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Jean Cocteau:

An Inventory of His Papers in the Carlton Lake Collection at the Harry Ransom Center

Creator: Cocteau, Jean, 1889-1963
Title: Carlton Lake Collection of Jean Cocteau Papers
Dates: 1905-1959 (bulk 1910-1928)
Quantity: 11 boxes (4.62 linear feet), 6 oversize folders (osf), 1 bound volume (bv), and 1 galley folder (gf)
Abstract: The early personal and professional life of the French poet, novelist, artist, playwright, and filmmaker Jean Cocteau is documented in this collection of manuscripts, correspondence, personal papers, notebooks, drawings, financial and legal documents, and third-party papers, drawn largely from his personal archives.
Call Number: Manuscript Collection MS-04960
Language: All materials are in French.
Note: We gratefully acknowledge the assistance of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, which provided funds for the processing and cataloging of this collection.
Access: Open for research. Permission from copyright holder must accompany photoduplication requests for Jean Cocteau materials.

Administrative Information

Acquisition: Gifts and purchases, 1966, 1969, 1973, 1977, 1987, 1997 (G846, G2793, G2966, R5180, R5374, R5883, R7748, G10713)
Processed by: Monique Daviau, Catherine Stollar, Richard Workman, 2004

Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin

Biographical Sketch

Jean Cocteau, one of the most versatile creative artists of the twentieth century, achieved celebrity as poet, playwright, journalist, novelist, artist, and filmmaker. At the time of his death he was perhaps the best-known French literary figure outside of France.
Born Jean Maurice Eugène Clément Cocteau on July 5, 1889, he was a child of affluence, particularly through the Lecomtes on the maternal side of his family. He began writing poetry as a boy and gained entrance into the literary world through his mother's social contacts. At age eighteen his work was the subject of a public reading that brought him his first notoriety, leading to the publication of his first book of poems, La lampe d'Aladin (1909).
In the next few years he met and was influenced by members of the avant-garde, resulting in less traditional works such as the ballet Parade (1917) in collaboration with Erik Satie, Léonide Massine, Sergei Diaghilev, and Pablo Picasso, Le Potomak (1919), a collection of drawings, poetry, and prose, and the poems of Le Cap de Bonne-Espérance (1919).
Cocteau's art received further stimulation from his intense love for the gifted young poet Raymond Radiguet. Their affair ended with Radiguet's death from typhoid at age twenty, but not before the younger poet had guided Cocteau away from modernism and toward a more classical formality.
In the years between the two world wars, Cocteau wrote his first novel ( Le grand écart, 1923), his first nonmusical play ( Antigone, 1922), and his first film ( Le sang d'un poète, 1932). For the rest of his life, in spite of his struggles with opium addiction, he continued to produce an enormous quantity of work and maintained his public prominence.
In 1949 Cocteau was made Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur. In 1955 he was elected to the Académie Royale de Langue et de Littérature Françaises of Belgium and also to the Académie Française.
He died October 11, 1963, and is buried in the chapel of Saint-Blaise-des-Simples in Milly-la-Forêt, France.


Lake, Carlton. Confessions of a Literary Archaeologist. New York: New Directions, 1990.
Moulaison, Glenn. "Jean Cocteau. "Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 258: Modern French Poets. (accessed May 19, 2004).
Steegmuller, Francis. Cocteau: A Biography. Boston: Little, Brown, 1970.

Scope and Contents

The personal and professional life of French poet, novelist, artist, playwright, and filmmaker Jean Cocteau is reflected in the Carlton Lake collection of Cocteau's manuscripts, correspondence, personal papers, notebooks, drawings, financial and legal documents, and third-party papers. The collection is arranged in four series: I. Works, 1910-1929 (6.5 boxes); II. Correspondence, 1913-1959 (2.5 boxes); III. Personal, 1908-1950 (1 box); and IV. Third-Party Works and Correspondence, 1905-1925 (1 box).
The bulk of the collection is a large portion of Cocteau's personal archives that was sold without his permission to a French dealer in 1935. (For a detailed history of the papers, see chapter nine of Lake's Confessions of a Literary Archaeologist.) Because the papers went to the dealer in several small lots, it has not been possible to be certain of Cocteau's original arrangement. Therefore, works have been arranged alphabetically by title and correpondence alphabetically by correspondent.
Within the Works series are manuscripts or proofs of most of Cocteau's writings until about 1928, a period that encompassed some of his best work, including Le Cap de Bonne-Espérance, Le coq et l'arlequin, Les enfants terribles, Le grand écart, Le livre blanc, Les mariés de la tour Eiffel, La noce massacrée, Le Potomak, and Thomas l'imposteur. Many of the manuscripts and notebooks also contain drawings. Because the bulk of the archives predates Cocteau's involvement with the cinema, that aspect of his work is largely not documented.
Within the Correspondence series, the folder of Cocteau's letters to Henri Lefebvre is actually the dossier of Lefebvre's dealings with Cocteau and the sellers of Cocteau's papers (this is the file referred to in Lake's Confessions by the title "Affaire Cocteau"). Cocteau's letterswhich frequently concern his writing, his philosophy, and his personal life'are, like his works, sprinkled with drawings. Prominent among his correspondents are Jean and Valentine Hugo, Max Jacob, Marie Laurencin, and Francis Poulenc.
The Personal series includes inscriptions from other authors to Cocteau on tear-sheets, address books, an autograph book from the beginning of his career, and various documents such as his birth certificate, plans for the decoration of his apartment, and a menu from a dinner at Le Boeuf sur le Toit.
Among the Third-Party Works and Correspondence are letters from Cocteau's mother to Valentine Hugo, and works by Raymond Radiguet as well as letters to him from various correspondents.

Related Material:

Elsewhere in the Ransom Center, the Lake Art Collection contains a large number of works by Cocteau.

Index Terms


Cocteau, Eugénie, b. 1855.
Hugo, Jean, 1894- .
Hugo, Valentine, 1887-1968.
Jacob, Max, 1876-1944.
Laurencin, Marie, 1883-1956.
Poulenc, Francis, 1899-1963.
Radiguet, Raymond, 1903-1923.


Novelists, French.
Poets, French.

Document Types

Address books.
Autograph albums.
Birth certificates.
Galley proofs.
Page proofs.

Jean Cocteau Papers--Folder List