Hervé Bazin – full name Jean-Pierre Hervé Bazin- (his publishers, Grasset, required him to shorten his name to “Hervé Bazin”),   was born in Angers in April 1911 and died in Angers at the age 84, in February 1996

The literary works of Hervé Bazin
From his student days in his twenties and through to his late thirties, poetry was Bazin’s main interest.  He published two collections of poems.  For the first collection, “Jour” (1947), he was awarded the “Prix Apollinaire”.  However, the leading French poet, Paul Valéry, told him with characteristic bluntness that he was not gifted for poetry and to try writing prose instead.

He began to work feverishly to produce his new prose writings and his first novel, “Vipère au Poing”, was accepted for publication in 1948. At this time, in post-war France, the contemporary mood favoured decorum and hiding one’s feelings.  Bazin’s first novel was in complete contravention of this, written with uncompromising frankness on the subject of his very personal experiences. The book caused great public controversy and the extensive publicity was helpful in making the book a best-seller.
It was mainly critics on the conservative right who condemned the book and the Catholic Church  was deeply offended.  They found it shocking that the grandnephew of an internationally revered Catholic writer, René Bazin, should have the disloyalty and bad taste to besmirch his own highly respected  family, by describing  the sacred relationship of mother and child in extreme terms of hatred and violence.

Undeterred by the hostility that he had encountered with “Vipère au poing”, Bazin published a second novel the following year, and wrote with the same personal directness.  “La tête contre les murs” tells of the conflict between father and son in the environment of mental institutions.  Although this bitter work stemmed from the author’s personal experiences, it is not included in the Rezeau trilogy as it is set outside the family home and the conflicts there. “La tête contre les murs” is based on Bazin’s experiences when he was confined to mental asylums for treatment during the period 1937- 1940. This book did not prove popular with either critics or public, but ten years after its publication, the World Health Organisation commissioned a report from Bazin on the strength of this book, and this was published in 1959 under the title of “La fin des  asiles”

Bazin’s next novel, “La mort du petit cheval”, published in 1950, brought him literary success once again.  This was the second book in the Rezeau triology, telling how Folcoche, after the death of their father, tried to deprive the two elder boys of their legacies in favour of her youngest son.  The third book, completing the Rezeau trilogy appeared much later.  “Le cri de la chouette”, was published after a gap of over twenty years, in 1972.

Bazin became one of the most important and prolific French authors of this period. He wrote in total about 50 works, the majority of which were novels. Besides the books of the Rezeau trilogy, his main novels were: « Lève-toi et marche » (1952), « Qui j’ose aimer »(1956), « Au nom du fils » (1960),  « Le matrimoine » (1967), « Madame Ex » (1975), « Ce que je crois » (1977), « L’église verte » (1981), « Le démon de minuit » (1988), « L’école des pères » (1991).  Many of his works were adapted as plays for the theatre, cinema and television drama. His works were translated into 45 languages, and sold millions of copies.
He became a well-known personality in the media, easily recognisable by his big bulky figure and his distinctive pudding hairstyle. He frequently appeared on television.  Mme Rezeau had predicted for her second son, Jean, a career, of which he would have no right to be proud, page 169:
- Ne fais pas cette tête de conquérant, mon petit ami. Je te prédis, moi, ta mère, un avenir dont tu n'auras pas le droit d'être fier.          

If Jean Bazin’s mother had made the same prediction for him, the events of his life would have shown her to have been profoundly mistaken.


Personal relationships in the life of Hervé Bazin.

In his teens Jean Rezeau feared that his mother’s upbringing had left him incapable of achieving a loving relationship with a woman.  He would need to make all women pay for the suffering that Folcoche had inflicted on him.  In his thoughts he tells her,  Page 154:
Tu n'es qu'une femme, et toutes les femmes paieront plus ou moins pour toi. J'exagère? Écouter.. L'homme qui souille une femme souille toujours un peu sa mère. 

Luckily, however, in real life, Jean Hervé Bazin appears to have overcome this destructive childhood legacy. It is true that there were many problems in his early relationships with women, but later in life he had successful loving partnerships and marriages and his image was of a family man.
In 1928, he met a girl called Noémie, who partly inspired the character of Micou in “La mort du petit cheval”. There was a lot of trauma in Hervé’s  life at this period: he stole his father’s car to escape to Paris. He crashed the car and suffered serious head injuries.   Noémie’ s father terminated their relationship in 1931.

After this, his family found him a post in a chemical factory, where his uncle was the manager  Here he fell in love with a beautiful blonde called, Odette Danigo.  His parents opposed the match, and he eloped with her.  To entice him from her, his parents arranged for Hervé to take a degree course at the Sorbonne on condition that he gave up Odette.  Hervé accepted the course but continued to see Odette, whom he married in 1934.  His parents were not present at the ceremony.  Hervé and Odette had a son, but the marriage did not work out and they split up in 1936.

