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Thread: Jules et Jim by Henri-Pierre Roche

  1. #1
    Inderjit Sanghera
    Join Date
    Jan 2007
    England/Essex Uni/Wolverhampton

    Jules et Jim by Henri-Pierre Roche

    Jules et Jim is one of the most famous celluloid love stories of all time. It is the story of a love triangle between two Germans (Jules and Katie) and a Frenchman (Jim) in early 20th century Europe, it is the story of a threesome who sought to “redefine love” and the heartache which is caused by this plan. It is, however, a little known fact that the story is partially based on actual events and is based in the criminally unknown novel of the same name, by Henri-Pierre Roche. The novel is one of the masterpieces of European fiction-yet it is not, in any way, shape or form, beautifully written, it does not deal with great philosophical or political themes, nor did it revolutionize literature in the way that say, Joyce or Kafka did. As Richard Arnold said of Anna Karenina, “We are not to take Anna Karenina as a work of art. We are to take it as a piece of life. A piece of life it is!” So too is Jules et Jim a work of life, it recreates the joys and sorrows of not only life, but of love, friendship, parenthood and art.

    Jules, shy, sensitive and portly, meets Jim, charming, dashing and bohemian, in the build-up to a ball. They become immediate friends, they translate each other’s works (from French to German and vice versa), buy each cigars, spend long evenings in the cafés of Paris together. Many people silently suspect them of homosexuality, an accusation which both men are either oblivious or indifferent to.

    The two eventually begin, in tandem, to pursue the women of Paris. Jules is an idealistic and romantic; an idolater of love, what matters to Jules is not so much the person who he is in love with, but the actual emotion of being in love, women act more of an empty vessel for Jules’s vibrant imagination and rich emotional life. Jules concept of love acts more as a caricature of love, he symbolises the kind of romanticised notion of “great love” represented by shrewish and virginal Victorian lady novelists, for Jules women are a gaping chasm which he can fill with his imagination and ideals, a relationship represents a simulacrum of emotions rather than an actual emotional connection.

    Jim, in contrast, is a pragmatist and a bit of a playboy, not in the classical sense; Jim doesn’t go chasing after women, he certainly doesn’t set out to hurt or use women or brag about his conquests . As Jules says, Jim is constantly seeking new experiences, for Jim outside of art and perhaps Jules, women present Jim with his richest and significant experiences, unlike Jules, Jim is able to appreciate women as individuals, for their personal idiosyncrasies, the pleasure of each kiss, the curve of each breast and the feel of each hair. Two two are aware of their contradictory attitude towards women, indeed their differences are perhaps the very thing which brings them closer together.

    Jules and Jim gradually begin introducing women to one another, with Jim having the more success. Although Roche often devotes a paragraph to the many women Jules and Jim meet or fall in love with, he is able to demonstrate his skill as a storyteller by making each woman seem like an actual living individual in the space of a few lines. Roche’s gift for psychological description is central to his brilliance as a storyteller, to create with a few words create a realistic, well rounded character is something few people possess and is a testament to Roche’s powers of observation.

    Take, for example, the artist Gertrude who dreamed of meeting Napoleon in a lift and bearing his love child, or Odile who decides the go swimming one day and wanders around in a French town in nothing but her swimwear (in what were more conservative times), the astonished townspeople, much to Odile’s consternation decide to have her arrested, though she only sees this as petty jealousy on the part of the town’s female women. She somewhat haphazardly blames Jules and Jim for this and decides to poison their omelette in return.

    The most important character amongst the various women Jules and Jim get to know is Lucie. In typical Roche fashion, he able to sum Lucie up in a few lines whilst maintaining her individuality. “She was a long-skulled Gothic beauty; she took her time over everything she did, so that other people found every moment endowed with the same abundant value that she conferred on herself.” Lucie is, in many ways, a kind of female version of Jules, shy, introverted and imaginative, Jules has been in love with her for years, yet she does not return his love, perhaps because of their similarities, so Jules chooses to introduce her to Jim, who is smitten by her patience, her meekness and her forbearance, and perhaps subconsciously, for her resemblance to Jules. Although Lucie begins to return Jim’s feeling her timidity inhibits any relationship between the two, she has a fear of physical love, preferring, like Jules, to contemplate love rather than live it.

    Roche never judges his characters, indeed his characters rarely judge each other. They see each person as a unique person and each relationship as a unique experience. Yes there are betrayals, fits of pique and jealousy, feelings are hurt and at times even hatred is aroused, but rather then viewing these as purely negative things, Roche purports that every experience is something we can learn from, that if you never suffer any heartache, jealousy or hatred you are never really alive, and that one cannot ever live without dying a little bit beforehand. Love is a thing to be experience, in all it’s forms, rather than a thing to be contemplated, as Truffaut says “Jules et Jim is a perfect hymn to love, and perhaps life.” For Roche, each person is unique with their own set of idiosyncrasies, traits and insecurities, and should not be judged if they want to follow their own unique path in life, it is, if they try not to hurt other people, a thing to be celebrated. Roche was one of the first people to translate Chekhov into French, and one can see his influence seeping through, if not stylistically, then certainly thematically.

    Whilst the two are holidaying in Greece they come across a Greek statue with an ,’archaic smile’: “A toy steamer took them to the island; they hurried to their statue and spent an hour with it. It was beyond even what they hoped. They lingered around the goddess in silence, gazing at her form different angles; her smile was a floating presence, powerful youthful, thirsty for kisses and perhaps for blood.” They promise each other that if they were to ever meet that archaic smile then they would follow it.

    Eventually they are introduced to Kate, who had the smile of the statute on the island. Jules chooses to meet her alone over the course of a few weeks before formally introducing her to Jim, tellingly before he does introduce them, he tells Jim that Kate is his, and his alone, and unlike the other girls, not for sharing.

    The three eventually forms a close friendship together, one of the most famous scenes in the film is when the two dress Kate as a man and parade him around Paris. In one of the most telling scenes in the book (and film) the three have a race, Kate decides to cheat and starts running whilst Jim is counting down, and ends up winning the race. Jules and Jim end up following in her wake, exhausted yet exulted by Kate’s verve, willing to be carried wherever Kate takes them. Kate doesn’t feel any remorse about cheating; in fact, she views at her right to do as she wishes.

    Kate and Jules eventually get engaged, she admits to being won over by his Buddha-esque character, by his lack of egoism and arrogance and his timidity and sensitivity, so unlike other men. Jules, however, proceeds to ignore her during the celebration and decides to talk about literature with Jim instead. Jim is despondent by Jules inability to see the blunders he was now making with Kate, he feels that Jules would not be able to keep a woman as free-spirited as Kate for long. Jim is proved right when Kate suddenly jumps into the Seine on the way back, Jim, however, is enchanted by Kate’s lack of inhibitions, her ability to “do different”.

    After Jim fishes Kate out of the Seine, the jump is never mentioned again, Kate is exonerated because she cannot held accountable for her desires-indeed, if she stopped being so wilful then Jules and Jim would no longer be attracted to her.

    Just before the two get married, Kate asks Jim to meet her for dinner at 7:00. Jim turns up 4 minutes late, waits until 7:50 and leaves, feeling that Kate was the type of woman who would not tolerate lateness of any kind, Kate herself only turns up at 8, waits 10 minutes and leave. This scene is of central importance to the book because it turns out that Kate wanted to know Jim’s opinion on her marriage to Jules. It turns out that Jim would have told her that Jules’s fantastical nature meant that he was not the right man for Kate, that her wilfulness would eventually break Jules will and that the reality of love would eventually crush Jules’s and whose purely emotional concept of love Kate was unlikely to share. These 10 minutes, it turns out, would shape the rest the trio’s lives as Kate and Jules end up marrying and moving to Germany not long before the First World War breaks out.

    Jim visits the couple not longer after the end of the war, unable to contain his excitement at meeting Jules again, he wanders around aimlessly for a few days, before meeting Jules. Superficially the couple seem happy, they live in a somewhat secluded château and have two daughters, however Jim intuits that everything is not as it seems. He soon discovers that his suspicions that Jules was not the kind of man who could keep Kate happy were right. Kate has only recently returned after a trip to a local farm, she has also taken several lovers, some in retribution for either actual or imaginary crimes Jules has committed, Kate still remains a law unto herself, living up to the archaic smile which Jules and Jim glimpsed on the Greek island.

    Jules, however, is worried that soon Kate will leave them for good, she is seeing Albert, a friend of Jules, who plans on marrying Kate and adopting her two daughter. Jules remains powerless against the will of Kate, any attempt to stop her would only infuriate her, and cause her to seek revenge, not because she is malicious but because she views life as a kind of game, whereby any advantage another person gains over her, she must win back, at whatever cost. Kate certainly demonstrate certain sociopathic tendencies: her indifference for the feeling of other people, her morbid individuality which makes her shed societal norms, her unwillingness to admit that she is ever at fault for her actions. Jules, however, finally has to discard his naive idea of romantic love when he marries Kate,and it crushes him, making him gradually retreat even further into a Buddha like state of meditation.

    Although Jim pities both his friends, he never chooses to judge them or sermonize them. Besides this, Jules wants Jim to win Kate back from Albert, although he can bear her infidelities, he cannot bear her leaving him, and feels Jim is the most suitable suitor for the job. Jim and Kate go for a long walk, they both give their side of the story, they both realise that they have different accounts of their story not because either of them is wrong, but because reality is an entirely subjective experience and perhaps there is no right or wrong, and that each individual experiences reality in their own way. By the end of the walk, much to Jules’s delight, they have become lovers.

    Jim then more or less lives with the couple for some months,and their happiness is reborn. Jim and Kate began a tempestuous relationship; Kate cannot dominate Jim like she did Jules, he isn’t anywhere near as submissive, love changes from a kind of game as it was with Jules, to a kind of war, long periods of peace are punctuated by frenzied periods of infighting, whereby each tries (and fails) to gain the upper hand over the other. Each victory is rendered pyrrhic however, by the fact that Jim reciprocates Kate’s demand that every blunder must be accounted for. Jules looks on, content to watch his friends relationship unfold and chooses not to judge; with people as wilful as Jim and Kate, it would be better to let them do as they wished, however much they hurt each other. Jules, Jim and Kate seek to redefine love, as Truffaut states “When I read Jules et Jim, I had the feeling that I had before me an example of something the cinema had never manage to achieve: to show two men who love the same woman, in such a way that the public are unable to make an emotional choice between the characters, because they are made to love all three of them equally….a triangle of pure love.”

    Kate and Jim attempt to have a child; their attempts, however, are fruitless, although they are medically able to have children, their passionate relationship is ultimately barren. In seeking to rewrite the concept of love the two are unable to produce anything of subsistence, their selfish, though unique, passion is inimical reproducing life, perhaps in living life to the full they have give up their ability to reproduce it?

    This inability to have children eventually takes a toll on their relationship, which descends into a perpetual cycle of happiness, love, passion, obsession, jealousy, betrayal, recrimination and reunion. During one telling passage, Kate cheats on Jim with Harold, an old flame of hers, he hits her in return. Kate is exultant, no man had ever lain hands on her, lord knows she deserves it for all the pain and suffering she caused. Jim however, is despondent how: far will this passion, this passion which has been consuming his soul, slowly crushing him, go on for? Jim and Jules question why they are love with Kate? They decide that it is because Kate is a real woman , with her beauty, her flaws and her inconsistencies, because Kate is unafraid to live and challenge life, come what may, and Jules and Jim had promised to follow that archaic smile on that Greek island, even if it killed them. Kate, in her turn, loves the two because they were able to give Kate what she ultimately desired: their undivided attention.

    Just before Jim is about to leave Paris the couple decide to separate, they make love in a passionless, indifferent, almost frigid way. Jim goes back to Paris mentally exhausted, yet he learns from Jules, that Kate is finally pregnant with his child, the result of their night of passionless love making. Kate, however, has a miscarriage, both see this as the nail on the coffin of their passionate but ultimately barren relationship. Kate decides to go back to Jules’s mild and undemanding love, Jim back to an old lover who he had kept in contact with, who also offered him a comfortable if unexceptional relationship.

    “Time was flowing, flowing…Happiness isn’t easy to record, then it wars out, and nobody notices…”

    The two then split up and get back together intermittently, the fire of their love seems to be on it’s dying embers. One day, as Jim is driving Kate somewhere, she decides to attack him with a walking stick, after she casually mentions Gilberte, the woman who Jim is in a serious relationship with. Kate later threatens to kill Jim after he tells her that he is planning on having a child with Gilberte. Kate gets hold of a revolver, but Jim is able to knock her out before she can shoot. The tangled web of their relationship is beginning to unravel as Kate is slowly losing her sanity, due to her jealousy over Gilberte. Jim equates Jules with Gilberte; Kate myopically refuses to see it this way, thinking that one rules exists for her and one for everybody else. “Jim wanted to die of his love for Kate. To survive was an offence. Male spiders know it-and so do their females.”

    Kate invites Jules and Jim for a day out, and as she is dropping Jules off at the train station, she asks Jules to watch them drive off. As she is driving off, she takes an unusual detour, Jim asks her where she is driving them to, eventually realising that she is driving them into the Seine for a second leap, this one of death, just as her first leap had kindled Jim’s love for her, her second would put an end to it, and fulfil their desire to die for love of one another-in his final moments Jim realises that this suicide plunge was Kate’s way of proving her love for him, her archaic smile comes back, the very archaic smile that Jim promised to pursue in order to live: even if it killed him. The car careers into the Seine and sinks, when their bodies are found they have come apart-which is part of the reason that they died, despite the fact that Kate drove the car into the Seine to bring them closer together, their bodies seperate, killing them both.

    Jules takes charges of their two daughters; along with a sense of sadness at losing the two people he loved most in the world, a sense of relief comes flooding into him as he realises he will never have to put up with their antics again, never have the fear that Kate will leave him for another man.

    Jules et Jim is a powerful and beautiful love story because it discards the facile and rudimentary emotions associated with love by mainstream cinema and romantic literature; it captures the essence of love via various well rounded and interesting characters without judging their actions and teaches us to accept people as they are ; as Jules states “If you love somebody you love him as he is. You don’t want to influence him, because then he wouldn’t be the same person any more. It is better to give up the person you love than try to change him, whether by kindness or domination.” Yes the characters are flawed, selfish and sometimes irrational: but who isn’t? Love is an emotion based on an individual connection between two people and cannot be reduced to the clichés of mainstream cinema or television.

    Jim and Kate are, in many ways, self-absorbed, whether it be with themselves or one another. This is best represented by the fact that they are unable to have a child together. For all of the passion of their romance, their love is essentially barren because they fail to take into account other people, whether it be Jules or Kate’s children. On the other hand Jules, who willingly gives up Kate for Jim to keep them happy, is able to produce life and have children with her. The two eventually die as they loved: together and selfishly and yet ultimately still apart, discarding Jules and Kate’s daughter’s, to fulfil their ultimate desire: to die in each other’s arms, only to, somewhat ironically, come apart as they are drowning.
    The cradle rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness.-Vladimir Nabokov

    human speech is like a cracked kettle on which we tap crude rhythms for bears to dance to, while we long to make music that will melt the stars-Flaubert

  2. #2
    All are at the crossroads qimissung's Avatar
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