French dramatist, novelist, and poet. His turbulent life and early years spent in prison are reflected in his drama, characterized by ritual, role-play, and illusion, in which his characters come to act out their bizarre and violent fantasies. His plays include Les Bonnes/The Maids (1947), Le Balcon/The Balcony (1957), and two plays dealing with the Algerian situation: Les Nègres/The Blacks (1959) and Les Paravents/The Screens (1961). His novels include Notre Dame des fleurs/Our Lady of the Flowers (1944) and Miracle de la rose/Miracle of the Rose (1946), which depict a world of criminality and homosexual eroticism.
Influences Genet's work has affinities with the theories of Antonin Artaud, with the Theatre of the Absurd (see Absurd, Theatre of), and with the existentialism of the French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, although he adapts these elements to his own unique purpose and style.
Themes His first play, Haute Surveillance/Deathwatch (1947), explored the erotic relationships between homosexual prisoners. It was followed by Les Bonnes, the first of his plays to be performed. This concerns two sisters who enact both in fact and in play the murder of their mistress. The ritualistic element and the obsession with an absurdist world of dream and fantasy evident in both plays is even more prominent in Le Balcon, Les Nègres, and Les Paravents. In these plays reality, dream and fantasy appear to be indistinguishable, and people are presented as profoundly solitary and alienated creatures whose search for ‘ultimate’ reality and meaning is hopeless.
Other work He also wrote the screenplay for the film Mademoiselle (1966); a critical work, Reflections on the Theatre (translated 1969); and an autobiography, Journal du voleur/A Thief's Journal (1948).
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