François Truffaut and Friends

François Truffaut and Friends: Modernism, Sexuality, and Film Adaptation

ROBERT STAM
Copyright Date: 2006
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 262
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt5hj08t
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    François Truffaut and Friends
    Book Description:

    One of François Truffaut's most poignantly memorable films, Jules and Jim, adapted a novel by the French writer and art collector Henri-Pierre Roch. The characters and events of the 1960s film were based on a real-life romantic triangle, begun in the summer of 1920, which involved Roch himself, the German-Jewish writer Franz Hessel, and his wife, the journalist Helen Grund.Drawing on this film and others by Truffaut, Robert Stam provides the first in-depth examination of the multifaceted relationship between Truffaut and Roch. In the process, he provides a unique lens through which to understand how adaptation works-from history to novel, and ultimately to film-and how each form of expression is inflected by the period in which it is created. Truffaut's adaptation of Roch's work, Stam suggests, demonstrates how reworkings can be much more than simply copies of their originals; rather, they can become an immensely creative enterprise-a form of writing in itself.The book also moves beyond Truffaut's film and the mnage--trois involving Roch, Hessel, and Grund to explore the intertwined lives and work of other famous artists and intellectuals, including Marcel Duchamp, Walter Benjamin, and Charlotte Wolff. Tracing the tangled webs that linked these individuals' lives, Stam opens the door to an erotic/writerly territory where the complex interplay of various artistic sensibilities-all mulling over the same nucleus of feelings and events-vividly comes alive.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-4099-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
    (pp. vi-vi)
  4. PRELUDE
    (pp. vii-xviii)

    It is by now a well-known fact that Truffaut’sJules and Jim—perhaps one of the most poignantly memorable films ever made—was an adaptation of a book by the French novelist Henri-Pierre Roché. The very mention of the film’s title conjures up indelible images of the famous love triangle of Catherine and Jules and Jim. The characters and events of the film, we now know, were based on a real-life ménage à trois, to wit, the romantic triangle, begun in the summer of 1920, that involved Roché himself (the model for “Jim”), along with the German-Jewish writer Franz Hessel...

  5. CHAPTER ONE THE ORIGINS OF TRUFFAUT’S JULES AND JIM
    (pp. 1-8)

    Initially conceived in the early 1920s during the first clutches of the Henri-Pierre Roché–Helen Hessel–Franz Hessel ménage,Jules and Jimwas initially drafted as a novel in 1943 and finally published in 1953. After reading the novel, François Truffaut turned it into a film in 1961. According to Truffaut his reading of the novel in 1955 created such a strong impression that it cued his choice of profession: he felt that he simplyhadto film it. Truffaut corresponded with Roché between 1955 and 1958 about a possible adaptation and visited with him at his home in Meudon,...

  6. CHAPTER TWO THE NEW WAVE AND ADAPTATION
    (pp. 9-14)

    Given our focus on Truffaut’s adaptations of Roché’s novels and memoirs, it is pertinent to speak of the larger context of the New Wave’s attitude toward literature in general and toward adaptations in particular. TheCahiers du cinémacritics who subsequently formed the nucleus of the French New Wave were profoundly ambivalent about literature, which they saw both as a model to be emulated and an enemy to be abjured. Haunted by the overweening prestige of literature in a country that had virtually deified its writers, theCahierscritics forged the concept of thecinéasteasauteuras a way...

  7. CHAPTER THREE THE PROTOTYPE FOR JIM: HENRI-PIERRE ROCHÉ
    (pp. 15-20)

    Jules and jim, as I noted earlier, was based on real-life prototypes, all of them artists and bohemians. The prototype for the character “Jim” was Roché himself, played in the film by Henri Serre (who was chosen partially because he physically resembled the young Roché). Born in Paris on May 28, 1879, Roché was a writer/artist/bohemian whose circle of friends and acquaintances included Pablo Picasso, Marcel Duchamp, Erik Satie, Darius Milhaud, Le Douanier Rousseau, Le Corbusier, Paul Klee, Diego Rivera, Isadora Duncan, Abel Gance, Blaise Cendrars, Ezra Pound, Ford Madox Ford, James Joyce, Gertrude Stein, Heinrich Mann, Thomas Mann, Edgar...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR NEW YORK INTERLUDE
    (pp. 21-26)

