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Jean Maurice Eug√®ne Cl√©ment Cocteau (5 July 1889 ‚Äď 11 October 1963) was a French poet, novelist, dramatist, designer, boxing manager, playwright, artist and filmmaker. Along with other Surrealists of his generation (Jean Anouilh and Ren√© Char for example) Cocteau grappled with the "algebra" of verbal codes old and new, mise en sc√®ne language and technologies of modernism to create a paradox: a classical avant-garde. His circle of associates, friends and lovers included Pablo Picasso, Jean Hugo, Jean Marais, Henri Bernstein, √Čdith Piaf, whom he cast in one of his one act plays entitled Le Bel Indifferent in 1940, and Raymond Radiguet.

His work was played out in the theatrical world of the Grands Theatres, the Boulevards and beyond during the Parisian epoque he both lived through and helped define and create. His versatile, unconventional approach and enormous output brought him international acclaim.


Cocteau was born in Maisons-Laffittemarker, Yvelinesmarker, a small village near Parismarker to Georges Cocteau and his wife Eug√©nie Lecomte, a prominent Parisian family. His father was a lawyer and amateur painter, who committed suicide when Cocteau was nine. He left home at age fifteen. Despite his achievements in virtually all literary and artistic fields, Cocteau insisted that he was primarily a poet and that all his work was poetry. He published his first volume of poems, Aladdin's Lamp, at nineteen. Soon Cocteau became known in the Bohemian artistic circles as 'The Frivolous Prince'‚ÄĒthe title of a volume he published at twenty-two. Edith Wharton described him as a man "to whom every great line of poetry was a sunrise, every sunset the foundation of the Heavenly City..."

In his early twenties, Cocteau became associated with the writers Marcel Proust, André Gide, and Maurice Barrès. During the Great War Cocteau served in the Red Crossmarker as an ambulance driver. This was the period in which he met the poet Guillaume Apollinaire, Pablo Picasso, artist Amedeo Modigliani and numerous other writers and artists with whom he later collaborated. The Russian ballet-master Sergei Diaghilev challenged Cocteau to write a scenario for the ballet - "Astonish me," he urged. This resulted in Parade which was produced by Diaghilev, designed by Pablo Picasso, and composed by Erik Satie in 1917. An important exponent of Surrealism, he had great influence on the work of others, including the group of composer friends in Montparnassemarker known as Les Six. The word Surrealism was coined, in fact, by Guillaume Apollinaire in the prologue to Les mamelles de Tirésias , a work begun in 1903 and completed in 1917 less than a year before he died. "If it had not been for Apollinaire in uniform," wrote Cocteau, "with his skull shaved, the scar on his temple and the bandage around his head, women would have gouged our eyes out with hairpins." Cocteau denied being a Surrealist or being in any way attached to the movement.

Friendship with Raymond Radiguet

In 1918 he met the French poet Raymond Radiguet. They collaborated extensively, socialized, and undertook many journeys and vacations together. Cocteau also got Radiguet exempted from military service. In admiration of Radiguet's great literary talent, Cocteau promoted his friend's works in his artistic circle and also arranged for the publication by Grasset of Le Diable au corps (a largely autobiographical story of an adulterous relationship between a married woman and a younger man), exerting his influence to garner the "Nouveau Monde" literary prize for the novel. Some contemporaries and later commentators thought there might have been a romantic component to their friendship. Cocteau himself was aware of this perception, and worked earnestly to dispel the notion that their relationship was sexual in nature.

There is disagreement over Cocteau's reaction to Radiguet's sudden death in 1923, with some claiming that it left him stunned, despondent and prey to opium addiction. Opponents of that interpretation point out that he did not attend the funeral (he generally did not attend funerals) and immediately left Paris with Diaghilev for a performance of Les Noces (The Wedding) by the Ballets Russes at Monte Carlomarker. Cocteau himself much later characterised his reaction as one of "stupor and disgust." His opium addiction at the time, Cocteau said, was only coincidental, due to a chance meeting with Louis Laloy, the administrator of the Monte Carlo Opera. Cocteau's opium use and his efforts to stop profoundly changed his literary style. His most notable book, Les Enfants Terribles, was written in a week during a strenuous opium weaning. In Opium, Diary of an Addict, he recounts the experience of his recovery from opium addiction in 1929. His account, which includes vivid pen-and-ink illustrations, alternates between his moment to moment experiences of drug withdrawal and his current thoughts about people and events in his world.

