Born to American parents in Paris in 1900, Julian Green spent much of his life in France, and despite his American heritage he wrote exclusively in French, becoming the first non-French national to be inducted into the esteemed Académie Française. His prolific career spanned several genres, including novels, essays, and plays, but it is his intimate diaries for which he is particularly renowned. Offering a vivid window into his inner life and the tumultuous times he lived through, Green’s diaries traverse both world wars, the shifting social landscapes of the 20th century, and his own personal conflicts and contemplations. He wrote the following entry in 1929, a fortnight after an appendectomy.
The Diary Entry
Appendicitis on November 1st and an operation on the 2nd. The complete annihilation of the being by ether, a drop into a dark, sonorous chasm, a great noise of bells, like those of American trains, and above all, the impossibility of offering any resistance, of clinging on to anything whatever—there must be a little of all this in death. The minute before losing consciousness was, I think, strange but not at all terrifying. My first idea when I woke up was: “So. I am dead and, exactly as I foresaw, I still exist.”
For a moment the body, the whole being, lay on some mysterious shore, waiting for the rising tide to carry it back. What was the soul doing, while this was going on? Where was it?
An incredible nineteen volumes of Julian Green’s diaries have been published in French. In English, however, we have the lonely but excellent Julian Green: Diary 1928 – 1957—selected by Kurt Wolff, translated by Anne Green, and published in 1964 by Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc.