Jean Cocteau (1889 - 1963)

Drôle de Ménage

(Quaint Household)

Text and design by Jean Cocteau
Paris: Passage du Marais, 1993
[32] fol., colour lithographs, two-coloured
26 x 20,5 cm, paperback

OE: 31 x 24,5 cm, Morihien, Paris 1948

"Prenez garde à rester des enfants!" (Take care to stay a child at heart)
The book and its history

This is the only book for children created by Cocteau. He wrote it shortly after moving to the countryside south of Paris. The introductory note, "Dédicace à nos jeunes Lecteurs", advises young readers to remain children in their hearts. Otherwise, once grown up, they will no longer understand children and, in turn, children will not understand them. In the unfortunate event that their parents should have become "real" adults, Cocteau tells child readers to "educate them and teach them to read". Finally, he encourages them to reach for their coloured pencils should they not like the colours in the book.

This amusing preface is followed by a cheerful story about the married couple Madame Lalune (Mrs. Moon) and Monsieur Lesoleil (Mr. Sun) and their children. Since the mother works dayshifts and the father works at night, they delegate the upbringing of their children to the dog Tom. Tom teaches them everything dog children need to know. Once the parents realize how strange this canine upbringing is, they burst into tears and cause a rainy summer. Now the stars take care of the children. Whether the children like it, remains unknown.

Cocteau lightly sketches his figures and leaves it to the viewer's imagination to complete the contours. These pen-and-ink drawings emerge against the backdrop of hand-printed flat surfaces in changing forms and colours. The typeset text varies its layout from page to page. Sometimes a line of text crosses the gutter of the double page, sometimes it follows an oblique line, sometimes a curvature. The letters also seem to have a life of their own: they grow large to sound emphatic, or align in big blocks when there is a lot to tell. The play with the initials also contributes to the liveliness of the story.

Biographical note

Jean Cocteau, born 1889 in Maisons-Laffitte near Paris, died 1963 in Milly-la-Foret near Paris, was a versatile French artist. He describes himself as a poet and his various works of art often as poetry. The list of his works is long. He became particularly known for his plays and films.

Cocteau drew since his childhood. He left school at the age of 15 and published his first volume of poetry at the age of 19. A novel followed, later plays, screenplays, and feature films. In the Paris of the 1920's and 1930's he became friends with numerous artists of the avant-garde, with some of whom he cooperated. Although he was self-taught in all artistic disciplines, he received much academic recognition. A museum has been set up in his house south of Paris, a second one is located in the south-east French town of Menton.

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