Jules et Jim

First published in 1953, this is a title that to me has gained almost mythical status, partly because of the iconic film by François Truffaut, released in 1962 and partly for me, because of it’s absolutely joyous cover photograph taken by Raymond Cauchetier and yet it’s taken me until now to read, and I still haven’t seen the film

Henri-Pierre Roché was in his mid-seventies when he wrote Jules et Jim, his semi-autobiographical novel. He is Jim, ‘Djim not Zheem’ and Jules is his best friend in real life Franz Hessel (Proust’s first translator into German).

In Paris, at the start of the twentieth century the two live a carefree bohemian life. Writing and translating, they travel as the mood takes them sharing everything and everyone without jealousy.

They decide to go to Greece and find a statue of a goddess with an archaic smile, ‘her smile was a floating presence, powerful, youthful, thirsty for kisses and perhaps for blood.’ They don’t talk about her until one day they ask each other what they would do if they ever met such a smile? ‘Follow it.’ Then they see Kate, she has the smile of the statue, and the three are bound together.

‘A perfect hymn to love and perhaps to life.‘ Francois Truffaut

This wasn’t what I was expecting, well, perhaps the first half was. The back cover blurb says: ‘it captures perfectly, with excitement and great humour, the tenderness of three people in love with each other and with life.’ And to start with this is true, it isn’t a menage et trois, as such. They are three independent souls, together but individuals, equal in their rights. Kate starts with the smile, but she has a force ‘she is Napoleon‘ says Jim. The spirit of adventure, the descriptions of travel and discovery are what I was expecting.

And then it changed and became all grown up and messy. Even these three spirits become entangled in marriage and children and children that they can’t have, and the behaviour seemed to move from spontaneous and fun to reckless and tawdry. Jules decides to stay in his study with his books and read, and I was completely with him.

What I continued to love though was the writing. It’s incredibly spare in a way that reminded me of Hemingway but it’s soft and lyrical. Open at any page and there are beautiful lines, this is Jules and Jim meeting after years apart:

‘1919. Peace. They resumed their correspondence. . . And their long conversation, which had been merely interrupted, began again. Each found that the other had matured, in his own way, but not changed.’

I’m glad I’ve read this even if it wasn’t everything I’d hoped. Henri-Pierre Roché was born in Paris in 1879; an art dealer and journalist he mixed with the avant-garde set in Paris at the beginning of the twentieth century and is credited with introducing Gertrude Stein to Picasso. Reading this felt as if I was dipping my feet into that incredibly exciting time again.

9 thoughts on “Jules et Jim

    1. It was good to finally get around to reading it and I might now watch the film but I haven’t raced to it which says it all really (I’m interested that you don’t really remember it!) Oh dear!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Exactly Rose, they will just keep laughing! I hope you do read it, I’d love to know what you think, it isn’t long at all and you might have a completely different take on it.

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s