The Human Voice

Cocteau's experiments with the human voice peaked with his play La Voix Humaine. The story involves one woman on stage speaking on the telephone with her (invisible and inaudible) departing lover, who is leaving her to marry another woman. The telephone proved to be the perfect prop for Cocteau to explore his ideas, feelings, and "algebra" concerning human needs and realities in communication.

Cocteau acknowledged in the introduction to the script that the play was motivated, in part, by complaints from his actresses that his works were too writer/director-dominated and gave the players little opportunity to show off their full range of talents. La Voix Humaine was written, in effect, as an extravagant aria for Madame Berthe Bovy. Before came Orph√©e, later turned into one of his more successful films; after came La Machine Infernale, arguably his most fully realized work of art. La Voix Humaine is deceptively simple‚ÄĒa woman alone on stage for almost one hour of non-stop theatre speaking on the telephone with her departing lover. It is, in fact, full of theatrical codes harking back to the Dadaists' Vox Humana experiments after World War One, Alphonse de Lamartine's "La Voix Humaine", part of his larger work Harmonies Poetiques et Religieuses and the effect of the creation of the Vox Humana (Voix Humaine), an organ stop of the Regal Class by Church organ masters (late 1500s) that attempted to imitate the human voice but never succeeded in doing better than the sound of a male chorus at a distance.

Reviews varied at the time and since but whatever the critique, the play, in a nutshell, represents Cocteau's state of mind and feelings towards his actors at the time: on the one hand, he desired to spoil and please them; on the other, he was fed up by their diva antics and was ready for revenge. It is also true that none of Cocteau's works has inspired as much imitation: Francis Poulenc's opera of the same name, Gian Carlo Menotti's "opera bouffa" The Telephone and Roberto Rosselini's film version in Italian with Anna Magnani L'Amore (1948). There has also been a long line of interpreters including Simone Signoret, Ingrid Bergman and Liv Ullmann (in the play) and Julia Migenes (in the opera).

According to one theory about how Cocteau was inspired to write La Voix Humaine, he was experimenting with an idea by fellow French playwright Henri Bernstein. "When, in 1930, the Comedie-Françaisemarker produced his La Voix Humaine...Cocteau disavowed both literary right and literary left, as if to say, "I'm standing as far right as Bernstein, in his very place, but it is an optical illusion: the avant-garde is spheroid and I've gone farther left than anyone else."


In the 1930s, Cocteau had an affair with Princess Natalie Paley, the beautiful daughter of a Romanov grand duke and herself a sometimes actress, model, and former wife of couturier Lucien Lelong. She became pregnant. To Cocteau's distress and Paley's life-long regret, the fetus was aborted. Cocteau's longest-lasting relationships were with the French actors Jean Marais and Edouard Dermithe, whom Cocteau formally adopted. Cocteau cast Marais in The Eternal Return (1943), Beauty and the Beast (1946), Ruy Blas (1947), and Orpheus (1949).

In 1940, Le Bel Indiff√©rent, Cocteau's play written for and starring √Čdith Piaf, was enormously successful. He also worked with Pablo Picasso on several projects and was friends with most of the European art community. Some have believed that Cocteau was homosexual, however, as with his friendship with Radiguet mentioned above, Cocteau himself specifically denied any such element in their relationship. Nevertheless, it is known that his collaborator Jean Marais was also his lover.

Cocteau's films, most of which he both wrote and directed, were particularly important in introducing Surrealism into French cinema and influenced to a certain degree the upcoming French New Wave genre.

Cocteau is best known for his novel Les enfants terribles (1929), and the films Les parents terribles (1948), Beauty and the Beast (1946), and Orpheus (1949).

Cocteau died of a heart attack at his chateau in Milly-la-Foret, France, on 11 October 1963 at the age of 74, only hours after hearing of the death of his friend, the French singer √Čdith Piaf. He is buried beneath the floor of the Chapelle Saint Blaise Des Simples in Milly La Foretmarker, Essonnemarker, Francemarker. The epitaph on his gravestone set in the floor of the chapel reads: "I stay among you" ("Je reste avec vous").

Honours and awards

In 1955 Cocteau was made a member of the Académie française and The Royal Academy of Belgium.

During his life Cocteau was commander of the Legion of Honor, Member of the Mallarmé Academy, German Academy (Berlin), American Academy, Mark Twain (U.S.A) Academy, Honorary President of the Cannes film festivalmarker, Honorary President of the France-Hungary Association and President of the jazz Academy and of the Academy of the Disc.




