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by Bamber Gascoigne

Anatole France (1844-1924) - pseudonym for Jacques Anatole François Thibault


Writer, critic, one of the major figures of French literature in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Anatole France was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1921. In the 1920 France's writings were put on the Index of Forbidden Books of the Roman Catholic Church. His skepticism appears already in his early works, but later the hostility toward bourgeois values led him to support French Communist Party.

"The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread." (from The Red Lily, 1894)

Anatole France was born Jacques Anatole François Thibault in Paris. At early age France acquired a love for books and reading. His father was a peasant, who could neither write nor read until he went into army, eventually becoming bookseller. He called his shop the 'Librarie de France' – and from this the future writer took his surname. France was educated at the Collége Stanislaus, where he was a mediocre student. During this period France adopted his lifelong anti-clericalism and later constantly mocked the church and religious doctrines in his books. On the whole France's early years, which he depicted in My Friend's Book (1885), were happy. After failing his baccalaureate examination several times, France finally passed it at the age of twenty. In the 1860s he was for a time an assistant to his father, then he was a cataloguer and publisher's assistant at Bacheline-Deflorenne and at Lemerre. He also worked as a teacher.

When his father retired, France took a series of jobs as an editorial assistant. He became member of the Parnassian group of poets, Gautier, Catulle, Mendes and others, and built himself a high reputation in the literature circles. During the Franco-Prussian War, France served briefly in the army, and witnessed the bloodbath at the Paris Commune in 1871.

In 1875 the newspaper Le Temps commissioned France to write a series of critical articles on contemporary writers. The next year he started his weekly column, which were published until 1892 and collected in four volumes under the title La vie littéraire. In 1876 France was appointed with the help of the leading Parnassian poet Leconte de Lisle (1818-1894) an assistant librarian for the French Senate, a post he held fourteen years. Leconte de Lisle encouraged France to publish his first collection of poems, Les Poèmes dorés (1873). France's first collection of stories appeared in 1879.

As a novelist France made his breakthrough with The Crime of Sylvestre Bonnard (1881). Like his other works, it looked back to the 18th century as a golden age. Its protagonist, skeptical old scholar Sylvester Bonnard, was the first of series of fictional characters, who embody France's own personality. The novel was praised for its elegant prose and irony and won the author a prize from the French Academy.

In 1877 France married Valérie Guérin de Sauville. The marriage ended in divorce in 1893, several years after France's liaison with Mme Arman de Caillavet (Leontine Lippmann), a patron of arts and the great love of the author. This period inspired France's Christian fantasy about beauty and wisdom, THAÏS (1890), closely related to Gustave Flaubert's The Temptation of St. Anthony. Le Lys rouge (1894), a roman à clef dealing with the relationship, gained a huge success.

Between the years 1897 and 1901 France wrote four novels under the title Contemporary History, a fictional account of Belle Epoque. The first volume introduced an other important France persona, monsieur Bergeret, a provisional schoolteacher. The Queen Pédauque (1893) introduced Jerome Coignard, whom France used as his vehicle for moral ponderings and advocate for tolerance in The Opinions of Mr. Jerome Coignard (1893). During the 1890s and early 1900s France argued for social reforms and attacked the shortcomings of contemporary society and the church. In 1888 he was appointed literary critic of the importrant newspaper Le Temps.

Like many other progressive writers, France participated in the famous Dreyfus, in front of them Émile Zola with his famous article J'Accuse (1898). France discussed the affair in the fourth volume of Contemporary History, entitled Monsieur Bergeret in Paris (1901). He was the first to sign Émile Zola's manifesto, condemning the false indictment for treason of Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish army captain, which had been made to protect high army officials from the scandal of exposed corruption. After the Dreyfus case in the mid-1890s France's ironic views of contemporary society became even more poignant and disillusioned.

France resigned his library job at the Senate in 1890, and was elected to the Académie Française in 1896. He presided at the salon of Armand de Caillavet until her death in 1910. The last fifteen years of France's life were shadowed by personal difficulties, some of which he created himself. His daughter Suzanne died in 1917, his mistress Mme Arman, whom he started to deceive with other women as early as 1904, became seriously ill and died in 1910. He deceived his housekeeper, Emma Laprevotte, whom he later married. With an American woman, Laura Gagey, France had one of his most serious affairs after the loss of Mme Arman de Caillavet. "My adored one, your letter made my heart beat as if it would break," he wrote to her.  "At last, I will press you in my arms." However, at the same time he was involved with a Danish sex maniac. (Thorstein Veblen: Victorian Firebrand by Elizabeth Watkins Jorgensen and Henry Irvin Jorgensen, 1999, p. 86-87) When France deserted her,  Laura Gagey killed herself in 1911 by taking an overdose of sleeping pills. France was present at the funeral and followed the cortège carrying her body all the way to the cemetery. 

