Authors: Anatole France

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

French novelist, short-story writer, playwright, and essayist

Author Works

Long Fiction:

Le Crime de Sylvestre Bonnard, 1881 (The Crime of Sylvestre Bonnard, 1890)

Les Désirs de Jean Servien, 1882 (The Aspirations of Jean Servien, 1912)

Thaïs, 1890 (English translation, 1891)

La Rôtisserie de la Reine Pédauque, 1893 (At the Sign of the Reine Pédauque, 1912)

Le Lys rouge, 1894 (The Red Lily, 1898)

L’Histoire contemporaine, 1897-1901 (collective title for the following 4 novels; Contemporary History)

L’Orme du mail, 1897 (The Elm Tree on the Mall, 1910)

Le Mannequin d’osier, 1897 (The Wicker Work Woman, 1910)

L’Anneau d’améthyste, 1899 (The Amethyst Ring, 1919)

Monsieur Bergeret à Paris, 1901 (Monsieur Bergeret in Paris, 1922)

Histoire comique, 1903 (A Mummer’s Tale, 1921)

L’île des pingouins, 1908 (Penguin Island, 1914)

Les Dieux ont soif, 1912 (The Gods Are Athirst, 1913)

La Révolte des anges, 1914 (The Revolt of the Angels, 1914)

Short Fiction:

Nos Enfants, 1886

Balthasar, 1889 (English translation, 1909)

L’Étui de nacre, 1892 (Tales from a Mother of Pearl Casket, 1896)

Le Puits de Sainte-Claire, 1895 (The Well of Saint Clare, 1909)

Clio, 1900 (English translation, 1922)

Crainquebille, Putois, Riquet, et plusieurs autres récits profitables, 1904 (Crainquebille, Putois, Riquet, and Other Profitable Tales, 1915)

Les Contes de Jacques Tournebroche, 1908 (The Merry Tales of Jacques Tournebroche, 1910)

The Garden of Epicurus, 1908

Les Sept Femmes de la Barbe-Bleue et autres contes merveilleux, 1909 (The SevenWives of Bluebeard, 1920)

The Wisdom of the Ages and Other Stories, 1925

Golden Tales, 1926

Drama:

Crainquebille, pb. 1903 (English translation, 1915)

La Comédie de celui qui épousa une femme muette, pb. 1903 (The Man Who Married a Dumb Wife, 1915)

Nonfiction:

Alfred de Vigny, 1868

La Vie littéraire, 1888-1892 (5 volumes; On Life and Letters, 1911-1914)

Le Jardin d’Épicure, 1894 (The Garden of Epicurus, 1908)

Vers les temps meilleurs, 1906, 1949

La Vie de Jeanne d’Arc, 1908 (The Life of Joan of Arc, 1908)

Le Génie latin, 1913 (The Latin Genius, 1924)

Sur la voie glorieuse, 1915

Miscellaneous:

The Complete Works, 1908-1928 (21 volumes)

ɶuvres complètes, 1925-1935 (25 volumes)

Biography

Anatole France, born Jacques-Anatole-François Thibault, was the son of a Parisian bookseller, François Thibault. The father was nicknamed France, and Anatole began to use the pseudonym for the poems he wrote as a boy. Educated at a religious school, the Collège Stanislas, he received a thorough and disciplined education in both religion and the classics. The classical side of his education, however, had the greater impact, for he quickly became skeptical about religion and began writing precise, neoclassic poems.{$I[AN]9810000187}{$I[A]France, Anatole}{$S[A]Thibault, Jacques-Anatole-François;France, Anatole}{$I[geo]FRANCE;France, Anatole}{$I[tim]1844;France, Anatole}

Anatole France

(Library of Congress)

After writing several unsuccessful novels, France found both his private style and public success in The Crime of Sylvestre Bonnard in 1881. France portrayed Bonnard, an old classical scholar, with charm, humor, erudition, and an edge of irony. Gently skeptical about religion, science (although France had acknowledged Charles Darwin, Hippolyte-Adolphe Taine, and Ernest Renan as his masters during his school days), and scholarship, France began to develop a graceful, discursive style. At about this time, a wealthy literary patron, Madame Arman de Caillavet, took an interest in France. While Madame de Caillavet introduced France to the world of the literary salon in Paris, she also made sure he worked, and she helped change his attitude gradually from that of the skeptical dilettante to that of an energetic champion of Alfred Dreyfus and other social causes. After France and his wife were divorced in 1892, he began to work at the home of Madame de Caillavet, an association that lasted until her death in 1910.

In 1886 France began to contribute weekly essays on literary life to Le Temps. At first the essays were mild and pleasant excursions into literary topics, but they soon began to assume a more biting and skeptical attitude toward the church and the established institutions of the day. His attacks against Christianity became more explicit in his novel Thaïs, in which he saved the licentious courtesan and damned the religious hermit while maintaining a constant ironic attitude toward conventional Christianity. In this novel, as in one written a few years later, At the Sign of the Reine Pédauque, France also demonstrated a robust and Rabelaisian sensuality not apparent in his earlier work. The latter novel particularly, with the jovial and voluptuous Abbé Coignard as its hero, indicated new range, power, and emphasis in France’s writing. By this time France, famous as the creator of the memorable and spirited Abbé Coignard and as an ironic opponent of conventional Christianity, was called by some of his contemporaries a nineteenth century version of the great eighteenth century rationalists, Voltaire and Denis Diderot.

In 1897, like many of the French, France was suddenly caught up in the Dreyfus Affair. Influenced in part by Madame de Caillavet, a woman of Jewish ancestry, France signed Émile Zola’s famous petition, I Accuse, and wrote frequent articles attacking the prejudices of the army and the Catholic Church. His next three novels were violently partisan; The Elm Tree on the Mall, The Wicker Work Woman, and The Amethyst Ring were all dissections of the narrowness and prejudice of all classes of French society. These novels vilified the church and the army as the bastions of ignorant and provincial French life. Reference to the Dreyfus case became even more explicit in Monsieur Bergeret in Paris.

France’s connection with the Dreyfus case and his attacks on Catholicism brought him into closer contact with the Left in French politics. He began to speak at radical meetings, and after 1900 he at various times embraced socialist and anarchist causes. He could not long remain a violent partisan, however, for his sense of irony and his genuine skepticism soon led him to treat the parties and institutions of the Left with the same ironic attitude he had once applied to the church and to scholarship. In fact, his best-known work, Penguin Island, poked fun at all of French society: the socialists, the Dreyfusards, and those who would establish a perfect human society, as well as at the familiar targets of the church and the army. Similarly, his other well-known works of later years, The Gods Are Athirst and The Revolt of the Angels, berate all organizations in society and lift the satire to a universal plane.

France is still noted for his style, a sense of language touched with irony at all the foibles of humanity. This style was not at its best as an instrument for partisan causes, and, unlike Zola, France is not remembered primarily as a Dreyfusard or a social reformer. France was at his best in The Crime of Sylvestre Bonnard, Penguin Island, and The Revolt of the Angels, works in which he exercised his gift for satire, rationally probing at all the pretense and foolishness of people and their institutions.

France was widely honored in his later years. Although his books were placed on the Index (banned) by papal decree in 1922, he was venerated throughout France and most of the Western world. He was regarded as a patriotic hero throughout World War I when he wrote articles championing the Allied cause and looking forward to world peace. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1921 for “the most remarkable literary work of idealistic stamp.”

BibliographyAxelrad, Jacob, Anatole France: A Life Without Illusions. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1944. In this eminently readable biography, Axelrad focuses on Anatole France’s impact as a social critic and partisan of justice. While the research is carefully undertaken and generally accurate, the point of view is overly sentimental, unabashedly admiring, and insufficiently critical and analytical.Chevalier, Haakon M. The Ironic Temper: Anatole France and His Time. New York: Oxford University Press, 1932. Although dated, this book is insightful and engagingly written. Its purpose is to study a character, not to evaluate the artistic achievement of its subject. It sets an excellent analysis of Anatole France’s ironic view of the world against a detailed portrait of the political climate in which he lived and wrote. Includes photos and a bibliography.Hamilton, James F. “Terrorizing the ‘Feminine’ in Hugo, Dickens, and France.” Symposium 48 (Fall, 1994): 204-215. Argues that these authors repress the feminine side in their depiction of the Terror by cold mechanical reasoning; argues the reign of such reason oppresses the feminine and creates a self-defeating force of violence.Jefferson, Carter. Anatole France: The Politics of Skepticism New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1965. This work emphasizes the historical and political, as opposed to the literary, ideas of Anatole France and is especially informative with respect to the complex and shifting political positions he assumed in the last two decades of his life. The book’s five chapters cover the conservative, anarchist, crusader, socialist, and “bolshevik” stages of Anatole France’s thought. Contains a bibliography.Sachs, Murray. Anatole France: The Short Stories. London: Edward Arnold, 1974. This brief but penetrating analysis focuses on Anatole France’s career as a writer of short fiction. The primary aim of the study is to define and evaluate his distinctive contribution to the evolution of the short story as a literary form.Stableford, Brian M. “Anatole France.” In Supernatural Fiction Writers: Fantasy and Horror, 1: Apuleius to May Sinclair, edited by Everett Franklin Bleiler. New York: Scribner’s, 1985. Brief introduction to France’s treatment of the Christian myth and his fantastic fiction; discusses individual works.Virtanen, Reino. Anatole France. New York: Twayne, 1968. Intended as a general introduction to the author’s work, this insightful volume is accurate and sound in its evaluation of Anatole France’s life and career. It is also of use to the general reader in its detailed analysis of Anatole France’s most significant literary works.
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