N°2 | Julien/Julian Green – Adopting/Adapting a Memory of the American South

Emmeline Gros (Université de Toulon),

Abstract :

This paper explores the relationship of writer Julien/Julian Green to the adopted/adapted American South that is portrayed in some of his novels and plays. Julian Hartridge Green (a descendant on his mother’s side of a Confederate Senator who later served as a Democratic Representative from Georgia to the US Congress) is often (mis)presented in French textbooks as “that French writer, born in Paris to American parents” but in US anthologies as “a French writer speaking American.” Writing in both English and French and living almost exclusively in Paris all his life, Green loved to play with the ambiguity of his transnational background: Green liked to define himself as a Southerner (even if born and raised in France) and heavily adopted/adapted the American South in his novels, so much that 6 out of 17 of his novels are set in the American South. The South, it seems, just felt like a home that one could freely adopt, borrow, and even re-purpose entirely (to use Linda Hutcheon’s ideas here). I will try to situate the work of Julien Green in the tradition of adaptation: What is it, in Julian Green’s South, that is recast, rewritten, and transformed? For this French writer who experienced the American South at a distance (through the tales of his mother’s memories and through tales about the Antebellum South only, i.e. before the South lost the war), is the American South adoptable/adaptable and if so, how?

Résumé :

Julien Green, accueilli à l’Académie Française mais se décrivant pourtant comme “a Southern gentleman”, présenté dans les manuels français comme “cet écrivain français, né à Paris de parents américains” mais que les anthologies américaines se plaisent à définir comme “un écrivain américain de langue française”, semble ne pouvoir entrer dans aucun cadre géographique. Pourtant, Green fait la part belle au Sud dans ses ouvrages, si bien que sur ses dix-sept romans, six sont en effet situés aux États-Unis : la Trilogie du Sud (Les Pays lointains, Les Étoiles du Sud, Dixie), ainsi que Mont Cinère (1926), Moira (1950) et Chaque homme dans sa nuit (1960). Pourtant, si les œuvres de Green adoptent volontiers ce Sud des plantations, qu’y a-t-il de résolument sudiste chez Julien Green ? Le Sud chez Julien Green, semble-t-il, est adapté autant qu’il est adopté, emprunté et réutilisé autant qu’il est remémoré. Cet article cherche à explorer ce qui est refondu, réécrit et transformé dans ce Sud sur papier. Pour cet écrivain français qui n’a connu le Sud qu’à distance (qu’à travers le récit des souvenirs de sa mère et qu’à travers le prisme du Sud de l’avant-guerre de Sécession), le Sud des plantations est-il véritablement adoptable/adaptable et si oui, par quel biais?


Adaptation is “a way of making up for loss, as a means of control, or of coping with privation” (Hutcheon 114).

        In Theory of Adaptation, Linda Hutcheon defines adaptation as follows: “an adaptation is […] transposition of a particular work or works. This “transcoding” can involve a shift of medium (a poem to a film) or genre (an epic to a novel), or a change of frame and therefore context” (7-8). This is not the definition of adaptation that will be used in the present article.  Instead, I have decided to apply Hutcheon’s definition of “transposition” as “a shift in ontology from the real to the fictional, from a historical account or biography to a fictionalized narrative or drama” (7-8). In this paper, I am going to focus on this idea of transposition (or adoption) and will look at some works by Julien Green, a French writer (20th Century: 1900-1998) who spent a large part of his life as a writer adopting a region—the American South—and transposing this regional space into a fictional American South, one that he used as the background for most his fictional works. Out of the 17 novels Julien Green wrote, six are indeed “located” in the USA; the Southern trilogy, including Les Pays Lointains, Les Etoiles du Sud, Dixie as well as Mont Cinère 1926, Moira 1950, and Chaque Homme dans sa nuit 1960.

        Obviously, Julien Green is not the only French writer in this case. For Ron Rash, an American poet and novelist from North Carolina, the French sensibility is even particularly well-suited for translating the American South into words. The American sensibility tends to be ‘history is bunk,’” he says. “When I was doing an interview last year in France, a French critic said, ‘When I read Southern writers I get a similar sense of history to our own,’ and I believe that’s one reason the French revere Southern writers so much….” (“Why Southern Writers Captivate”).[1]

        Working with Julien/Julian Green to tackle the question of adaptation (even if in this case, I will be talking of the adoption of a region) makes for a rather challenging exercise. First, Green chose to portray a South that is, one could say, invisible: it is indeed the Old Antebellum South that Green refers to in his works, a South that only his parents experienced, but a South that as a writer born and raised in France, he never experienced himself: as “[t]he youngest of 8 children, Green was not familiar with the land of his forefathers, which his parents and siblings still held dear. Nor was Green familiar with English at first” (Armbrecht 14). Second, the South in Green’s novels is unsayable because Julien Green, as we will see, feels the alienating effect of language, the loss of meaning carried in language itself. We could say that Green’s experience of the South is situated at the affective and sensual levels, more than at the concrete, linguistic, regional, geographical, or physical levels. Green’s early years were indeed nourished by his mother’s stories of the American Civil War, the Secession, and the sense of belonging to the South. His mother’s stories, which were to have a profound effect on the young Green were tainted with nostalgia and melancholy because, as he once said during an interview, “the South had lost the war” (“Visite à Julien Green”).

