the first of his remarkable novels, Our Lady of the Flowers. It was admired by Cocteau, who undertook to get it published and interceded with the French authorities to keep its author out of prison. White shows us how Cocteau thrust the 'marvelous, mysterious, intolerable' Genet into the heart of literary Paris, where he enjoyed a curious celebrity as great writer and petty thief, was painted by Giacometti (from whom he stole) and was canonized by Sartre in his monumental study, Saint Genet.

By 1948, Genet had produced five highly original novels. In the mid-1950s, after several years of debilitating depression, he turned to the writing of plays, of which The Balcony, The Blacks and The Screens were immediately hailed as masterpieces. Despite his ambivalence about political movements, he supported the Paris student uprising in 1968 and turned up -- as a journalist -- at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. In 1970, he became a spokesman for the Black Panthers, but in his last decade he immersed himself -- politically and aesthetically -- in the Arab world, championing the struggle for a Palestinian homeland and writing his last, posthumously published book, Prisoner of Love.

Edmund White explores the perverse extremes of Genet's life and separates the facts from the mythology that Genet himself fashioned. Drawing on interviews with Genet's friends, lovers, publishers and acquaintances, and using new material from correspondence, journals, police records, psychiatric reports and other original sources, White reveals a life animated by contradictory impulses: authenticity and dissembling, fidelity and flirtation, domination and submission, honor and betrayal. Throughout, he brilliantly interprets and appraises Genet's astonishing oeuvre, reading the fiction with the focussed attention of a novelist and opening up the dense invention of the plays. His masterful and intuitive biography fully illuminates a hitherto enigmatic literary genius.

Editorial Reviews Review

The definitive biography of Jean Genet, the incomparable French novelist whose works echo with themes of violent hierarchies, rituals of power and powerlessness and human identities as roles to be traded and manipulated. From his birth in 1911 to his adoption by foster parents and his tumultuous life as a runaway, thief, beggar and prostitute, Genet had remarkable powers of self-transformation, ultimately turning the pain of his life into writings that attracted the attention of literary trend-setter Jean Cocteau. Genet's work covered an amazing amount of social, political and intellectual territory. By diving into that which was awkward, ugly and painful, he emerged with the truth, transforming himself and others with its beauty. White earned the 1993 National Book Critics Circle Award for Biography for this fine work.

From Publishers Weekly

The NBCC Award-winning biography of Genet will be released in paperback in conjunction with two of White's novels, The Beautiful Room Is Empty ($11 ISBN -75540-3) and Forgetting Elena ($10 ISBN -75573-X).
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • File Size: 2315 KB
  • Print Length: 800 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (September 29, 2010)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0043D2F94
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #717,710 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
37 of 39 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sensitive Look at a Complex Man September 30, 2000
By A Customer
Jean Genet's major works are considered masterpieces. His plays, The Screen and The Blacks are performed worldwide. During his lifetime, he received the Grand Prix des Arts et Lettres and he is remembered for championing the causes of the oppressed. Yet, surprisingly, for many years, no biography of Genet had been attempted. Writers could have been intimidated by Sartre's huge psychological study, St. Genet, published in 1952, or perhaps by the elusive nature of Genet, himself, and his complex morality.
In 1987 Edmund White began what became a six-year study of Genet's life and works. The result of that work is this book, Genet, a shining and enduring biography that shares much in common with Starkie's excellent biography of Rimbaud and Ellman's Oscar Wilde.
White read Genet's Our Lady of the Flowers for the first time in 1964. He responded to Genet's "deeper, more extravagant prose," and, in doing so, he experienced a self-liberation as the gay world was presented without apology or explanation and gay men were afforded the experience of seeing their world, not as tacky but as glamorous and poetic. In addition, Genet's affectionate rendering of drag queens helped to elevate their view in the eyes of all.
White, who had tested HIV-positive in 1985, was grateful for the chance to work on the biography as it also afforded him the opportunity to reflect on his own homosexuality, art and literature in a world not yet affected by the AIDS virus, for Genet had inhabited a world and culture prior to the outbreak of AIDS.
In this sensitive biography, White takes us on a journey through the French welfare and prison systems; high society led by Cocteau; café society led by Sartre; and revolutionary movements as well.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Edmund White is perhaps best known as a novelist but this biography of Jean Genet may well be his magnum opus. (And I find it astonishing that it seems to be out of print as of May 2007, since there is no other decent English biography of Genet available.) It's a monster of a book, but it's one of the more readable literary biographies that I've come across--not least because "literary" in Genet's case also means social and political and scandalous. Readers who have never read a word of Genet may question the need for perusing this book, but it was my introduction to the work and, as I work my way through Genet's prose, I appreciate difficult or seemingly unfathomable passages all the more because of White's memorable explication (although I can't share White's enthusiasm for the plays).