    Roché’s life also intersected with another urban center of the bohemian avant-garde—New York—as part of what has been called the “Modernists’ TransAtlantic Shuttle.”¹ Like other emissaries of the modernist French art world in New York during the war, Roché was partially pushed by the stick of the First World War and pulled by the carrot of artistic effervescence. He ultimately spent three years (1916 to 1919) in the city. Yet the choice of New York was hardly fortuitous; a strong Paris–New York artistic connection had been building for decades. More and more New York artists were studying...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE THE DON JUAN BOOKS
    (pp. 27-36)

    While most biographical authors of romans à clef tend to exaggerate their exploits, in the case of Roché the real-life events themselves were even more dramatic than those related in his books. A twentieth-century Don Juan, Roché not only wrote about Don Juan in two books—Fragments sur Don Juan(1916) andDon Juan et… (1921)—but also emulated Don Juan in life, remaining an inveterate womanizer until his very last days. In 1919 he wrote, “My desire [is] to write the story of my life, like Casanova, but in a different spirit.”¹ In 1898 Havelock Ellis had emphasized...

  10. CHAPTER SIX THE PROTOTYPE FOR JULES: FRANZ HESSEL AND FLÂNERIE
    (pp. 37-46)

    The character jules was based on the German-Jewish writer Franz Hessel (played by Oscar Werner in the Truffaut film). Born in Stettin on November 21, 1880, to a Polish Jewish family that became wealthy through the grain trade, Hessel moved to Berlin with his family in 1888, which by this time had converted to Protestantism. At that time Franz’s father, Heinrich, had his children baptized and catechized. Like both Roché and Truffaut, Hessel did not know his father very well, since his father had died when Franz was very young. According to the Hessel’s son Stéphane’s autobiographical account, there were...

  11. CHAPTER SEVEN HESSEL AS NOVELIST
    (pp. 47-52)

    Although both roché and Truffaut downplay Hessel’s Jewishness, it is hardly an incidental feature of his identity, especially in an age of rising anti-Semitism. The Jules of the Roché novel reports anti-Semitic incidents. At the age of ten, he recalls, he was struck by his “friend” Hermann, who called him “a dirty Jew” (28). With the rise of Hitler to the rank of chancellor of the Reich, things got worse for Jews. The Hessels’ son Stéphane describes the family’s reaction as follows: “Our refusal was total and immediate. For us, this clownish megalomaniac who brayed in an atrociously vulgar language...

  12. CHAPTER EIGHT HESSEL’S PARISIAN ROMANCE
    (pp. 53-56)

    Franz hessel wrote about his relationship with both Helen Grund and Roché in his 1920 novelPariser Romanze(translated into French asRomance Parisiennein 1990).¹ Supposedly written in the trenches of World War I, these “notebooks” are presented as a series of four letters composed by a “missing man” to his Parisian friend “Claude” (Roché), dedicated to reviving their common memory of prewar bohemian Paris. As if in uncanny premonition of his own untimely death, Hessel subtitled the novel (in German at least)Papers of Someone Lost without a Trace. The account of male friendship mingles the shared experience...

  13. CHAPTER NINE THE PROTOTYPE FOR CATHERINE: HELEN GRUND HESSEL
    (pp. 57-62)

    We can now turn to the third member of the triangle—Helen Grund (Hessel)—the model for Kate in the novelJules and Jim(“Catherine” in the film as played by Jeanne Moreau). Helen was born in Berlin in 1886, the daughter of a banker whose avocations were music and painting. The son Ulrich Hessel describes his parents as follows: “My mother was vigorously anti-conformist. She rejected bourgeois morality, but within her anti-conformism she managed to find, if not a morality, at least a very rigorous sense of ethics. My father, on the other hand, even if he was capable...

  14. CHAPTER TEN L’AMOUR LIVRESQUE
    (pp. 63-68)

    Although women writers at the time were generally hemmed in by glass-ceiling constraints and masculinist prejudices, Helen Grund roamed the streets of Paris with another female flâneuse, German writer Charlotte Wolff; together they frequented the bars, dance halls, and arcades of the French capital.¹ Here, therefore, we must open a parenthesis concerning the very interesting figure of Charlotte Wolff. A middle-class Jewish psychiatrist, poet, and singer, Wolff (1904–1986) left Germany for Paris in May 1933. In Paris she lived with Helen Grund, beginning in 1933, a fact provoking speculation that they had an affair. Charlotte was also a friend...