        Green is quite a peculiar writer. Born in Paris in 1900 of American Protestant parents (his mother being from Savannah, his father from Virginia), Julien Green is perhaps best known to the general reader as the first non-French national to have been elected to the Académie Française in 1971 where he succeeded François Mauriac. Even though elected to the prestigious Académie Française, Green soon grew tired of the organization ‘to the point that he no longer wanted to be part of the Académie Française at all” (Armbrecht 12). In 1996, he publicly declared in a letter to his colleagues, arguing that he felt exclusively American: “je ne fais plus partie de l’Académie Française … [je me] sens désormais américain exclusivement et les honneurs ne m’intéressent pas du tout, quelles qu’ils soient” (qtd. In Le Monde, 16 Nov. 1996).

        This may partly explain why on the French scene, Julien Green occupies “a strange place in the world of French literature, that of the “canonized outsider” (Armbrecht 11). The writer navigated within a liminal space made of altered identities and identifications depending on the needs of a given period of life. His decision to alter his name, for instance, was fed by the need to “hide aspects of [his] identity that [were] problematic” (Armbrecht 14); among those, his American origins that he often downplayed “as a way of fitting in at school. By changing “Julian” to “Julien,” he made his first name seem more French” (Armbrecht 14).

        Yet, and as Daniela Fabiani remarks, Green liked to consider himself as an expatriate. A single quote from Julien Green’s Journal (spanning over more than 70 years) is enough to realize how much Green liked the term: “L’Expatrié. C’est ainsi qu’on m’appelle de l’autre côté de l’Atlantique et que l’on me considère de ce côté-ci. Je veux bien […] mais il me plait d’élargir le sens du mot jusqu’à le faire déborder dans l’infini. Plus j’avance, mieux je vois que nul d’entre nous n’est vraiment chez lui sur la planète” (414-15).[2] Green grew up in Paris with the feeling of being an expatriate surrounded by French people who had never heard of the Secession. There was the constant feeling of belonging to a nation which no longer existed, a feeling that certainly informed most of his novels—including the trilogy Les Pays Lointains, Les Etoiles du Sud, and Dixie, which is partly based on the reminiscences recounted by his mother, but which also contains a rich, authentic, well-researched, historical background shaped by the imagination and vision of the novelist.

        Yet, can an expatriate write about the South? The answer might be “no,” if we indeed take Quentin Compson literally. Quentin Compson’s remark to his Canadian roommate Shreve (that he will never understand Southerners) clearly suggests that writing about the South from a distance, “one cannot have the comfort of understanding a culture via a representative text if the work in question is not believed to embody the essence of its culture” (Karem 12).[3] More complicated maybe, how can a writer, no matter how sensitive he is (to use Ron Rash’s expression) transpose the unsayable?  How can language articulate a reality that was never there or, to be more specific, as a reality that was only experienced at the abstract level, i.e. as the memories transmitted by one’s mother?

        Adaptation studies usually place the question of fidelity to the source text or to the source image at the center of their reflection. One could certainly justify Julien Green’s “Southernness” or “Southernism” in his ability to talk about the South and to point to the authenticity of his observations.Distant Lands/Les Pays Lointains (1987) features a detailed family tree. Drawings and maps complete The Stars of the South/Les Etoiles du Sud (1989). Dixie (1995) mixes romance and historical report: “there are 1900 km between Savannah and Boston” (204).[4]  What this shows is that there is indeed an organic relationship between the South and the discourse Green produces.

        Yet, the question of the authenticity of the production, of the final or end-product of the adaptation should not be the main issue to consider when reading books about the South by a French writer. In times of crisis and reconstruction (and to make sure the South would not fade into social obscurity), Southerners themselves understood well how to “appropriate” the South for their own purposes (and so, reimagine a South purged from defeat, segregation, slavery, etc.). These Southerners, we could say, became “adapters” who strived to “purge an earlier text of elements that their particular cultures in time or place might find difficult or controversial; at other times, the adaptation “de-represses” an earlier adapted text’s politics” (Stam 42–44).[5]

        Hutcheon warns that “the idea of fidelity should not frame any theorizing of adaptation today” […] According to its dictionary meaning, “to adapt” is to adjust, to alter, to make suitable” (7). She continues: “adaptation also is not slavish copying; it is a process of making the adapted material one’s own (20). At stake, therefore, is not the question of recognizing the typical elements of Southern identity in such texts. These could be limited to the clichés of mint juleps, magnolias, plantations’ white columns and the like. Southern lovers would then be tempted to seek cultural products of Southern appearance only. After all, one could ask, in the manner of Agrarian Donald David: “Is one necessarily Southern when one writes about negroes, mountaineers, or poor whites?” (qtd. in Karem 19).[6]

