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Jean Cocteau Collection

An inventory of his papers at Syracuse University

Finding aid created by: -
Date: unknown

Biographical History

Jean Cocteau, the French poet, playwright and film director, was born in Maisons-Lafitte, near Paris, in 1889. Success came early to Cocteau with La Lampe d'Aladin (1909, Aladdin's Lamp), and he exploited it. He ran the gamut of experience, first enjoying a spectacular conversion to Roman Catholicism through Jacques Maritain. This was followed by a scornful repudiation of his mentor, the use of opium and a search for salvation through solitude. Nevertheless he had astonishing success with whatever he touched, and figured as sponsor of Picasso, Stravinsky, Giorgio de Chirico and the group of young French composers known as Les Six. As an actor, director, scenario writer, novelist, critic and artist, his work was marked by vivacity and a pyrotechnic brilliance. He was elected to the Academie Francaise in 1955.

Significant works are his novels: Le Grand ecart (1923, Eng trans The Grand Escort, 1925), Thomas l'imposteur (1923, Eng trans Thomas the Imposter, 1925), Les Enfants terribles (1929, Eng trans Children of the Game, 1929); and plays: Les Maries de la Tour Eiffel (1921, Eng trans The Eiffel Tower Wedding Party, 1963), Orphee (1926, Eng trans Orpheus, 1933) and L'Aigle a deux tetes (1946, Eng trans The Eagle has Two Heads, 1948). His films include Le Sang d'un po'ete (1930, The Blood of a Poet), La Belle et la bete (1945, Beauty and the Beast), Orphee (adapted from his play, 1949) and Le Testament d'Orphee (1960). [From Chambers Biographical Dictionary (1997)]

Scope and Contents of the Collection

The Jean Cocteau Collection consists of Correspondence, Writings, and Drawings. The span dates are 1910-1963, with many undated items.

The Correspondence is arranged by names of the recipients. Many letters carry no dates. Notable items include letters to Rene Bertrand on the subject of Picasso, letters to Marcel Raval spanning at least two decades, and a letter, apparently to Robert Weine, about the early film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Other notable recipients include Sergei Diaghilev and Georgette Leblanc. Many of the letters contain drawings by Cocteau.

Among the Writings are Drama, Essays, Poetry, and Other. Drama includes a six-page holograph scenario of the film La Belle et la Bete; a twenty-four page typescript of Oedipe-Roi, annotated and with illustrations including set and costume designs; a ninety-two page holograph of Paul et Virginie: opera comique en 3 actes, by Cocteau, Erik Satie, and Raymond Radiguet, including holograph title and half-title; an eight page holograph of the return of Ulysses to Ithaca and Penelope's welcome, a one-act play in verse.

The twenty-eight Essays are arranged alphabetically by title or by first line. In the absence of title, the first words are entered in the shelf list. The essays cover a wide range of subjects, from biographical sketches of contemporaries (Christian Berard, Coco Chanel, Diaghilev, Max Jacob, and Erik Satie) to critical pieces ("Proces de l'inspiration," "Quelques notes autour de 16 millimetres," "Romantisme," etc.) and historical backgrounds to his work and life ("La legend du Boeuf sur le toit," "La machine infernal," "Notes sur la crucifixion," "Sources des films").

Poetry is arranged alphabetically by title or by first line in the absence of title. Other contains an untitled piece beginning "Les Etats Unis..."

Drawings include a single pencil drawing.

Arrangement of the Collection

Alphabetical by name or topic.


Access Restrictions:

The majority of our archival and manuscript collections are housed offsite and require advanced notice for retrieval. Researchers are encouraged to contact us in advance concerning the collection material they wish to access for their research.

Use Restrictions:

Written permission must be obtained from SCRC and all relevant rights holders before publishing quotations, excerpts or images from any materials in this collection.

Subject Headings


Bertrand, René, 1897-
Chaumeix, André, 1874-
Cocteau, Jean, 1889-1963.
Diaghilev, Serge, 1872-1929.
Dorziat, Gabrielle, 1880-
Gaillard, Roger, 1923-2000.
Jacob, Max, 1876-1944.
Leblanc, Georgette, 1869-1941.
Leduc, Violette, 1907-1972.
Moricand, Conrad.
Pound, Ezra, 1885-1972.
Raval, Marcel Hubert.
Sachs, Maurice, 1906-1945.
Torrés, Henry, 1891-


Art, French -- 20th century.
Dramatists, France.
French literature -- 20th century.
Screenwriters -- France.

Genres and Forms

Drawings (visual works)



Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Preferred citation for this material is as follows:

Jean Cocteau Collection,
Special Collections Research Center,
Syracuse University Libraries

Acquisition Information

Purchase, various dates.

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