  15. CHAPTER ELEVEN THE POLYPHONIC PROJECT
    (pp. 69-74)

    Roché, for his part, kept a voluminous diary from 1902 to 1959, which ultimately produced some seven thousand pages of writing, contained in more than three hundred separate notebooks, only a small portion of which was published in 1990. After the last gasp of the ménage, Roché had the utopian idea of a collective “six-handed” novel, which would consist of the participants’ different accounts of the affair, together with the others’ reactions to these accounts. Although on one level Roché’s project recalled the utopian dreams of the Athenaeum group, on another it formed part of the broad currents of artistic...

  16. CHAPTER TWELVE JULES AND JIM: THE NOVEL
    (pp. 75-80)

    Roché’sjules and jim, in this same vein, articulates the tensions between law and desire, between the wish to transcend jealousy and the will to power and possession. It conjugates the verbsto loveandto prohibitin all their moods and tenses. A constant leitmotif in the novel has to do with the issue of playful rule breaking and the creation of new conventions. When Jim first introduces Jules to Lucie and Gertrude, for example, Jules, as master of ceremonies, proposes that “they abolish once and for all the formalities ofMonsieurandMademoiselleandMadameby drinking to...

  17. CHAPTER THIRTEEN FROM NOVEL TO FILM
    (pp. 81-90)

    When the novelJules and Jimfirst appeared, in 1953, it received very few and generally lukewarm reviews. It was only Truffaut’s praise for the book in a 1955 review inArtsthat called renewed attention to the novel. Roché thanked Truffaut for the review in a letter and later visited Truffaut and sawLes Mistons. (Roché spontaneously penned a very favorable review, meant forArts, but Truffaut could not publish it since it would seem like favoritism, since he was the official critic for the journal.) Ultimately, Truffaut’s adaptation turned the novel into a best seller, translated almost immediately...

  18. CHAPTER FOURTEEN DISARMING THE SPECTATOR
    (pp. 91-112)

    In making his filmic adaptation of the emotionally and sexually charged materials of the novel (and the diaries), Truffaut was understandably concerned about the reaction of the general public to his bohemian threesome. Here we must be mindful not only of the important shift from a verbal to an audiovisual, multitrack medium but also of a difference in context. While an erotic novel likeJules and Jimwould be read by hundreds or at most a few thousand people, a film would be seen by hundreds of thousands. And if the original ménage took place during an experimental and avant-garde...

  19. CHAPTER FIFTEEN POLYPHONIC EROTICISM
    (pp. 113-116)

    A study of the various journals, letters, and novels dedicated to the three-way affair can enrich our discussion of both novel and film by offering clues to what Roché left out of the novel and what Truffaut left out of the film. One point of difference is absolutely crucial. Jules’s prohibition to Jim in the film—“not this one, Jim”—is often read as a demand that Jim not “steal” Jules’s girlfriend, but seen in historical and autobiographical terms, it means that they will not “share” this one. The film also implies that the triangular relationship had no precedent in...

  20. CHAPTER SIXTEEN SEXPERIMENTAL WRITING: THE DIARIES
    (pp. 117-124)

    The case ofJules and Jimcomplicates the issue of the filmic adaptation of novels, since we are dealing not with a single source but rather with multiple sources alongside the novel, in the form of the letters and diaries, some of which François Truffaut read. The diaries form a glorious mélange of exalted romanticism, linguistic experimentation, and accounts of the everyday business of living. Many features prominent in the journals of Henri-Pierre Roché and Helen Hessel leave only minor traces in both novel and film. For example, the journals reveal a certain obsession with eugenics. Even though the prototypes...

  21. CHAPTER SEVENTEEN SEXUALITY/TEXTUALITY
    (pp. 125-132)

    Rarely has sexuality been so intermingled with textuality as in the intimate journals of Roché and Helen. Love writing here becomes a form of “sympoesis,” a way of shaping a shared dominion where passion holds sway. Their “lovers’ discourse” is richly embroidered with classical literary references. Franz, after all, had reminded Helen that she “shouldn’t always mix the Greeks up with [our] affairs” (Journal, 107). But speaking more generally, Helen and Roché see sex itself as languaged, as what Roland Barthes calls a “fait langagier.” This idea is of course not new; it is implicit in the old trope of...