        As if sensing that the question of fidelity might sidetrack his own readers, Green frequently expressed a certain desire to keep the South at a distance, or rather the clichés of regionalism at a distance, as if wishing to avoid the labeling that has plagued regionalist authors. Green, for instance, feared that naming his play Sud/South would be a wrong title for it, as it may encourage the public to be expecting a play about the Civil War.[7] Green, like Welty, had understood the burden of being “confined” to the adjective “Southern.” Regional/Southern is indeed a slippery and contested term at best. In her 1956 essay, “Place in Fiction,” Eudora Welty refers to regional as a “careless term, as well as a condescending one, because what it does is fail to differentiate between the localized raw material of life and its outcome as art. ‘Regional’ is an outsider’s term; It has no meaning for the insider who’s doing the writing, because as far as he knows, he is simply writing about life” (132). Yet, and even though Green’s first reviews did not much pay attention to Green’s regionalism, the topic was central to many critical discussions. The publication of Green’s works (dealing with the American South) found reviewers and critics struggling to “place” him on the French literary scene. Reviewers regretted the prominence of character over scene, showing well that there was an expectation that the regional setting itself would have primacy within a Southern text. For such critics, Green “had failed to capitalize on his regional particularity” (Karem 19).

        More than a “real” place, the South, for Green (like for so many writers about the South), reads as a mental construct, one that exceeds borders and conquers the writer’s imagination.[8] The South, for Green, is indeed everywhere and nowhere, for it is not unusual to find U.S. echoes in his journal, even when Green mentions his travels around the world. For instance, when Green goes into this old grocery store in Scotland that, he says, is similar to the captivating grocery stores of American villages (“Journal,” 7 juillet 1979, 636)[9] or again, when he mentions Hammerfest in Norway which, he finds “dreary as a small American town […] When I see the streets without trees and the square houses in Hammerfest, I remember the unbearable neurasthenia that I have experienced in small American cities” (“Journal,” 11 juin 1978, 502).[10]

        Green obviously did not want to be objective, arguing that he was no historian nor a writer of sagas and that in his novels, Southern history was but the background on which to write the characters’ destinies and feelings.[11] As Daniela Fabiani recognizes, the South remains an abstraction, because it is essentially crystallized through memories.[12] Green himself admitted that his writing was often guided “by floating images, forgotten impressions, memories and feelings of old times that suddenly came back” (“Visite à Julien Green”).[13] In the Preface to his play South, Green even defined his work as “an exploration into an America that is no more. The shortest way to reach it is through the childhood of the writer and through the family memories he retained” (48).[14] As a consequence, we understand that the South that is seized by Green is best found, not in the burdensome clichés that are usually associated with local color or with Southern writers, but in the disjunction between the South as a source-text and the narrative image that is produced, i.e. in the space of the unsayable.

        The South, for Green, is an “impossible dream” (to use Eudora Welty’s expression, here). This inability to communicate the South is very explicit in the description of the admirable décor of the plantation in Stars of the South/Les Etoiles du Sud,

Thirty stairs led them to a long porch protected from the surrounding gardens with a green painted wooden trellis. The intersection of thousands of rods filtered a soft light and in the background, in this remote place where one could see without being seen, one could avoid being heard. Rocking chairs completed the scene, but Elizabeth and Billy instinctively preferred to remain standing. Admirable setting for secret talks, Billy said with a laugh. But I do not find our South (132-33, my translation).[15]

        The South, it seems, remains inaccessible, because it possesses a sort of dream-like quality: “on that night in April the night covered the plantation with its milky light, giving this familiar landscape the unreal aspect of a dream vision despite the extraordinarily precise details” (337, my translation).[16] Describing Ned’s bedroom in Stars of the South, the narrator writes that “his room was loaded with too many dreams, with the minutes that his mother had filled with the dark stories before sleep every night for months … Everything vanished in this new setting. Words did not exist to tell about it” (271, my translation).[17] Elizabeth, the heroine of Stars of the South, experiences a similar reality: “from the lower branches of these old trees […] hung the long curtains of green Spanish moss, stirred by the slightest breeze. Elizabeth felt she was in one of these Southern dreams she had known at Dimwood” (Stars of the South 64).[18]

        Added to the disjunction existing between source-text and narrative image produced, is Green’s admission that words themselves are unable to convey his thoughts. Green argued that distortion was the words’ raison d’être, even the destruction of ideas: “What words can I use to describe what escapes language?” (109).[19] Kathryn Eberle Wildgen explains that “Green was tormented all his life by the fact that all he had at his disposal for the purpose of communication were woefully inadequate words” (189). Green himself recognized the alienating effect/aspect of language. Tellingly, even if fully bilingual, he chose to write in French.[20] In Le Langage et son double, Green shared his difficulty at expression the same subject with two different media, in two different languages: “Unlike the French language, the English language does not drive me to literary perfection. I feel I’m writing with a trembling hand for fear I should lead my sentence astray” (521, my translation).[21]

