Jean Cocteau

Jean Cocteau (1889–1963) was a French writer, designer, filmmaker and boxing manager. Cocteau had literary aspirations from an early age, publishing his first collection of poems, Aladdin’s Lamp, when he was nineteen. During World War I, he served as an ambulance driver with the Red Cross. Myth has it that upon hearing of the death of his close friend, the singer Edith Piaf, Cocteau choked so severely that he soon died of a heart attack at his chateau in France.

Letter to the Americans

Literature by Jean Cocteau

Translated from the French by Alex Wermer-Colan

In 1949, Jean Cocteau spent twenty days in New York, and began composing on the plane ride home this essay filled with the vivid impressions of his trip. With his unmistakable prose and graceful wit, he compares and contrasts French and American culture: the different values they place on art, literature, liberty, psychology, and dreams. Cocteau sees the incredibly buoyant hopes in America’s promise, while at the same time warning of the many ills that the nation will have to confront—its hypocrisy, sexism, racism, and hegemonic aspirations—in order to realize this potential.…
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The Infernal Machine and Other Plays

Among the great figures who pioneered the modern movement in world literature, none showed himself more versatile than France’s Jean Cocteau. Poet, novelist, critic, artist, actor, film-maker, Cocteau was also one of the greatest dramatists Europe has produced, with over a dozen plays which are frequently revived, not only in France, but in translation in many other countries. For this collection, fine translations of four full-length plays, one short play, and the “Speaker’s Text” for the Cocteau-Stravinsky opera Oedipus Rex have been selected.…
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The Holy Terrors

by Jean Cocteau

Translated from the French by Rosamond Lehmann

Cocteau’s novel Les Enfants terribles, which was first published in 1929, holds an undisputed place among the classics of modern fiction. Written in a French style that long defied successful translation––Cocteau was always a poet no matter what he was writing––the book came into its own for English-language readers in 1955 when the present version was completed by Rosamond Lehmann. It is a masterpiece of the art of translation of which The Times Literary Supplement said: “It has the rare merit of reading as though it were an English original.…
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One of the master craftsmen.
—Tennessee Williams
Cocteau has the freest mind, and the purest, in Europe…
—Ezra Pound
To enclose the collected works of Cocteau one would need not a bookshelf, but a warehouse…
—W. H. Auden
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