  22. CHAPTER EIGHTEEN THE GENDERED POLITICS OF FLÂNERIE
    (pp. 133-136)

    In her diaries Helen often spoke of her wanderings around the city. It is highly revealing to regard Helen’s strolls around city streets in the context of the politics of flânerie. Anke Gleber and other feminist critics have underscored the strongly classed and gendered nature of flanerie. Working-class women who used the streets to get to work were not seen as artistically inclined flâneuses; only bourgeois women were, and they only rarely. But even the bourgeoisies were severely hemmed in by all kinds of restrictions. A quiet but nonetheless overpowering social normativity, enforced within the politics of the everyday, dictated...

  23. CHAPTER NINETEEN COMPARATIVE ÉCRITURE
    (pp. 137-150)

    In the published journals Helen Hessel and Henri-Pierre Roché, in keeping with the idea of “polyphonic writing,” constantly comment on each others’ diaries, making stylistic suggestions and thematic observations, sometimes disputing the interlocutor’s account. Their journals reveal two quite different literary styles. Roché especially is fond of oxymoronic expressions—“refreshing crises,” “beautiful perils”—that evoke his addiction to danger as an aphrodisiac. The exchange of commentaries on the intimate journals also highlights some of the contrasts between their personalities and literary style. In the novel Roché’s narrator describes Helen’s diary as intricate and labyrinthine, and Roché’s as flat and clear...

  24. CHAPTER TWENTY TWO ENGLISH GIRLS: THE NOVEL
    (pp. 151-176)

    As pointed out earlier,Two English Girlswas based on Roché’s memories of a triangular relationship between himself and two English sisters, Margaret and Violet Hart, a liaison that lasted, in one form or another, from 1899 to 1914. (Interestingly, all three members of this earlier ménage had been orphaned of their fathers.) In a short essay, perhaps intended to be a blurb for the book, Roché epitomized the novel as follows:

    My eightieth year is approaching. Decrepitude? Perhaps, but I hardly notice it. What a panorama! What sweet breaths of wind at this summit. One has one’s whole life...

  25. CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE TWO ENGLISH GIRLS: THE FILM
    (pp. 177-194)

    While the real-life events on whichTwo English Girlswas based occurred two decades before the events on whichJules and Jimwas based, the chronology of the Roché novels (and the Truffaut films based on them) reversed their literal historical sequence. Interestingly, the circumstances of Truffaut’s life at the time of the filming ofTwo English Girlsin some aspects echoed the complex relationships in which Roché himself had been embroiled a half century earlier. At the time of the film Truffaut was in the process of breaking up with Catherine Deneuve over the very issue that ultimately separated...

  26. CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO THE (VARIOUS) MEN WHO LOVED (VARIOUS) WOMEN
    (pp. 195-208)

    The ghost of Henri-Pierre Roché hovers over many Truffaut films, even those that were not adaptations of Roché novels. The Fergus (Charles Denner) character inThe Bride Wore Black, for example, is portrayed as a collector of women not unlike Roché. The character describes himself as someone who is always looking for women, and he relates a nightmare in which he is surrounded only by men. He even compares himself—and here we are reminded of the convergence of religiosity and sexuality in Roché’s Don Juan books—to a nun collecting alms: “I’ve collected from that one. That one, not...

  27. POSTLUDE
    (pp. 209-210)

    In this volume we have strolled like flâneurs through various lives and relationships and texts. We have disentangled the uncanny connections that link people and books and films across generations, across cultures, and across media. Many commentators have compared the relation between film and novel to that of a couple. For Gabriel García Márquez film and literature are like an incompatible couple whose members cannot live with, or without, each other. In this sense the cinematic adaptation resembles the “woman next door” of the Truffaut film, that is, the illicit, unacknowledged partner, the fatally attractive “other woman” who ultimately kills...

  28. TIME LINE
    (pp. 211-214)
  29. NOTES
    (pp. 215-228)
  30. INDEX
    (pp. 229-240)
  31. Back Matter
    (pp. 241-246)