        The failure of words to communicate is rendered very explicit and literal in his fiction about the South.[22] In the play South, for instance, the young gentleman from the South, Edouard Broderick, explains that: “My own tongue is astounded by the words it speaks” / “Ma langue est étonnée des mots qu’elle pronounce” (97). Ian, a young officer from the North, is similarly confronted with the failure of language, when he says: “I know only too well that I’ll never be able to express my feelings (…) everything seals my lips” (221).[23] The supremacy of the unspoken thought over words is also present in (Avarice House, Mont-Cinère in French) or in the play South. In Mont-Cinère, we have a clear image of a person struggling with words; Mrs. Fletcher attempts to answer letters, writing down words and scratching them out almost all at the same time (224-25).[24]

        What this suggests is that Green did not simply strive to render pictures of the South (or to photograph the South), but to evoke the ineffable in the Southern world. And there is a need to move beyond impartial observation and explore the subjective experience of visuality and temporality in a society that no longer is. When writing South, Green said that:

the heart pounding, I recognize a southern landscape that my mother used to describe, the huge trees draped in gorgeous finery formed by this strange green Spanish moss. A large Southern plantation, on a Sunday afternoon in April, and over this proud and confident house looms the threat of great destruction […] the earthquake this time and in this part of world I know well, there will be the terrible war which will lay on the floor hundreds of thousands of young Americans (1722).[25]

        To do so, and because both fidelity to the source text and the capacity of words to convey the dreamlike quality of its source text are impossible endeavors, Green pictures the invisible and writes the unsayable by his use of the senses in these texts. Such reliance on the sensual and on different modes of engagement with a given reality should hardly surprise readers, for adapting across cultures (or across the Atlantic in our case), is not simply a matter of translating words. Patrice Pavis recognizes that cultural and social meaning has to be conveyed and adapted to a new environment through what he calls the “language-body” (30, qtd. in Hutcheon 149). The intercultural, he says, is the “intergestural” and the visual is as important as the aural.

        Green’s work is replete with visual (using colors especially) and olfactory images that are specific to the South, giving readers a sensory experience of the South: “October was advancing, with its exquisite warmth still full of fragrances invading all the gardens of the city. On the avenues, people were exhilarated by the air coming in sudden gusts that followed the whims of the wind. It was not yet the season for big parties…” (Stars of the South 44, my translation).[26] Here, like elsewhere throughout the novel, the visual imagery is directly mingling with the olfactory.

        At times also, smell triggers the memory of times past. Sometimes a literal sense of smell held in an object is translated, adapted, or metamorphosed into the smell (figurative or real) of a given place: in Stars of the South, the sadness of the young heroine, Elizabeth, is triggered by “an exquisite smell [that] floated in the air around her, and her throat tightened. A magnolia… laden with so many memories, this scent revived a moment forever abolished in the latter days” (85).[27] In this passage, Green names the flora and paints visual images that recall past experiences, memories, colors, and smells. The effect, to use Pearl McHaney’s expression here, is “haunting and foreboding.” It is “is also typically Southern” (5). Of course, the colors and smells of the South—cottonseed-meal-yellow, magnolia, honeysuckle, wet cedars—recalled in the characters’ memories suggest the region’s stereotypes, so much that translating the South and his mother’s memories becomes, for Green, sensing the South. When smelling cedar or magnolias, Elizabeth abandons herself to “a scent [that] was familiar. It was the smell of the South” (90).[28]

        If Green draws on imagery of Southern flowers described in sensory language, other examples also illustrate Green experiencing the South through a confluence of olfactory and aural senses: In his preface to the play South, Green explains how “The magic name of Savannah transported [Green and his brothers and sisters] in a shady city of sycamores and magnolias, buzzling in the early freshness of dusk with the sound of the carriages and their dazzling wheels passing along the brick sidewalks and the houses of rather stern elegance” (South 48).[29]

        There are times, however, when the sense of the South seems insufficient for Green when he is trying to illustrate true abstractions: his play South in particular is essentially the story of miscommunication, of the North not able to understand the South, of lovers unable to communicate, of blind slaves who see better than their own masters the future destruction of a passing order. In this play, the characters are lacerated by the tension arising between deeply felt emotions and their inability to articulate these emotions (Wildgen 190). In Act III, in South, Ian says: “A word would be enough to open your eyes, but that very word, which I won’t speak, would seem more mysterious and more abominable to you than all the rest” (226).[30] The plot is carried along on misinformation, misunderstanding and various false assumptions, usually involving love. Here and like elsewhere in Green’s novels, the central drama is that of the conflict between sin and grace. Once again, how, then, is it possible to explain such a conflict that is infinite, a conflict that is not of a particular place and time, but is universal and unending.

        Once again, Green resorts to sensory images to explain the subjects of his metaphors: the need for intimacy between two people and misunderstanding of feelings. When describing her encounter with the young Erik Mac Clure, Angelina describes the scene as follows: “It was very dark, but between the branches of trees, the moon cast silver stains on the earth” and continues “Nothing is more real than the earth on a December night. This rough and bare surface, you feel it on your skin like the pain of a burn and like a great rough caress. I felt that between the earth and me there was an agreement like the one between two people who share a secret” (124-25).[31] For such abstract concepts, like sin and grace, like love and death, like human understanding and communication, Green, we could say, draws not on his personal sense of the South, but on what McHaney names the “intimations of the cosmos” that other Southern writers—Welty in particular—employed in their writing (6). In this example, the comparisons begin concretely—the branches of trees, stains on the earth—but then become as abstract as the subjects at hand—the moon, a burn, a caress.  Green reverses the figures: in this instance (and like Eudora Welty), Green makes the subjects (love, miscommunication, sin) clear, but the image that carries the meaning is not concrete, but fantastic, sensory images: a rough caress, the pain of a burn, a moon casting silver stains. Once again, Green intuits that to “understand the world,” whether it is the world of the South, love, or war, whether particular to one place or time or universal and of any or all time, one must “first detect it through the radar net of our senses” (Ackerman xv, qtd. in McHaney 9).