Genet's "rebellious" worldview--which often comes across as much a stage-managed affectation as a genuine philosophy--may be unattractive to those of a more traditional ethic (and I include myself among that group), but it's never boring. Much of Genet's writing depicts, glorifies, and justifies his careers as a thief, as an outsider, as an anarchist; he was also a notorious freeloader who forsook the attractions of materialism yet siphoned the wealth of others--and who sapped the remarkably patient generosity of his publishers).

Genet idealizes his years at Mettray (a colony for adolescent delinquents), his life as a thief (which ended in 1944, after he had completed two books and earned the approbation and support of Cocteau), and "the erotic charm of prison" (his many convictions for petty theft earned him sentences totaled nearly four years).
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gay rollercoster ride April 25, 2004
Following the rags to riches life of Jean Genet is an interesting reliving of French literature and history. Edmund White is certainly capable of empathy and psychological understanding for Genet, unlike in his biographies if William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg. Though White makes the mistake of trying to incorporate some Michel Foucault, the homoseuxal philosopher, into his own penal insights into Jean Genet, the works and the man. Other than that fact, this handsome book is one long guitar solo at the altar of Genet.
Most of Genet's life is well-known, and partly used as the subjects for his novels. Genet was an orphan, had foster parents, and went to reform school. He had a bunch of early gay relationships, and he stole a lot of books. In prison Genet wrote Our Lady of The Flowers, and later shows it to Jean Cocteau, who is pissed off because he didn't write a similiar work first.
Genet wrote five novels and a few plays around and during World War II. They books are originally published anonymously. The books become an overnight sensation. As Genet becomes old and bald, and when the flamboyant Cocteau becomes bored with him, heterosexual Sartre and multisexual Simone de Beauvoir, both sort of yuppies of their time, become enamoured with the idea of hanging out and slumming it with Genet, a real thief.
Sartre saw him as a good example of his existential philosophy, and wrote Saint Genet. This book of his life came out when Genet was in his mid-forties. Genet doesn't write very much during the last years of his life. He does become involved with the Black Panthers and Palestinians.
Genet lived in Tangiers with his young Kiki. He wrote a final book that was banned before his death in 1986.
Genet's life was one long homosexual rollercoster ride.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars Somehow
White manages to strip all of the life out of his subject. This bio is so overwrought, yet under-baked, that it misses Genet completely. Read more
Published 4 months ago by jar137
4.0 out of 5 stars Good exposé on a very self-centered writer!
It is very interesting to read Genet in French to get a real sense of where he is coming from and at. Interviews he did also provide some deep insights into the man. Read more
Published on September 11, 2012 by Dr Benjamin
1.0 out of 5 stars Jean Genet
It is supposed to be a great book but I did not receive it! So I guess I need to go to the Library.
Published on May 7, 2012 by Chris
5.0 out of 5 stars A View of Life through the "Outhouse slits."
Jean Genet was a precocious and complex human being at an early age, and knew it. He came into the world as a "ward of the state" and never ever learned to trust either his adopted... Read more
Published on February 16, 2009 by Herbert L Calhoun
5.0 out of 5 stars The Ultimate Companion to Genet's Writing
This is the most detailed study of Genet ever written - and it deffinately sheds some light on his character both in writing and in life. Read more
Published on December 15, 2004 by Stalwart Kreinblaster
5.0 out of 5 stars A Masterpiece
Jean Genet wrote masterpieces,this autobiography is a masterpiece in itself !
Published on December 3, 2000 by "telaviv1"
5.0 out of 5 stars A Masterpece
Jean Genet wrote masterpieces...this autobiography is a masterpiece too !!!
Published on December 3, 2000 by "telaviv1"
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellence in-depth study of Jean Genet
Jean Genet was one of the most intriguing characters of this century and White's biography gives an excellent detailed description and analysis of his life.
Published on April 14, 1998 by
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