Jules Gabriel Janin - Encyclopedia

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JULES GABRIEL JANIN (1804-1874), French critic, was born at St Etienne (Loire) on the 16th of February 1804, and died near Paris on the 19th of June 1874. His father was a lawyer, and he was well educated, first at St Etienne, and then at the lycee Louis-le-Grand in Paris. He betook himself to journalism very early, and worked on the Figaro, the Quotidienne, &c., until in 1830 he became dramatic critic of the Journal des Debats. Long before this, however, he had made a considerable literary reputation, for which indeed his strange novel L'Ane mort et la femme guillotinee (1829) would have sufficed. La Confession (1830), which followed, was less remarkable in substance but even more so in style; and in Barnave (1831) he attacked the Orleans family. From the day, however, when Janin became the theatrical critic of the Debats, though he continued to write books indefatigably, he was to most Frenchmen a dramatic critic and nothing more. He was outrageously inconsistent, and judged things from no general point of view whatsoever, though his judgment was usually good-natured. Few journalists have ever been masters of a more attractive fashion of saying the first thing that came into their heads. After many years of .feuilleton writing he collected some of his articles in the work called Histoire de la litterature dramatique en France (1853-1858), which by no means deserves its title. In 1865 he made his first attempt upon the Academy, but was not successful till five years later. Meanwhile he had not been content with his feuilletons, written persistently about all manner of things. No one was more in request with the Paris publishers for prefaces, letterpress to illustrated books and such trifles. He travelled (picking up in one of his journeys a curious windfall, a country house at Lucca, in a lottery), and wrote accounts of his travels; he wrote numerous tales and novels, and composed many other works, of which by far the best is the Fin d'un monde et du neveu de Rameau (1861), in which, under the guise of a sequel to Diderot's masterpiece, he showed his great familiarity with the late 18th century. He married in 1841; his wife had money, and he was always in easy circumstances. In the early part of his career he had many quarrels, notably one with Felix Pyat (1810-1889), whom he prosecuted successfully for defamation of character. For the most part his work is mere improvisation, and has few elements of vitality except a light and vivid style. His Ouvres choisies (12 vols., 1875-1878)were edited by A. de la Fitzeliere.

A study on Janin with a bibliography was published by A. Piedagnel in 1874. See also Sainte-Beuve, Causeries du lundi, ii. and v., and Gustave Planche, Portraits litteraires.

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