        When Quentin Compson is asked to tell about the South, his roommate Shreve, a Canadian, is trying to make sense of the South as something that is experienced and felt: “What is it? Something you live and breathe in like air? A kind of vacuum filled with wraithlike and indomitable anger and pride and glory at and in happenings that occurred and ceased fifty years ago?” (Absalom, Absalom! 289).[32] Green seems to have understood this need to approach the South as a sensual experience (what Shreve’s lines underline), understanding also what Faulkner (or Welty after him) was suggesting here; that to picture the invisible and to write the unsayable, one must resort to the use of the senses in the texts.

        The end result, as we have seen, is not a photograph of the South, or even a transposition of reality, but what Rouberol names “the presence of a spirit, of all the inheritance and all the experiences of a man rooted in his homeland” (27).[33] And it is precisely because the painting of the South does not result from a pre-established pattern that it can be truly faithful. As Claude Simon notes: “[o]f course, Art testifies, but in the second degree, and it reveals what it does not seek. What is important is what the author says (to him, to his time) against his will … Recognizing a novel’s existence by reference to a so-called reality is as useless as trying to assess the quality of a painting by its resemblance” (“Contre un roman”).[34]

        Green pictures the invisible and writes the unsayable by his use of the senses with two results. First, he creates a sense of the South, through passages that are replete with visual and olfactory senses. Second, Green’s sensory language gives meaning to the abstract, universal concepts such as joy, love, communication, and fear. Referring to the “one thing [that] is consistent among […] many Southern writers, [… that is, feeling] passionately about Place,” Welty once said, it is “[n]ot simply in the historical or philosophical connotation of the word,” “but in the sensory, meaning the breathing world of sight and smell and sound, in its earth and water and sky, its time and its seasons” (Occasions, 245, 165, qtd. in McHaney 2). Like Welty, Green may well have understood that one’s Southernness was probably best expressed in the use of sensory powers, that “great fiction,” as Welty argued, “shows us not how to conduct our behavior but how to feel” (Stories, Essays, & Memoir, 784, 810, qtd. in McHaney 10).


Works Cited

Armbrecht, Thomas J. D. At the Periphery of the Center: Sexuality and Literary Genre in the Works of Marguerite Yourcenar and Julien Green. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2007. Print.

Bruinius, Carmen K. “Why Southern Writers Still Captivate, 55 Years after ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’.” The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor, 5 July 2015. Web. 15/06/2018.

Fabiani, Daniela and D. Vicca, eds. J. Green voyageur, entre identité américaine et conscience européenne, in Julien Green et l’Europe. Paris : Le Manuscrit, 2012. 163-81. Print.

Faulkner, William. Absalom! Absalom!. 1936. New York: Vintage, 1990. Print.

Green, Julien. Julien Green, L’Expatrié, Journal, 8 février 1989. Seuil. 1990. Print.

—. Œuvres Complètes VI. Paris: Gallimard, Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, 1990. Print.

Greeson, Jennifer Rae. Our South: Geographic Fantasy and the Rise of National Literature. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2010. Print.

Hutcheon, Linda with Siobhan O’Flynn. A Theory of Adaptation, 2nd ed. London: Routledge, 2012.

Karem, Jeff. The Romance of Authenticity: The Cultural Politics of Regional and Ethnic Literatures. Charlottesville: U of Virginia P, 2004. Print.

McHaney, Pearl. “Eudora Welty: Sensing the Particular, Revealing the Universal in her Southern World.” Transatlantica 1 (2011) January 4, 2012. Web. 15/06/2018.

McPherson, Tara. Reconstructing Dixie: Race, Gender, and Nostalgia in the Imagined South. Durham: Duke UP, 2003. Print.

O’Brien, Michael. The Idea of the American South: 1920 – 1941. Baltimore: John Hopkins UP, 1990. Print.

Pavis, Patrice. The Intercultural Performance Reader. Routledge, 2006. Print.

Raclot, Michèle. “L’imaginaire américain dans l’œuvre romanesque de Julien Green.” Études Greeniennes 1 (2009): 15-29. Print.

Romine, Scott. The Real South: Southern Narrative in the Age of Cultural Reproduction. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 2014. Print.

Rouberol, Jean. L’Esprit du Sud dans l’œuvre de Faulkner. Paris: Didier-Érudition, 1982. Print.

Saint Jean, Robert (de) with Luc Estang. Julien Green. Paris: Seuil, 1967. Print.

Simon, Claude. “Contre un roman utilitaire.” Le Monde, March 8, 1967. Print.

