Jean Genet and Adoption

Jean Genet in 1983



Genet's early life seems shrouded in confusion. The three sources looked at present three different stories:

One gives his birthdate as 19 December, that he was abandoned by his parents and spent much of his youth in juvenile detention. When he was 10 a false conviction for theft made him determine to live up to his bad name, and he spent the next years as a thief and male prostitute.

The second gives his birthdate as 19 October, the son of a Paris prostitute, and orphaned when he was seven months old. He spent the next years as a ward of the state, but also says he had a guardian.

The third states that he was a foundling and fostered by a family in rural impoverished France, where he lived until he was 12. In any case, Genet was without his birth parents from a very early age, probably fostered by a poor family, and spent a good deal of time in custody even as a young child. He could hardly be a foundling in the sense we know it, since Genet is known to be his birth name. He did indeed spend much of his youth as a male prostitute and thief in France, Germany, Spain and possibly elsewhere, spent years in prison, and was a member of the French Foreign Legion in Morocco.

He began writing in 1943 and produced a number of highly respected and influential plays, screenplays and novels, most dealing explicitly with crime and homosexuality. He also directed films. He is considered one of the most influential European writers of the 20th century.

He died in a cheap hotel room in the same working-class district of Paris where he had been abandoned.


"Jean Genet." [Includes portrait]. Available at: "Jean Genet (1910-1986)." [Includes portraits]. Available at: White, Edmund. Introduction to Criminal Desires: Jean Genet and Cinema, by Jane Giles. (London: Creation Books, 2002): edited extract published in the Guardian [London], 5 October 2002