It puzzles me that in my forty years of toiling in the vineyard of French literature, I should have managed to sidestep, until now, the work of Jules Renard. To be sure, I had seen copies of his Journal frequently in bookshops, and in various battered Pléiade editions at the bouquinistes stalls along the Seine, where it crops up as inevitably as volumes of Flaubert or Balzac. It may very well have been the sense I developed, whether by symbiosis or hearsay, that the author of Poil de Carotte (‘Carrot Top’) and L’Ecornifleur (‘The Sponger’) was a man apart, a one-off, a kind of eccentric, that made me defer and delay. Anyway, when the invitation came to write about his Journal in these pages, I accepted gladly. He turns out to be excellent company, and I particularly recommend him to the grumpy middle-aged male.
Born in 1864, Renard was the son of a peasant farmer who became mayor of the village where he lived in Burgundy, an office that Jules took over after his death. Like his father, Jules was anti-clerical, republican and socialist by inclination; he was also pro-Dreyfus. His strange life commuting