JEAN COCTEAU (1889–1963) is regarded as one of France’s greatest men of letters. A multi-faceted talent, he achieved distinction as a poet, playwright and critic, as well as an artist, illustrator, composer, actor and film maker. He served during the First World War as an ambulance driver in the Red Cross, and later in his life developed a serious addiction to opium.
His circle of friends included Marcel Proust, Raymond Radiguet, André Gide, Guillaume Apollinaire and the artists Pablo Picasso and Amedeo Modigliani. Indeed, Cocteau's name became synonymous with the bohemian culture and art that transpired out of France between the world wars. Among his best known novels are Les Enfants Terribles, Thomas the Impostor and The Miscreant. He died in 1963, the day after his friend the chanteuse Édith Piaf had died, the knowledge of which it has been suggested hastened his own demise.