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A play written in prison and a previously unpublished screenplay by Jean Genet published by Gallimard

Editions Gallimard have just published two unpublished works by Jean Genet, the four-act drama Héliogabale, never staged on stage and long considered lost, and the screenplay for Mademoiselle, adapted for the cinema, by the British director Tony Richardson in 1966, with in the title role Jeanne Moreau.

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A play written in prison and a previously unpublished screenplay by Jean Genet published by Gallimard

Editions Gallimard have just published two unpublished works by Jean Genet, the four-act drama Héliogabale, never staged on stage and long considered lost, and the screenplay for Mademoiselle, adapted for the cinema, by the British director Tony Richardson in 1966, with in the title role Jeanne Moreau. Jean Genet (1910-1986) wrote the screenplay in the form of a long short story with dialogues in 1951, with the title Forbidden Dreams, or the other side of the dream.

After several aborted attempts with other directors, the writer was approached by Tony Richardson to refine this script, got to work, but gave no further news and completely lost interest. This drama was nevertheless filmed, in Corrèze, and poorly received during its screening at the 1966 Cannes Film Festival.

Little known until now, however, the four-act drama Héliogabale was essentially written in Fresnes prison in 1942, at the same time as his first novel, Notre-Dame des Fleurs. Imprisoned for stealing books, Genet, 31, then experienced the most prolix period of his life as a writer, which was only just beginning. Once released, he had the play read to a few close friends and Jean Marais, "who had been offered the title role", but who "was hardly enthusiastic", according to the introduction signed François Rouget, professor at the university. Queen's of Kingston (Canada).

Jean Cocteau read it too. Jean Genet never managed to find a publisher for him. He left the manuscript with Cocteau's secretary, who sold it to a specialized bookseller in the 1950s. Then a library at Harvard University, the Houghton Library, bought it in 1983, three years before Genet's death. . This is where François Rouget found him. Heliogabalus depicts the last days of the Roman emperor thus nicknamed, who was assassinated around the age of 19, in the year 222.

In a long review for the NRF magazine, the writer Jonathan Littell (2006 Goncourt Prize for Les Bienveillantes) describes him as a “fabulous, solar and perverse rabble-rouser who so fascinated Genet” after having “remained in the imagination of centuries ( ...) thanks to literature”, notably the essay Heliogabalus or the Crowned Anarchist by Antonin Artaud (1934). As for the Genet of this period, Littell describes him as “caught between his disproportionate literary ambition and the painful reality of his situation”, poverty and the quest for his origins, he born to an unknown father, then abandoned by his mother.

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