Authors: Robert Pinget

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

French novelist and playwright

Author Works

Long Fiction:

Mahu: Ou, Le Matériau, 1952 (Mahu: Or, The Material, 1966)

Le Renard et la boussole, 1953

Graal flibuste, 1956

Baga, 1958 (English translation, 1967)

Le Fiston, 1959 (No Answer, 1961; also known as Mr. Levert)

Clope au dossier, 1961

L’Inquisitoire, 1962 (The Inquisitory, 1966)

Quelqu’un, 1965 (Someone, 1984)

Le Libéra, 1968 (The Libera Me Domine, 1972)

Passacaille, 1969 (Recurrent Melody, 1975; also known as Passacaglia, 1978)

Fable, 1971 (English translation, 1980)

Cette voix, 1975 (That Voice, 1982)

L’Apocryphe, 1980 (The Apocrypha, 1980)

Monsieur Songe, 1982 (English translation, 1989)

Le Harnais, 1984

Charrue, 1985

L’Ennemi, 1987 (The Enemy, 1991)

Du nerf, 1990 (Be Brave, 1995)

Théo: Ou, Le Temps neuf, 1991 (Theo: Or, The New Era, 1995)

Taches d’encre, 1997 (Traces of Ink, 2000)

Short Fiction:

Entre Fantoine et Agapa, 1951 (Between Fantoine and Agapa, 1982)


Lettre morte, pr., pb. 1959 (Dead Letter, 1963)

Architruc, pr., pb. 1961 (English translation, 1967)

Ici ou ailleurs, pr., pb. 1961 (Clope, 1963)

L’Hypothèse, pr., pb. 1961 (The Hypothesis, 1967)

Plays, pb. 1963, revised pb. 1967

Identité, pr., pb. 1971

Abel et Bela, pr., pb. 1971 (Abel and Bela, 1987)

Paralchimie, pr., pb. 1973

Un Testament bizarre, et autre pieces, pb. 1986 (A Bizarre Will, and Other Plays, 1989; includes Un Testament bizarre [A Bizarre Will], Mortin pas mort [Mortin Not Dead], Dictée [Dictation], Sophisme et sadisme [Sophism and Sadism], Le Chrysanthème [The Chrysanthemum], and Lubie [English translation])

Radio Plays:

La Manivelle, 1960 (The Old Tune, 1963)

Autour de Mortin, 1965 (About Mortin, 1967)

Lubie, 1981


Robert Pinget à la lettre, 1993


The creator of the fictional realm of Fantoine and Agapa, Robert Pinget (pihn-zhay) explored the limits of language in his novels and plays. After receiving a law degree from the University of Geneva and practicing briefly he had turned first to visual art, then to literature. In 1951 he published a collection of short stories, Between Fantoine and Agapa, at his own expense. Mahu, his first novel, appeared the following year and received a favorable review from the French avant-garde writer Alain Robbe-Grillet. His next novel, Le Renard et la boussole (the fox and the compass), came out under the prestigious imprint of Gallimard, whose reader, Albert Camus, found the work impressive. Subsequent fiction also enjoyed critical acclaim: In 1963 The Inquisitory won the Prix des Critiques, and Someone received the Prix Femina two years later. A Ford Foundation grant in 1960 and a sabbatical subsidized by the French government (1975-1976) paid further tribute to his literary achievement.{$I[AN]9810000944}{$I[A]Pinget, Robert}{$I[geo]SWITZERLAND;Pinget, Robert}{$I[geo]FRANCE;Pinget, Robert}{$I[tim]1919;Pinget, Robert}

Pinget’s career as a dramatist was as productive as his efforts as a novelist. In 1959 he translated Samuel Beckett’s All That Fall (pr., pb. 1957) into French; Beckett returned the favor by rendering La Manivelle into The Old Tune, which was aired by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) on August 23, 1960. In that same year Pinget’s Dead Letter shared the stage with Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape (pr., pb. 1958). Despite his 1968 vow to stop writing, Pinget continued to produce experimental literature that challenged his audiences to discover meaning in a world of chaos.