Sorin, Raphaël. “Visite à Julien Green.” L’Express, 18 Jan, 1995. Web. 17/12/2014.

Stam, Robert. “Introduction.” Literature and Film: A Guide to the Theory and Practice of Film Adaptation. Robert Stam and Alessandra Raengo. Malden: Blackwell, 2005. 1-52.

Welty, Eudora. Place in Fiction New York: House of Books, 1957. Print.

—. Stories, Essays, & Memoir. New York: Library of America, 1998. Print.

—. Occasions: Selected Writings. Ed. Pearl Amelia McHaney. Jackson, Mississippi UP, 2009. Print.

Wildgen, Kathryn E. Julien Green: The Great Themes. Birmingham: Summa Publ., 1993. Print.


The Author:

Emmeline Gros is Associate Professor of English at the University of Toulon on the French Riviera. She is also the Chair of the Department of Applied Languages. She specializes in Southern American Literature and has written her Ph.D. dissertation on the figure of the Southern Gentleman and the reconstruction of masculinity in the Post-Civil War years. As a fellow of the Georgia Rotary Student Scholarship, she attended Georgia State University from 2002 to 2008 and then the Université of Versailles St Quentin en Yvelines in France from 2008 to 2010. She wrote her Ph.D. thesis under the international joint doctorate supervision of Dr. Thomas McHaney (GSU, USA) and Dr. Jacques Pothier (UVSQ, France) and has published articles on Ellen Glasgow, Eudora Welty, and Margaret Mitchell and given talks about John Pendleton Kennedy, Tennessee Williams, and various other American writers.


[1] Rouberol remarks, in particular, “the sentimental attraction of the South for many French people” (11) and gives us a rather exhaustive list of those French works that takes the South for locale: Le Sud by Yves Berger, Louisiana, Fausse-Rivière and Bagatelle by Maurice Dénuzière, or La Nuit du Mississippi by Pierre Danton.” Such a list should perhaps prompt us to ask ourselves, as Jean Rouberol rightly observes, “if one is not witnessing the birth of a French Southern novel, like there is an Italian Western” (11). Trying to identify the reasons that would push so many French writers to “locate” their novels in the American South could be the subject of another paper. One certainly does not need to be a Southerner to write about the South: Nobel Prize laureate Toni Morrison is a good example, notes Ted Ownby, director of the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi. Though she was born in Ohio, Ownby ranks her among the writers having produced some of the most powerful works about the South over the past 40 years.

[2] “The expatriate, this is what people call me on the other side of the Atlantic and how people on this side consider me. I agree to it [. . .] but I like to expand the meaning of the word Expatriate and look at it as indefinite. The older I get, the more I realize that none of us is really at home on this planet” (my translation). Qtd. in J. Green voyageur, entre identité américaine  et conscience européenne.

[3] Authenticity is problematic: “Although authenticity occupies a central place in critical judgments about marginal literature across the 20th Century, it is nonetheless highly problematic as a category of literary analysis. On what basis should judgments of authenticity be made?” (Karem 6).

[4] In his Journal, 20 May 1959, Green comments on his difficulty producing the decor for his play South: “Dîné chez René Clair. J’ai dit quelques mots de l’époque où se situe l’action de ma pièce, mais j’ai eu de grandes difficultés à faire comprendre le décor. Il a en effet ceci de compliqué qu’on doit avoir une idée de l’extérieur en même temps que de l’intérieur” (in Sud 259). Michèle Raclot, in “L’Imaginaire Américain dans l’Oeuvre Romanesque de Julien Green” explains that “Julien Green ne fait pas des romans historiques mais une épopée du Sud qui est bien plus qu’une simple toile de fond. Le nombre considérable des documents consultés par l’auteur lui a permis de brosser avec beaucoup de fidélité un tableau de la situation du Sud entre 1850 et 1861 : situation économique et politique, discours, élections, faits militaires. La première bataille de Manassas qui clôt le deuxième volume se veut un chef d’œuvre d’exactitude, bien qu’elle soit vécue du point de vue des personnages” (19).

[5] Certainly, and as Romine argues in his book The Real South, the South can be counterfeited and imitated, since the South is increasingly sustained as a virtual, commodified, built, themed, invented, or otherwise artificial territoriality” (9). Greenberg goes further, when defining the American South as “an essentially masquerade culture” (63), in which “appearances are everything and in which a genteel mise-en-scene of southernness is constructed via a carefully manipulated stage set of moonlight, magnolias, and manners” (qtd. in McPherson 150).

[6]  In May 1926, the future Agrarian Donald Davidson published an article examining the emergence of the South as a site of substantial literary production. Davidson called for a “generally autochthonous writer” who was not “narrowly provincial.” He complained that most Southern writers had confined themselves to local color subjects that the “Northern critic” approves: “Is one necessarily Southern when one writes about negroes, mountaineers, or poor whites? He asked. In fact, for many contemporary Southern writers, the old traditions of the South have become burdensome clichés. Pat Conroy, author of “The Prince of Tides,” joked in 1985 that his mother, “Southern to the bone,” once told him, “All Southern literature can be summed up in these words: ‘On the night the hogs ate Willie, Mama died when she heard what Daddy did to Sister.’” (“Why Southern Writers Still Captivate”). It is thus preferable to understand that “the South that [writers] hold collectively in [their] minds is not—could not possibly be—a fixed or real place. It both exceeds and flattens place; It is a term of the imagination, a site of national fantasy” (1).

