Claude Simon – 1985

Claude Simon (10 October 1913 – 6 July 2005) was a French novelist and the 1985 Nobel Laureate in Literature. He was born in Antananarivo, Madagascar, and died in Paris, France.

His parents were French, his father being a career officer who was killed in the First World War. He grew up with his mother and her family in Perpignan in the middle of the wine district ofRoussillon. Among his ancestors was a general from the time of the French Revolution.

After secondary school at Collège Stanislas in Paris and brief sojourns at Oxford and Cambridge he took courses in painting at the André Lhote Academy. He then travelled extensively through Spain, Germany, the Soviet Union, Italy and Greece. This experience as well as those from the Second World War show up in his literary work. At the beginning of the war Claude Simon took part in the battle of the Meuse (1940) and was taken prisoner. He managed to escape and joined the resistance movement. At the same time he completed his first novel, Le Tricheur (“The Cheat”, published in 1946), which he had started to write before the war.

He lived in Paris and used to spend part of the year at Salses in the Pyrenees.

In 1961 Claude Simon received the prize of L’Express for La Route des Flandres and in 1967 the Médicis prize for Histoire. The University of East Anglia made him honorary doctor in 1973.

Simon is often identified with the nouveau roman movement exemplified in the works of Alain Robbe-Grillet and Michel Butor, and while his fragmented narratives certainly contain some of the formal disruption characteristic of that movement (in particular Histoire , 1967, Triptyque, 1973), he nevertheless retains a strong sense of narrative and character.

In fact, Simon arguably has much more in common with his Modernist predecessors than with his contemporaries; in particular, the works of Marcel Proust and William Faulkner are a clear influence. Simon’s use of self-consciously long sentences (often stretching across many pages and with parentheses sometimes interrupting a clause which is only completed pages later) can be seen to reference Proust’s own style, and Simon moreover makes use of certain Proustian settings (in La Route des Flandres, for example, the narrator’s captain de Reixach is shot by a sniper concealed behind a hawthorn hedge or haie d’aubépines, a reference to the meeting between Gilberte and the narrator across a hawthorn hedge in Proust’s A la recherche du temps perdu).

The Faulknerian influence is evident in the novels’ extensive use of a fractured timelime with frequent and potentially disorienting analepsis (moments of chronological discontinuity), and of an extreme form of free indirect speech in which narrative voices (often unidentified) and streams of consciousness bleed into the words of the narrator. The ghost of Faulkner looms particularly large in 1989’s L’Acacia, which uses a number of non-sequential calendar dates covering a wide chronological period in lieu of chapter headings, a device borrowed from Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury.