Jean Genet, whose life and works made him one of the most controversial French writers of the 20th Century, died today of throat cancer. He was 75.
Genet, a dramatist best known for his plays “The Balcony” and “The Blacks,” poet, novelist and convicted criminal, died at a Paris hotel where he had been living for several years.
A seedy, brutal world peopled with homosexuals, convicts, pimps and thieves was created by the works of Genet, himself a homosexual and admitted prostitute.
French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre devoted a mammoth tome to Genet’s work, “Saint-Genet.”
Sartre wrote, “With each book, this possessed man becomes a little more the master of the demon that possesses him.”
Genet was born in Paris on Dec. 19, 1910. Abandoned by his mother at birth, he was raised by a foster family.
At 10, the quiet and obedient Jean had an experience that would determine the course of his life. Accused unjustly of petty theft, Genet resolved to become a thief.
One act of juvenile delinquency led to another, and the young Genet ended up in reform school. He joined the Foreign Legion but deserted after a few days, taking some officers’ suitcases with him.
“I loved stealing, but prostitution appealed to my easygoing ways,” he wrote in “A Thief’s Journal,” published in 1949.
Between 1940 and 1948 he wrote four works from prison: “Our Lady of the Flowers,” “Miracle of the Rose,” “Pompes Funebres” and “Querelle.”
In 1948, he was sentenced to life imprisonment after his 10th arrest for theft, but was pardoned after a group of prominent French intellectuals, including Sartre, Andre Gide and Jean Cocteau, intervened on his behalf.