Part-autobiography, part-fiction - 'a Genet with a Genet stuffing, like the prunes of Tours', as Sartre put it - "The Thief's Journal" is an account of Genet's impoverished travels across Europe in the 1930s. Encompassing vagrancy, petty theft, and prostitution, the book transforms such degradations into the gilded rites of an inverted moral code, with Genet its most devout adherent. Betrayal becomes worship; delinquency, heroism. The skeleton of the work is a series of gay encounters between the 'hero' and a succession of shady figures - the con artist, the pimp, the detective even - from the European demi-monde. Appropriating the language of the Church, Genet creates a homily to a trinity of his own making - homosexuality, theft and deception. First published in 1949, "The Thief's Journal" is justly regarded as a masterpiece of existentialist prose, and is a milestone in the history of gay literature.
Jean Genet was born in Paris in 1910. An illegitimate child who never knew his parents, he was abandoned to the Public Assistance Authorities. He was ten when he was sent to a reformatory for stealing; thereafter he spent time in the prisons of nearly every country he visited in thirty years of prowling through the European underworld. With ten convictions for theft in France to his credit he was, the eleventh time, condemned to life imprisonment. Eventually he was granted a pardon by President Auriol as a result of appeals from France's leading artists and writers led by Jean Cocteau.$$$His first novel, Our Lady of the Flowers, was written while he was in prison, followed by Miracle of the Rose, the autobiographical The Thief's Journal, Querelle of Brest and Funeral Rites. He wrote six plays: The Balcony, The Blacks, The Screens, The Maids, Deathwatch and Splendid's (the manuscript of which was rediscovered only in 1993). Jean Genet died in 1986.