French novelist, dramatist, and poet. He was elected to the Académie Française in 1946.
The son of a schoolmaster, Romains was born in Saint-Julien-Chapteuil, Haute-Loire, and studied science and philosophy at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris. He became involved with a group of writers and artists known as the Abbaye, who published his verse collection La Vie unanime (1908). In this early work Romains expounded his theory of ‘unanimisme’, the concept of a collective consciousness in which the emotions and impressions of the group as a whole take precedence over the psychology of the individual. The concept had been introduced in Romains's first prose work, Le Bourg régénéré (1906), set in a village community, and reappeared in the novel Mort de quelqu'un (1910; translated as Death of a Nobody, 1914), which examines the influence of an insignificant individual on the collective consciousness, and the farcical tale Les Copains (1913).
Romains began writing for the theatre in 1911 with the unanimiste drama L'Armée dans la ville. Subsequent plays include the highly successful satirical farce Knock ou le triomphe de la médecine (1923; translated as Dr Knock, 1925), which brought Romains lasting fame as a dramatist, and the comedy Monsieur le Trouhadec saisi par la débauche (1923). His most ambitious work was the epic novel cycle in twenty-seven volumes, Les Hommes de bonne volonté (1932–46; translated as Men of Goodwill, 1933–46), which examines the evolution of French society in the period from 1908 to 1933. It was inevitable that certain parts of such a vast saga would be more successful than others; Prélude à Verdun (1937) and Verdun (1938) are generally considered to be the finest volumes. Elsewhere, Romains's skilful depiction of collective action in crowd scenes provides an excellent illustration of the application of unanimisme to the art of novel writing.
Romains spent the major part of World War II in the USA and Mexico, where he published six volumes of Les Hommes de bonne volonté. He returned to France in 1946 and continued to write, producing novels, poems, essays, and short stories.