[7] “Je crois que j’appellerai cette pièce Le Lieutenant Ian au lieu de Sud qui peut prêter à confusion. En effet, ce n’est pas une pièce historique que j’ai voulu faire” (9 Sep. 1952 à Robert de St Jean) [. . .] “Je ne suis plus sûr du tout que Sud soit un bon titre [. . . craignant] que le public ne soit lancé, à cause de cela, sur une fausse piste et qu’on attende une pièce sur la Guerre de Sécession” (27 Dec. 1952). Quoted in “Présentation.” Introduction. Sud. Paris: Flammarion, 2008.

[8] O’Brien, provocatively described the South as “centrally an intellectual perception…which has served to comprehend and weld an unintegrated social reality… “The South” has taken on a psychological reality” (The Idea of the American South xiv).

[9] : “cette vieille épicerie en Ecosse qui n’est pas ‘sans rapport avec les captivantes épiceries de village d’Amérique’” J. Green, Journal (7 juillet 1979), in Œuvres Complètes, ed. cit., t. VI, 1990, 636.

[10] Green : Hammerfest est “morne comme une petite ville américaine […] Quand je vois les rues sans arbres et les maisons carrées d’Hammerfest, je me rappelle l’insupportable neurasthénie des petites villes américaines que j’ai connues.”

[11] Green : «Je ne suis ni un historien ni un fabricant de sagas. Dans ces romans, l’histoire n’est que le fond sur lequel s’inscrivent et évoluent des destins. Je m’intéresse aux sentiments des personnages. Les événements, victoires ou défaites, n’interviennent que pour modifier la trajectoire d’existences dont j’ai presque tout inventé” (Sorin).

[12] Tout au long de sa vie, “cette identité (…) léguée par sa famille se raréfie du point de vue du contact matériel et se cristallise en mémoire” (Fabiani 168).

[13] Green: “Je me suis plutôt laissé conduire par des images flottantes, des impressions oubliées, des souvenirs et des sentiments d’autrefois qui me revenaient brusquement” (Sorin).

[14] Green : “une exploration dans une Amérique qui n’est plus. Le plus court chemin pour l’atteindre est l’enfance de l’auteur et ce qu’il avait retenu des souvenirs familiaux” (48).

[15] “Une trentaine de marches les mena à une longue véranda protégée des jardins avoisinants par un treillage de bois peint en vert. L’entrecroisement des milliers de baguettes laissait filtrer une lumière adoucie et tout au fond, voyant sans être vu dans ce lieu à l’écart, on pouvait être sûr de n’être entendu de personne. Ne manquaient pas les fauteuils à bascule, mais instinctivement Elizabeth et Billy préférèrent rester debout. Admirable décor pour entretiens secrets, fit Billy avec un rire d’étudiant blagueur. Mais je n’y retrouve pas notre Sud” (132-33).

[16] “Dans la nuit d’avril, la nuit répandit sur la plantation sa lumière laiteuse, donnant à ce paysage familier l’aspect irréel d’une vision de rêve malgré ‘extraordinaire précision de détails” (337).

[17] “Sa chambre de naguère, il l’avait chargée de trop de rêves avec les histoires ténébreuses dont sa mère avait peuplé les minutes d’avant le sommeil, chaque soir, pendant de longs mois… Tout s’évanouissait dans ce nouveau décor. Les mots n’existaient pas pour le dire” (217).

[18] Des basses branches de tous ces arbres centenaires (…) pendaient les longs rideaux de mousse vert-de-gris aux franges sans cesse remuées par la moindre brise. Elizabeth pouvait se croire dans un des rêves du Sud qu’elle avait connus à Dimwood” (Les Etoiles du Sud 64).

[19] “Quels mots employer pour décrire ce qui échappe au langage?” (de Saint Jean and Estang 109).[19]

[20] Memories of Happy Days, his autobiographical work, written in English, this time, was awarded the Harper Prize.

[21] “La langue anglaise ne provoque jamais en moi ce désir de perfection littéraire que me donne le français et j’ai le sentiment de l’écrire d’une main qui tremble toujours de faire dévier la phrase” (521).[21] Cf. Green, Journal 25 juillet 1940. La Pléiade, Tome IV.

[22] Cf. Julien Green, The Great Themes; Chapter “Julien Green and the Literary Artist” pages 187-231. Green argued that distortion was the words’ raison d’être, even the destruction of ideas: “Il y a des jours où ce qui est exprimable me parait si loin de l’essentiel que je me demande si cela vaut la peine d’écrire. Les mots qu’il faut mettre en rang comme de vieux chiens savants, fatigués des tours qu’on exige de leur bonne volonté…” (8 Sept. 38). Or when he says : “les mots provoquent le malentendu ; on dirait qu’ils le veulent et que c’est leur rôle” (30 janv. 39). [“words cause misunderstanding; it looks like it is what they want and that this is their role”.]

