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This article is taken from PN Review 122, Volume 24 Number 6, July - August 1998.

Lamb to the Slaughter: Jules Renard John Pilling

'Posterity will belong to dry, constipated writers,' wrote Jules Renard in 1890. He had just published his Sourires pincés, and obviously hoped that these 'pinched smiles' would prove more popular than his passionate, if somewhat pallid, collection of poems Les roses (1886) had been. 'You find out quickly if a poet has talent,' Renard ruefully reflected in a journal entry of 1903, his talent as a poet being very much in doubt; 'in the case of prose writers, it takes a little longer.' In his own case Renard knew that it had taken time for him to make his mark, and that his fame might be fleeting. He had published three books of prose in the early 1890s, a novel and two collections of vignettes, when he was on the point of turning thirty. He had acquired the esteem of his fellow writers but no popular success. Fame, and a foothold in posterity, only came with three of the four works for which he is now remembered, published in close succession: the play Le Plaisir de Rompre, a smash hit in 1898, the brilliant Histoires naturelles (1896; six of them later set to music by Ravel, and in book form boasting drawings by Lautrec), and the first and most lasting of the three, the classic study of childhood Poil de Carotte (1894), later made into a play (1900) and in due course into a famous and influential film (1925).

Such has been the success of Poil de ...

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