Autobiographical elements in Hervé Bazin’s novel


In a letter to his biographer, Jean Anglade, Bazin warns against an automatic assumption that he is drawing a self-portrait in the character of Jean Rezeau or in the characters of his other books.  He says that a novel is not an autobiography for its characters have elements not only of what one agreed to become but also of what one did not allow oneself to become. Elsewhere however, Bazin admits that the boundaries between autobiography and fiction are difficult to define. On the back cover of the 1965 edition of this novel he writes:
“De l’autobiographie et de la fiction le mélange est si intime que je m’y trompe.”

An analysis of “Vipère au poing” shows continual and very strong autobiographical links.  There is a mass of detail that Hervé Bazin includes in his story of the Rezeau which reflects closely and often reflects exactly the true history of his own Bazin family.  Some examples are given in the following list.

Resemblances between the story of Jean Rezeau and Jean Hervé Bazin’s life

The story of the Rezeau family

The true life story of Hervé Bazin

            (1) The setting

The home of the Rezeau family is 30 km to the north-west of Angers, in the region of the Craonnais .


Bazin was born and died in Angers and this area of France was the ancestral home of the Bazin  family.

(2) the family coat of arms

the Rezeau have their coat of arms in the salon -page 144 chapter XXI
“de gueules au lion d’or passant” showing the aristocratic connections of their ancestors.

The Bazin family was entitled through an ancestor Charles Hervé to these same armorial bearings.

(3) The famous literary great uncle

René Rezeau whose funeral in 1932 is described in chapter 2 was a member of the French Academy for nearly 30 years. He was a famous conservative, Catholic novelist.

Hervé’s great uncle, René Bazin(1853- 1932) was a member of the French Academy and was a famous conservative, Catholic novelist.

(4) The grandmother

His grandmother, Marie Rezeau looked after two of her grandsons until her death, while  their parents were in Shanghai – from Jean’s 4th to 8th years.
When one of Jacques Rezeau’s sisters became impoverished, he helped her secretly by making over to her the income from his mother’s writings.

His grandmother, Marie Bazin, looked after her three grandsons until her death in 1920, during the absence of their parents in Shanghai, from Jean’s 7th to 9th years.

She had been an authoress and her books were published.

The Uncle

 Jean’s uncle, Michel Rezeau (the killer of dead snakes!), was a senior dignitary of the Church.  He was Vicaire General de Tunisie and Pronotaire Apostolique.

The author’s real-life uncle, Michel Hervé Bazin was Vicaire General de Tunisie and Pronotaire Apostolique.

The Father

Jean’s father had an admirable academic and military background:
Jacques Hervé Rezeau had been Prof of Law at the Catholic University of Shanghai. He had enlisted in the 1914-18 war and had been decorated for bravery see chapter 14
He was a keen entomologist

Hervé Bazin’s father –academic and soldier
Jacques Hervé Bazin had been Prof of Law at the Catholic University of Shanghai. He had enlisted in the 1914-18 war and had been awarded the Croix de Guerre  for bravery

He was a keen entomologist

The Mother

Jean Rezeau’s mother was Paule Rezeau, née Pluvignec.  She married in 1913, going straight from school to marriage

The author’s mother was Jeanne Geneviève Marie Paule Hervé Bazin, née Guilloteaux. She married in about 1909, when she was 18

The eldest son

The eldest son was Ferdinand– Frédie nickname Chiffe

Jean Hervé Bazin’s elder brother was
Ferdinand Hervé Bazin

The second son

The second son (who is relating this story) is
Jean Rezeau, nicknamed Brasse- Bouillon

Jean Hervé Bazin is the full name of the author of Vipère au Poing

The third son

There are three sons and the third is Marcel Rezeau, nicknamed Cropette

The Bazin family had a third son but no name match here!  He was called Pierre Hervé Bazin

The governess

The governess, who defended the Rezeau children from Folcoche, was Mlle Ernestine Lion

Jean Hervé Bazin’s governess in early childhood was Mlle Ernestine Lion - Bazin retains her name as a tribute to her.

The long-serving household cook

The Rezeau had a deaf-mute cook inherited from the Grandma.  She accepted later to be treated as a general servant, but retained her independence from Folcoche.  Her name
Was Alphonsine nicknamed Fine

A memorable servant of the Bazin family was Mlle. Alphonsine Gohier.  Bazin retains her name as a tribute to her.

Education from tutor priests in the family home

The various priests -- seven in total who were tutors to the boys of the Rezeau family. This was necessary as their parents could not afford to send them to Jesuit school, and would not send them to the local peasant school.

The Bazin family had a continual procession of what were described as somewhat doubtful cleric tutors.

Similar events in Jean Rezeau’s family and in Jean Bazin's family
The following is just a sample list of the countless similarities and are referred to briefly as they are dealt with more fully elsewhere in these notes

The astonishing performance of the mother on being re-united with her sons.

Mme. Rezeau was cold and aggressive on greeting her two sons after her absence in China

Mme Hervé-Bazin greeted her three sons in much the same way on her return from China

The extreme harshness of the children’s education.

The extreme harshness of Mme Rezeau’s education led her three sons to draw up a declaration of rights. When Jean was 14, they successfully demanded that they should be sent to boarding school.

The extreme harshness of Mme Hervé-Bazin’s education led to her three sons drawing a petition demanding to be sent to boarding school.

Attempted escapes

Jean Rezeau (after the attempted in drowning in the boating incident) ran away to Paris.

Jean Hervé-Bazin, having been placed in a boarding school, ran away and was expelled from the school as a result.

Locked cupboards and illicit keys

Jean Rezeau forges keys to get into the locked food cupboards.

Jean Hervé-Bazin forged a key so that he could open the locked bookcases to read the books of the leading modern novelists whose reading was forbidden by the Index of the Vatican

Family snobbery

To the Rezeau family, contact with the common people was to be avoided

Jean Hervé-Bazin met the same attitude when he married a working-class wife. He had fallen in love with this beautiful girl, Odette Danigo, who worked in a factory managed by his uncle. They had eloped. His parents induced him to leave her, by offering him the opportunity to study for a degree course.

Each boy’s rejection of authority.

Jean Rezeau says that his education has maimed him for life.
He cannot accept authority.

Jean Hervé-Bazin constantly rebelled against authority. He was expelled from three schools.
He stole his father's car to escape to Paris.

Relationship and emotional problems.

Jean Rezeau believes that he cannot maintain a loving relationship.  His attitude to the peasant girl, whom he seduces, is most reprehensible

Among Hervé Bazin’s relationship problems was the failure, in 1936, of his marriage to his first wife, Odette.
Hervé Bazin spent periods in mental asylums from 1937 to 1940.

The deep mother hatred

The main theme of Jean Rezeau’s story is his hatred for the mother whom he could never call mama, but whom they called behind her back, Folcoche.

On publication of his novel “Vipère au Poing” the French public had no doubt that Hervé Bazin was describing his own mother and this exhibition of mother hatred aroused  great outrage from many readers and book  reviewers.

His rejection of religion:

Jean Rezeau grows to regard all faith as deception (page169)and he is certain that he will have to hold the Viper of hatred,  of despair, and of disbelief, all his life.
He abominated the daily family confession instituted by Mme Rezeau.




Jean Hervé-Bazin was expelled from one school for stamping on a rosary. He resented having to make confession to a priest.