Explore Works by Writer Marcel Pagnol in Provence
“I was born in the town of Aubagne, under the Garlaban crowned with goats, in the days of the last goatherds.” ~ Marcel Pagnol
Writer Marcel Pagnol
So begins the memoir of Marcel Pagnol, the master storyteller of Provence. If you ask someone which author comes to mind when they think of Provence, they are likely to name Peter Mayle, author of the marvellous A Year in Provence (1991). But ask a French person, and especially one from Provence, and you will almost certainly hear the name Marcel Pagnol (though Jean Giono and Frédéric Mistral will also get some votes.)
Pagnol was the author of dozens of books, nearly all set in Provence, and was one of France’s great filmmakers. He was the first filmmaker, in fact, to be elected to the prestigious Académie française. And he is adored in Provence for his loving depictions of life in this delightful corner of the world. Mention Pagnol to a Provencaux and they are likely to quote a line from one of his films…that was made in the 1930s!
Pagnol’s Provence Connection
Born in 1895, Pagnol and his family moved to Marseille when he was young, where he lived until he began college in Aix-en-Provence. As important as his formal education were the years spent in the rugged countryside north of Marseille, where his family rented a house every summer. There he hiked and hunted and made lifelong friends, while (mostly) staying out of trouble. And he fell in love with the traditions of Provence, in the villages that had changed little over the centuries.
After college, Pagnol became a high school teacher in Marseille and later Paris, before beginning a career as a playwright in 1927. His talent for storytelling led to almost immediate success. He soon moved to the cinema, in the era when “talking pictures” had just begun.
Books and Movies
His funny and touching stories of life in Provence were huge hits, making him one of the first French-language filmmakers to achieve success outside of the country. The films Marius, Fanny, and César, the “Marseille trilogy,” were his first hits, followed by others like Jean de Florette and Manon of the Spring (Manon des Sources).
Cinematic success made Pagnol a rich man. He used much of his money to create his own production company, not far from his old summer home. There he wrote, produced, and directed films, earning plaudits in France and abroad. And in addition to writing screenplays, he turned his prodigious energy to novels, essays, and in 1957, his memoir.
Today, these writings are what he is best known for in France. My Father’s Glory, the first volume of his four-volume memoir, is often used for dicté, the writing exercise that is a foundation of French education (the teacher reads a passage and the students have to write it down correctly.) And for many French people of a certain age, My Father’s Glory is the first “grown-up” book they read in school, giving it a special place in their hearts. So well regarded is it that a group of authors and literary professionals last year named it one of the ten “indispensable” books in French history, right up there with Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert and L’Étranger (The Stranger) by Albert Camus. Heady company, indeed!
Today many know Pagnol not for his own films, but for films that others have made based on his books. The most famous of these might be Jean de Florette, starring Yves Montand and a young Gérard Depardieu.
What all of Pagnol’s works share, whether literary or cinematic, are humour and a deep love for Provence—its people, its landscape, and its customs. If you want to understand this part of the world, be sure to pick up one of Pagnol’s books or watch one of the movies based on his work. You won’t be sorry.
For More Information
A link to the movies based on his works
Garlaban: GNU license, credit to Guillaume de clermont 60
Pagnol: Wikipedia Public domain
Bastide Neuve: GNU license, credit to Fr.latreille
A lovely post. As you say, Pagnol’s books, especially the memoirs, give a wonderful extra dimension to any travel in the area. They really are a delight, funny and insightful.
There was a beautiful film of La Gloire de mon Pere made by Yves Robert in 1990. Well worth tracking down.
Hello Deborah: Thank you for your comments on Keith’s article. I’m going to try and track down La Gloire de mon Pere, it sounds like a terrific movie.