He got married for a second time in 1945 to Jacqueline Dussolier, who bore him four children.  It was during the early years of this marriage that he worked hard to produce his first novels., After the success of his writings, Bazin was able to devote himself exclusively to literature.

In 1967, he divorced his second wife and married his third, Monique Serre-Gray, with whom he had one child.  This was not to be his last marriage because in 1988 he married his fourth wife, Odile L’Hermitte, who was forty years younger than he was and his last son was born when he was in his seventies.

Although this tumultuous history has little resemblance to stable conventional family life, it is not the life of hatred that Jean Rezeau had foretold for himself, page 142, where, if he tasted the sweetness of love, he would spit love out.  Biographers assure us that he was a very doting father and grandfather, who was able to offer the love which he himself had never known as a child.


Hervé Bazin’s relationship with his mother in later life.


On page 142 of Vipère au poing, Jean Rezeau had sworn that he would be a rebel against everything which the Rezeau stood for and he would be the punishment of his mother’s old age.
Page 142 - Je suis la justice immanente de ton crime, unique dans l'histoire des mères. Je suis ton vivant châtiment, qui te promet, qui te fera une vieillesse unique dans l'histoire de la piété filiale.

It would seem that Jean Hervé Bazin like his fictitious refletion did become the punishment for his mother’s old age.  He gave her national and international notoriety by his portrayal of her as a monstrous and unnatural mother.  It is surprising, therefore, that Mme Bazin is quoted as saying that all he had succeeded in doing was making her famous.

It is true that a large body of opinion in France rallied to her support, regarding Hervé Bazin as the true villain for publishing this character assassination against his own mother.  However, it is hard to believe that the flood of allegations did not cause her great embarrassment and in spite of her great fortitude depicted in the book, did not hurt her deeply.

Mme Bazin’s composure is shown by an incident later in life.  Hervé Bazin was in his home town of Angers, signing books, when his mother came into the bookshop.  She went up to him with no sign of hostility and mother and son embraced comfortably enough to suggest to onlookers that there had been a reconciliation.  It was, however, possibly no more than a public gesture of control on Mme Bazin’s part and one final fact in the family biography appears to show that no reconciliation took place – On her death Mme Bazin bypassed her sons and left the family estate to a grandson of her choice.

The political and religious thinking of Hervé Bazin.

Hervé Bazin supported, throughout his life, ideas totally opposed to those that the Bazin family traditionally stood for. The Bazins supported the right-wing parties, with a secret admiration for the extremists of the Action Française, as they hoped for the return of the old order of the authoritarian rule of Church and state, with either the restoration of the monarchy or under the leadership a Bonapartist style leader. There was a distinct possibility of this in the early years of the third French Republic but these hopes faded in later years.  Hitler’s defeat of France in 1939 brought an end to the Republic and the Vichy government that ruled France in the 2nd World War had the priorities that his Uncle René would have approved of: Famille, Patrie, Ordre.

In complete contrast, Hervé Bazin’s sympathies were with the left-wing movements and during the Second World War, he supported the French Resistance.  Whereas, in his view, the Bazin’s gave to Catholic charities but only as patronising gestures to mark their superiority and goodness, Hervé Bazin was a conscientious activist, throughout his life campaigning for the oppressed and the underprivileged.  We have seen above the part he played in the reform of care for the mentally ill.   In later years, he was closely associated with left-wing groupings, such as those advocating the nuclear disarmament of the West to avoid nuclear war, and the international protest at the U.S. treatment of Soviet spy group led by Julius Rosenberg, which had transmitted vital secrets of the U.S. atom bomb to the USSR.  In this, activism Hervé worked shoulder to shoulder with the Communist party.  This reminds of the  disgust that Jean Rezeau’s father had shown for this political creed, during his quarrel with the Communist on the train journey back from Paris.  To him, the Socialists and the Communists were unmentionable, as they were nothing else but thieves and murderers Page 66-.
Ne parlons pas des communistes, ni même des socialistes: on ne discute pas le bien-fondé  des sentiments politiques que peuvent avoir les voleurs et les assassins. Or, ces gens-là, que sont-ils d'autre?
The ideas of Hervé Bazin were diametrically opposed to those of his family.  Significantly,
Bazin’s popularity was particularly strong in the USSR. In 1980, he was awarded the Lenin prize for
Literature. This award was presented to him by Leonid Brezhnev who, it is reported, gave him a resounding kiss on the lips.  Bazin received many other awards during his lifetime but he dismissed these medals as his “scrap iron”.
 Hervé Bazin has retained his rank as an important novelist of the 20th century.  In his books, he describes the social and political changes of his time with great lucidity.  He also gives a vivid picture of the contemporary family and the validity of his portrayal stems from wealth of autobiographical content which he offers with total honesty and without reservation.