[23] Erik Mac Clure, the other young gentleman, traces the same failure in words: “J’ai l’impression que tous ces mots don’t vous (Ian) vous servez dissimulent ce que vous n’osez dire” (221) / “I have the impression that all the words you use serve to hide what you’re afraid of saying” (220). “Pourtant je sens trop bien que je ne pourrai jamais vous dire ce qui est en moi (…) Tout me ferme la bouche” (221).

[24] Quoted in Julien Green, The Great Themes, 190.

[25] Julien Green, Oeuvres Complètes, Paris, Gallimard, Collection de la Pléiade, Tome III. “Le coeur battant, je reconnais un paysage du Sud dont me parlait ma mère, les arbres gigantesques drapés dans les magnifiques oripeaux que leur fait cette étrange mousse vert-de-gris. Une grande plantation du Sud, par un dimanche après-midi d’avril, et sur cette maison si fière et si sûre d’elle, la menace d’une grande destruction (…) le séisme, cette fois, et dans cette partie du monde que je connais bien, ce sera la guerre atroce qui accouchera sur le sol de centaines de milliers de jeunes américains” (1722).

[26] “Octobre s’avançait dans une tiédeur exquise encore pleine des odeurs rodant le long de tous les jardins de la ville. Dans les avenues mêmes, l’air grisait par bouffées soudaines selon les caprices du vent. Ce n’était pas encore la saison des grandes soirées” (Les Etoiles du Sud 44).

[27] Smell comes back throughout this chapter: “la jeune femme dut se laisser guider par la senteur si tristement familière pour trouver enfin, épanouie dans une coupelle de verre, la fleur aux pétales d’une blancheur de lait cernés de sombres feuilles pointues” (85) / “une odeur exquise [qui] flottait dans l’air autour d’elle, et sa gorge se serra. Un magnolia … Lourd de trop de souvenirs, ce parfum faisait revivre un moment à jamais aboli dans la suite des jours” (Les Etoiles du Sud 85).

[28] Also found page 106 in Stars of the South. “le parfum [qui] lui en était familier depuis toujours. C’était l’odeur du Sud” (Les Etoiles du Sud 90).

[29] Also found page 524: “Les pins faisaient entendre le murmure du vent dans leurs cimes, et cette voix douce et confuse semblait chuchoter des secrets dans une langue inconnue.” / “One could hear the wind whistling through the pines, at the top, and that sweet and confused voice seemed to whisper secrets in an unknown language” (Stars of the South 524). In his play South, “Le nom magique de Savannah nous transportait dans une ville ombragée de sycomores et de magnolias, animée dès les premières fraîcheurs du crépuscule par le bruit des calèches aux roues éblouissantes, le long des trottoirs de brique rose et des maisons d’une élégance un peu sévère” (Sud 48).

[30] “Il me suffirait d’un mot pour vous ouvrir les yeux mais ce mot que je meurs de ne pouvoir dire vous semblerait plus mystérieux et plus abominable que tout le reste” (227, Green’s translation).

[31] “Il faisait très sombre, mais entre les branches des arbres, la lune jetait des taches d’argent sur la terre” and continues “Rien n‘est vrai comme la terre par une nuit de décembre. Cette surface rude et nue, tu la sens sur ta peau comme une brûlure et comme une grande caresse rugueuse. J’ai senti qu’entre la terre et moi il y avait un accord comme entre deux personnes qui se sont dit un secret” (124-25, Green’s translation).

[32] “Tell about the South. What it’s like there. What do they do there. Why do they live there. Why do they live at all” (Absalom, Absalom!, 142). Exiled in the Massachusetts winter, Southerner Quentin Compson finds himself repeatedly assaulted by the uncomprehending inquisitiveness of his fellow students. As his roommate, a Canadian, collaborates with him telling fact from legend about the larger than life legendary figure of Thomas Sutpen, he tries to get a sense of the region.

[33] “une photographie [du Sud], ni même une transposition de la réalité, mais la présence d’un esprit, de tout l’héritage et de tout le vécu d’un homme enraciné dans son pays natal” (Rouberol 27). As a consequence, and as Rouberol explains that “the Southern writers’ anchoring in a local reality cannot be confused with the will to cultivate the picturesque for itself […] The Southern artist does not reproduce his milieu: he collides with it, he struggles in it, with fury sometimes” (“l’ancrage dans une réalité locale ne saurait être confondu avec la volonté de cultiver le pittoresque pour lui-même […] L’artiste sudiste ne reproduit pas son milieu : il se collette avec lui, il se débat dedans, avec fureur parfois” 25).

[34] See Simon: “Naturellement, inévitablement même, l’art témoigne, mais au second degré, et il témoigne d’autant plus qu’il ne l’a pas cherché. Ce qui est important comme témoignage, c’est ce que l’auteur dit (de lui, de son époque) à son insu… Vouloir faire exister un roman par référence à une dite réalité, c’est comme si on jugeait de la qualité d’une peinture par sa ressemblance” (“Contre un roman utilitaire,” Le Monde, 8 mars 1967).