Each year links to its corresponding "[year] in literature" article, except for poetry and poetry criticism, which link to corresponding "[year] in poetry" articles.

  • 1909 La Lampe d'Aladin
  • 1910 Le Prince frivole
  • 1912 La Danse de Sophocle
  • 1919 Ode √† Picasso - Le Cap de Bonne-Esp√©rance
  • 1920 Escale. Po√©sies (1917-1920)
  • 1922 Vocabulaire
  • 1923 La Rose de Fran√ßois - Plain-Chant
  • 1925 Cri √©crit
  • 1926 L'Ange Heurtebise
  • 1927 Op√©ra
  • 1934 Mythologie
  • 1939 √Čnigmes
  • 1941 All√©gories
  • 1945 L√©one
  • 1946 La Crucifixion
  • 1948 Po√®mes
  • 1952 Le Chiffre sept - La Nappe du Catalan (en collaboration avec Georges Hugnet)
  • 1953 Dentelles d'√©ternit√© - Appoggiatures
  • 1954 Clair-obscur
  • 1958 Paraprosodies
  • 1961 C√©r√©monial espagnol du Ph√©nix - La Partie d'√©checs
  • 1962 Le Requiem
  • 1968 Faire-Part (posthume)



Poetry and Criticism
  • 1918 Le Coq et l'Arlequin
  • 1920 Carte blanche
  • 1922 Le Secret professionnel
  • 1926 Le Rappel √† l'ordre - Lettre √† Jacques Maritain
  • 1930 Opium
  • 1932 Essai de critique indirecte
  • 1935 Portraits-Souvenir
  • 1937 Mon Premier voyage (Around the World in 80 Days)
  • 1943 Le Greco
  • 1947 Le Foyer des artistes - La Difficult√© d'√™tre
  • 1949 Lettres aux Am√©ricains - Reines de la France
  • 1951 Jean Marais - A Discussion about Cinematography (with Andr√© Fraigneau)
  • 1952 Gide vivant
  • 1953 Journal d'un inconnu. D√©marche d'un po√®te
  • 1955 Colette (Discourse on the reception at the Royal Academy of Belgium) - Discourse on the reception at the Acad√©mie fran√ßaise
  • 1956 Discours d'Oxford
  • 1957 Entretiens sur le mus√©e de Dresde (with Louis Aragon) - La Corrida du 1 mai
  • 1950: Po√©sie critique I
  • 1960: Po√©sie critique II
  • 1962 Le Cordon ombilical
  • 1963 La Comtesse de Noailles, oui et non
  • 1964 Portrait souvenir (posthumous ; A discussion with Roger St√©phane)
  • 1965 Entretiens avec Andr√© Fraigneau (posthumous)
  • 1973 Jean Cocteau par Jean Cocteau (posthumous ; A discussion with William Fielfield)
  • 1973 Du cin√©matographe (posthumous). Entretiens sur le cin√©matographe (posthumous)
Journalistic Poetry
  • 1935-1938 (posthumous)



Dialogue Writer

Director of Photography

Poetry Illustrator

  • 1924 : Dessins
  • 1925 : Le Myst√®re de Jean l'oiseleur
  • 1926 : Maison de sant√©
  • 1929 : 25 dessins d'un dormeur
  • 1935 : 60 designs for Les Enfants Terribles
  • 1941 : Drawings in the margins of Chevaliers de la Table ronde
  • 1948 : Dr√īle de m√©nage
  • 1957 : La Chapelle Saint-Pierre, Villefranche-sur-Mermarker
  • 1958 : La Salle des mariages, City Hall of Menton - La Chapelle Saint-Pierre (lithographies)
  • 1959 : Gondol des morts
  • 1960 : Chapelle Saint-Blaise-des-Simples, Milly-la-For√™tmarker
  • 1960 : Windows of the √Čglise Saint-Maximin de Metz


  • Colette par Jean Cocteau, discours de r√©ception √† l'Acad√©mie Royale de Belgique, Ducretet-Thomson 300 V 078 St.
  • Les Mari√©s de la Tour Eiffel and Portraits-Souvenir, La Voix de l'Auteur LVA 13
  • Plain-chant by Jean Marais, extracts from the piece Orph√©e by Jean-Pierre Aumont, Michel Bouquet, Monique M√©linand, Les parents terribles by Yvonne de Bray and Jean Marais, L'aigle √† deux t√™tes par Edwige Feuill√®re and Jean Marais, L'Encyclop√©die Sonore 320 E 874, 1971
  • Collection of three vinyl recordings of Jean Cocteau including La voix humaine by Simone Signoret, 18 songs composed by Louis Bessi√®res, Bee Michelin and Renaud Marx, on double-piano Paul Castanier, Le discours de r√©ception √† l'Acad√©mie Fran√ßaise, Jacques Canetti JC1, 1984
  • Derniers propos √† b√Ętons rompus avec Jean Cocteau, 16/09/1963 √† Milly-la-For√™t, Bel Air 311035
  • Les Enfants Terribles, radio version with Jean Marais, Josette Day, Sylvia Montfort and Jean Cocteau, CD Phonurgia Nova ISBN 2-908325-07-1, 1992
  • Anthology, 4 CD containing numerous poems and texts read by the author, Anna la bonne, La dame de Monte-Carlo and Mes sŇďurs, n'aimez pas les marins by Marianne Oswald, Le bel indiff√©rent by Edith Piaf, La voix humaine by Berthe Bovy, Les mari√©s de la Tour Eiffel with Jean Le Poulain, Jacques Charon and Jean Cocteau, discourse on the reception at the Acad√©mie Fran√ßaise, with extracts from Les parents terribles, La machine infernale, pieces from Parade on piano with two hands by Georges Auric and Francis Poulenc, Fr√©meaux & Associ√©s FA 064, 1997
  • Poems by Jean Cocteau read by the author, CD EMI 8551082, 1997
  • Hommage √† Jean Cocteau, m√©lodies d'Henri Sauguet, Arthur Honegger, Louis Durey, Darius Milhaud, Erik Satie, Jean Wiener, Max Jacob, Francis Poulenc, Maurice Delage, Georges Auric, Guy Sacre, by Jean-Fran√ßois Gardeil (baryton) and Billy Eidi (piano), CD Adda 581177, 1989
  • Le testament d'Orph√©e, journal sonore, by Roger Pillaudin, 2 CD INA / Radio France 211788, 1998


  • 1946 La Belle et la B√™te (film journal)
  • 1949 Maalesh (journal of a stage production)
  • 1983 Le Pass√© d√©fini (posthumous)
  • 1989 Journal, 1942-1945



  • Cocteau, Jean, Le coq et l'arlequin: Notes autour de la musique - avec un portrait de l'Auteur et deux monogrammes par P. Picasso, Paris, √Čditions de la Sir√®ne, 1918
  • Cocteau, Jean, Le Grand √©cart, 1923, his first novel
  • Cocteau, Jean, Le Num√©ro Barbette, an influential essay on the nature of art inspired by the performer Barbette, 1926
  • Cocteau, Jean, The Human Voice, translated by Carl Wildman, Vision Press Ltd., Great Britain, 1947
  • Cocteau, Jean, The Eagle Has Two Heads, adapted by Ronald Duncan, Vision Press Ltd., Great Britain, 1947
  • Cocteau, Jean, "Bacchus." Paris: Gallimard, 1952.
  • Cocteau, Jean, The Holy Terrors (Les Enfants Terribles), translated by Rosamond Lehmann, New Directions. New York, 1957
  • Cocteau, Jean, Opium: The Diary of a Cure, translated by Margaret Crosland and Sinclair Road, Grove Press Inc., New York, 1958
  • Cocteau, Jean, The Infernal Machine And Other Plays, translated by W.H. Auden, E.E. Cummings, Dudley Fitts, Albert Bermel, Mary C. Hoeck, and John K. Savacool, New Directions Books, New York, 1963
  • Cocteau, Jean, Toros Muertos, along with Lucien Clergue and Jean Petit, Brussel & Brussel,1966
  • Cocteau, Jean, The Art of Cinema, edited by Andr√© Bernard and Claude Gauteur, translated by Robin Buss, Marion Boyars, London, 1988
  • Cocteau, Jean, Diary of an Unknown, translated by Jesse Browner, Paragon House Publishers, New York, 1988
  • Cocteau, Jean, The White Book (Le livre blanc), sometimes translated as The White Paper, translated by Margaret Crosland, City Lights Books, San Francisco, 1989
  • Cocteau, Jean, Les parents terribles, new translation by Jeremy Sams, Nick Hern Books, London, 1994



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