|French literary history|
Pierre-Jules Renard or Jules Renard (February 22, 1864- May 22, 1910) was a French author and member of the Académie Goncourt, most famous for the works Poil de Carotte (Carrot hair) (1894) and Les Histoires Naturelles (Natural Histories) (1896). Among his other works are Le Plaisir de rompre (The Pleasure of Breaking) (1898) and Huit jours à la campagne (Eight Days in the Countryside) (1906).
The child of François Renard and Anna-Rose Colin, Renard was born by chance in Châlons du Maine, Mayenne where his father was working on the construction of a railroad. Renard grew up in Chitry-les-Mines, (Nièvre). He had three older siblings. Amélie (b. 1858), died at a young age. A second child was also named Amélie (b. 1859). A third child, Maurice, was born before Pierre-Jules in 1862.
Renard's childhood was characterized as difficult and sad ("un grand silence roux" or "a great ruddy silence"). Although he decided not to attend the prestigious École normale supérieure, love of literature would eventually dominate his life. From 1885-1886, he served in the military in Bourges.
On April 28, 1888, Renard married Marie Morneau. He and his wife lived at 44 rue du Rocher in Paris. He began to attend literary cafés and to contribute to Parisian newspapers. Among his steady friends were Alfred Capus and Lucien Guitry. Jules Renard wrote poems, short stories, short plays, novels and his famous Poil de carotte. He was elected mayor ("maire") of Chitry on May 15, 1904 as the socialist candidate and became member of the Académie Goncourt in 1907, thanks to Octave Mirbeau. He died of arteriosclerosis in Paris.
Some of Jules Renard's works take their inspiration from the countryside he loved in the Nièvre region. His character portraits are sharp, ironic and sometimes cruel (in his Histoires naturelles he humanizes animals and animalizes men) and he was an active supporter of pacifism and anticlericalism (apparent in La Bigote).
His journal (1897 to 1910, published in 1925) is a masterpiece of introspection, irony, humor and nostalgia, and also provides an important glimpse into the literary life.
The British writer Somerset Maugham, was influenced to publish his own well-known journals by the example of Renard.
In the introduction to his own work A Writer's Notebook, Maugham wrote an apt summary of the virtues of Renard's journal: "The journal is wonderfully good reading. It is extremely amusing. It is witty and subtle and often wise... Jules Renard jotted down neat retorts and clever phrases, epigrams, things seen, the sayings of people and the look of them, descriptions of scenery, effects of sunshine and shadow, everything, in short, that could be of use to him when he sat down to write for publication."