The Gray Universe of the French Writer Emmanuel Bove

Explore the life and works of French writer Emmanuel Bove, known for his interpretation of a gray and gloomy universe, where human beings are turned into objects.

The Gray Universe of the French Writer Emmanuel Bove
Portrait of Emmanuel Bove, the French writer who explored the depths of human despair through his literary works. Credit: UMICH

The writer Emmanuel Bove passed away on July 13, 1945, the day before France's first national celebration after World War II. Despite his success before the war, including winning the prestigious Figuière Prize and being respected by his peers, his writings fell into obscurity for a long time. He was concerned about the rise of authoritarian regimes in Europe and participated in the Vigilance Committee of anti-fascist intellectuals. Bove died at the age of 47 from pleurisy.

Exploring the Gray Universe

Emmanuel Bobovnikoff, who later became Emmanuel Bove, was born in 1898 to a Russian father and a Luxembourgish mother. He grew up in different social circles, working odd jobs such as a clerk, waiter, and cab driver, allowing him to observe human misery and gather inspiration for his novels. Bove preferred to write in solitude and describes the despair and daily anguish of his contemporaries in a new and profound way.

He is known for his interpretation of a gray and gloomy universe, where human beings are turned into objects. Bove is a modest and shy person who does not seek attention, except through his books. He is an explorer in both the literary and existential fields, known for his simple and dry writing.

When asked for a biographical note for the promotion of one of his novels, Emmanuel Bove confesses his discomfort with talking about himself. He believes that anything he says would be false, except for his date of birth, which he may even exaggerate or downplay. He thinks it is wiser not to start.

Bove is uncomfortable revealing himself and does not seek fame. Despite living in a time when many French authors famous in the world, such as Breton, Gide, Céline, and Malraux, Bove prefers the shadow. He is most comfortable in that position and in communion with his characters, who live in a gray space of everyday life, resignation, and fatalism.

I confess that my discomfort is a bit like that of the actor who having suddenly forgotten his role, is forced to invent retorts or to apologize as best he can to the spectator. What Lucien Kra is asking me is beyond me, for a thousand reasons, the first being a modesty that prevents me from speaking about myself. Anything I could say would be false. Only the date of my birth would be accurate. And it would be necessary to see if my mood of the moment does not lead me to rejuvenate or to grow old. Who could in fact resist the pleasure of filling his biography with events, of low thoughts, of the need to write at the age of eight, of misunderstood youth, of very brilliant or mediocre studies, of suicide attempts, of outstanding actions in war, of a mortal wound from which he was well spared, of a sentence to death in a prison camp and of the grace granted on the eve of execution. I think the wisest thing to do is not to start.

A Writer in the Shadows

In 1928, after winning the Prix Figuière, Emmanuel Bove moved to a first-floor apartment at 1 bis rue de Vaneau. André Gide, who lived on the top floor of the same building, enjoyed the sky and the light while Bove remained in the shadows. Despite receiving recognition from Colette, Sacha Guitry, Rilke, and others, Bove is absent from literary history books.

During World War II, Bove chose not to publish in occupied France, and he lived in hiding before reaching Algiers, a Free French territory, where he spent the last two years of the war. He died in Paris in 1945 from pleurisy, weakened by privations and shortages. His work was forgotten for a long time. The daughter of the bookseller Bove frequented before the war recalled in a TV interview that she always saw him in gray in her memories.

Emmanuel Bove does not consider himself a master thinker and only exists for the public through his books. He believes that life is not literary, but it can become literary when a writer of great stature integrates it into literature. When a publisher invites great writers to write about a city of their choice, Bove chooses to write about Bécon-les-Bruyères, a train station trapped between several municipalities in the Parisian suburbs, instead of popular cities like Paris or London. He enjoys being discreet and not seeking the spotlight.

The book and the man, Emmanuel Bove, seem to echo each other, as they are made of the same material. However, Bove's work, which finds its foundation in banality and the disenchantment of existence, remains confined to marginality. Despite this, notable readers such as Max Jacob, Soupault, Gide, Camus, Handke, Wim Wenders, and others have shown enthusiasm and admiration for his work.

Bove, a man without roots in a harsh and closed society, writes to gain a place among men that would be respectable and indistinguishable from the one they occupy. His work gradually gives him that place, which he had struggled to obtain. Bove's blurriness, which constituted second nature, managed to leave us with great work.

Full Citation: Philippe Ollé-Laprune.” “Siempre Lo Veo En Gris”, (Online)