Always an innovator, Pinget shared his compatriot Robbe-Grillet’s view that literature should be “an exploration, but an exploration which itself creates its own significations as it proceeds.” Robbe-Grillet adds to his statement, “We no longer believe in the fixed significations, the ready-made meanings which offered man the old divine order and subsequently the rationalist order of the nineteenth century.” Hence language, and identity that springs from it, is constantly in flux. In Identité (identity), the protagonist, Mortin, wishing to discuss his doctor, speaks of l’analyse (analysis). The maid, Naomi, hears Anne-Lise and so shifts the conversation to that woman. In That Voice, the reader cannot be sure whether a leaflet advertises coppers or copiers, whether “a candle was burning at the deceased’s bedside” or “a handle was churning up his diseased backside.”

Personality is as fluid as words. In The Old Tune, Pommard and Toupin recount their early lives. The two sound alike, making them indistinguishable in the radio play, and each seems more familiar with the other’s life than with his own. Levert (Dead Letter) talks to a bartender, then to a clerk, about his missing son. These two listeners may be the same person as well as the son Levert seeks. Two minor figures in that piece, Fred and Lili, claim to act with Bed and Quiqui, whose names are similar to their own, and in the play that Fred and Lili perform they assume their colleagues’ roles. The title characters of Abel et Bela have names and pasts that are virtually identical.

Nothing is certain in Pinget’s works. Why does the young Theodore in That Voice live with his uncle? According to one version, the youth exploits the old man; another account claims that Alexandre was abusing his nephew. How did Alexandre die? Did Theodore stab him? Did Alexandre’s housekeeper, Marie, kill him? Perhaps her nephew, Louis, murdered his aunt’s employer. Perhaps Alexandre died naturally.

At the beginning of the second act of Clope the title character gropes in the dark for a clue that will reveal his past to him and so allow him to make sense of his life. All Pinget’s characters are embarked on similar quests as they try to understand themselves and their surroundings. Like Clope, they are doomed because ambiguity reigns in Pinget’s fiction, as it does in the late twentieth century world he records. Geography, language, identity, motivation–they all shift. As Baga tells Architruc, “There’s no ‘life.’ There’s you.”

Such a view can be tragic for those seeking definite answers, but it can also be liberating. Because reality is subjective, people can be whatever and whoever they want to be and to do whatever they wish. Existence is a kaleidoscope: Lacking a single pattern, it has many; thus characters, writers, and readers are free to mold themselves and their environment. As Friedrich Nietzsche observed, “There must be chaos that new worlds may be born.”

BibliographyChambers, Ross. The World Around Mortin: A Reading of Robert Pinget’s “Autour de Mortin.” North Ryde, Australia: Macquarie University, School of Modern Languages, 1973. Offers a close reading and interpretation of Pinget’s radio play, Autour de Mortin.Esslin, Martin. The Theatre of the Absurd. 3d ed. New York: Penguin Books, 1991. Examines an important movement in twentieth century drama, one with which Pinget has been associated. Some specific discussion of Pinget included. Bibliography and index.Fetzer, Glenn W. “A Critical Bibliography of Robert Pinget.” Review of Contemporary Fiction 3 (1983). Listing of forty-one books, articles, and reviews in French and English; provides a good starting place for the student seeking additional information on the writer.Henkels, Robert M., Jr. Robert Pinget: The Novel as Quest. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1979. Examines the overriding theme of search and journey in Pinget’s works.Livingstone, Beverly. “From A to F and Back: Pinget’s Fictive Arena.” Yale French Studies 57 (1979). Through a close reading of Someone, Livingstone explores Pinget’s fictional world.Mercier, Vivian. The New Novel from Queneau to Pinget. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1971. Includes discussion of Pinget.Oppenheim, Lois, ed. Three Decades of the French New Novel. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1986. Includes discussion of Pinget.Review of Contemporary Fiction 3, no. 2 (Summer, 1983). Entire issue is devoted to Pinget and Jack Kerouac.Rosmarin, Leonard A. Robert Pinget. New York: Twayne, 1995. Provides criticism and interpretation of Pinget’s life and works. Bibliography and index.Updike, John. “Grove Is My Press and Avant My Garde.” The New Yorker, November 4, 1967. An appreciation that concentrates on The Inquisitory.Updike, John. “Pinget.” The New Yorker, September 17, 1979. An appreciation that concentrates on The Libera Me Domine and Recurrent Melody.
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