Among Frace's major later works is Penquin Island (1908), in which humanity's evolutionary course and the history of France is allegorized satirically through the transformation of penguins into humans – after the animals have been baptized in error by the nearsighted Abbot Mael. The two-volume biography, The Life of Joan of Arc (1908), was poorly received - Catholics criticized its realistic portrayal of Joan and historians had much to say about its historical accuracy. The Gods Are Athirst (1912) was a historical novel about the French Revolution. In The Revolt of Angels (1914) France used the familiar theme of religious conflict from Milton's Paradise Lost. The revolt of fallen angels breaks out again, when a guardian angel, Arcade, is converted to free thought by Lucretius' summary of Epicurean philosophy De rerum natura. The work, a strong protest against violence and tyranny, was the author's last interesting novel.

France died on October 12, 1924, in Tours, where he had moved ten years earlier. His funeral was attended by the highest ranking members of the French government. The poet Paul Valéry succeeded to Anatole France's chair and delivered an unconventional address upon his predecessor. In stead of the usual complimentary obituary, he made an attack: "He perfected the art of brushing lightly over the most serious ideas and problems. Nothing in his books gives the least difficulty unless it be the wonder itself of encountering none." All the newspapers, from left to right, published laudatory obituaries, which were followed by a hostile manifesto, 'Un Cadavre' (October, 1924). Mainly the brainchild of André Breton and Louis Aragon, it was signed by many members of the Surrealist movement (among them Paul Éluard and Philippe Soupault), who wanted to knock the author off his pedestal.

"Anatole France was essentially a rationalist: he did not deny the incongruities and incoherences of experience, but he attempted to write about them, at least, in a simple, logical and harmonious style. Paul Valéry has set himself, on the contrary, the task of reproducing by his very language all the complexities and confusions of our interacting sensations and ideas. The phenomena with which France usually deals are the events of life as it is lived in the world; with Valéry the object of interest is the iolated or ideal human mind, brooding on its own contradictions or admiring its own flights." (Edmund Wilson in Axel's Castle, 1931)

After France's death, interest in his work in England began to rapidly wane. Ford Madox Ford, who was his great admirer, urged Jean Rhys to read him, along with Maupassant, Flaubert and Colette, as examples of "clarity and concision." (''Adventures of the Soul Among Masterpieces': Ford and France (Anatole)' by Max Saunders, in Ford Madox Ford’s Cosmopolis: Psycho-geography, Flânerie and the Cultures of Paris, edited by Alexandra Becquet and Claire Davison, 2016, p. 144) Rhys referred to France's funeral  in her 1939 novel Good Morning, Midnight: "There we were, chatting away affably, paying Anatole France the tribute of a last salute, and most of the people who passed in the procession were chatting away affably too . . . and we were all paying Anatole France the tribute of a last salute". 

For further reading: Anatole France by J.L. May (1924); Anatole France. The Degeneration of a Great Artist by B. Cerf (1926); The Ironic Temper by H.M. Chevalier (1932); Anatole France 1844-1924 by E.P. Dargan (1937); Anatole France: A Life Without Illusions by J. Axelrad (1944); Anatole France in the United States by M.R. McEwan (1945); Anatole France and the Greek World by L.B. Walton (1950); Anatole France: The Politics of Scepticism by C. Jefferson (1965); The Art of Anatole France by O. Bresky (1969); Anatole France by R. Virtanen (1969); Anatole France: The Short Stories by M. Sachs (1974); Techniques of Irony in Anatole France by D.W. Levy (1978); Anatole France by Marie-Claire Bancquart (1994); Anatole France avant l’oubli by Edouard Leduc (2006); Anatole France et le nationalisme littéraire: scepticisme et tradition by Guillaume Métayer (2011); ''Adventures of the Soul Among Masterpieces': Ford and France (Anatole)' by Max Saunders, in Ford Madox Ford’s Cosmopolis: Psycho-geography, Flânerie and the Cultures of Paris, edited by Alexandra Becquet and Claire Davison (2016) 

Selected works:

  • Les Poèmes dorés, 1873
  • Les Noces corinthiennes, 1876
    - The Bride of Corinth, And Other Poems & Plays (translated by Wilfrid Jackson & Emilie Jackson, 1924)
  • Idylles et légendes, 1876
  • Jocaste et le Chat maigre, 1879
    - Jocasta & the Famished Cat (translated by Agnes Farley, 1912)
  • Le Crime de Sylvestre Bonnard, membre de l’Institut, 1881
    - The Crime of Sylvestre Bonnard (translated by Lafcadio Hearn, 1890)
    - Bonnardin, Institutin jäsenen, rikos (suom. Samuli S., 1907) / Instituutin jäsenen Sylvestre Bonnardin rikos (suom. Rakel Kansanen, 1937)
    - Film: Chasing Yesterday, 1936, dir. by George Nichols Jr., screenplay by Francis Edward Faragoh, starring Anne Shirley, O.P. Heggie and Helen Westley
  • Les Désirs de Jean Servien, 1882
    - The Aspirations of Jean Servien (translated by Alfred Allinson, 1912) - Jean Servienin intohimot (suom. 1923) 
  • Abeille, 1883
    - Bee, the Princes of the Dwarfs (translated by Peter Wright, 1912)
  • Le Livre de mon ami, 1885
    - My Friend's Book (translated by J. Lewis May, 1913; Rosalie Feltenstein, c1950)
    - Ystäväni kirja (suom. J. Hollo, 1921)
  • Marguerite, 1886
    - Marguerite (translated by J. Lewis May, 1921)
  • Nos enfants, 1886
    - Our Children: Scenes from the Country and the Town (tr. 1917) / In All France; Children in Town and Country (translated by Dr. A.G. Wippern, ill. Lucille Enders, c1930)
  • La vie littéraire, 1882-92 (4 vols.)
    - On Life & Letters (translated by A. W. Evans, 1911-22, D.B. Stewart, 1922, Bernard Miall, 1924)
  • Balthasar, 1889
    - Balthasar and Other Works (translated by Mrs. John Lane, 1909)
  • Thaïs, 1890
    - Thaïs (translators: A.D. Hall, 1891; Robert B. Douglas, in Works of Anatole France in English 1920; Ernest Tristan, 1925; Basia Gulati, 1976)
    - Thais (suom.)
    - Basis for Massenet's opera of 1894; adapted also into opera stage in 1923 by Frank Crane with Mary Garden. Films: 1914. dir. by Constance Crawley, Arthur Maude; 1917, dir. by Constance Crawley, Arthur Maude; 1984, dir. by Ryszard Ber
  • L'Étui de nacre, 1892
    - Tales from a Mother-of-Pearl Casket (translated by Henri Pène Du Bois, 1896) / Mother of Pearl (translated by Frederic Chapman, 1923)
  • Le Jongleur de Notre Dame, 1892
    - Our Lady's Juggler (translations: 1933, drawings by C. Leroy Baldridge; Frederic Chapman, ill. Fritz Eichenberg, 1938)
    - Opera by Jules Massenet in 1902. Films: Juggler of Notre Dame, 1970, dir. by Milton H. Lehr; The Juggler of Notre Dame, TV film 1982, dir. by Michael Ray Rhodes, starring Carl Carlsson, Sherilyn Wolter and Henry Proach 
  • Le Procurateur de Judée, 1892
  • La Rôtisserie de la reine Pédauque, 1893
    - At the Sign of the Reine Pédauque (translated by Mrs. Wilfrid Jackson, 1912) / The Queen Pédauque (translated by Jos. A. V. Stritzko, 1923) / The Romance of the Queen Pédauque (tr. 1931)
    - Kuningatar Hanhenjalan ravintola (suom. Eino Leino, 1910)
    - TV film: La rôtisserie de la reine Pédauque, 1975, dir. by Jean-Paul Carrère, starring Georges Wilson, Didier Haudepin and Pierre Doris 
  • Les Opinions de Jérôme Coignard, 1893
    - The Opinion of Mr. Jérôme Coignard (translated by Mrs Wilfrid Jackson, 1913)
    - Apotti Coignard'n ajatuksia (suom. Eino Leino ja Eino Palola, 1920
  • Le Lys rouge, 1894
    - The Red Lily (translated by Winifred Stephens, 1921)
    - Punainen lilja (suom. Huvi Vuorinen, 1927)
    - Film 1920, dir. by Charles Maudru, starring Suzanne Delvé, Jean Dax,  Gaston Jacquet, Georges Lannes, Christiane Vernon
  • Le Puits de Sainte Claire, 1895
    - The Well of Saint Clare (translated by Alfred Allinson, 1903)
    - Pyhän Klaaran kaivolla (suom. J. Hollo, 1925)
  • Le Jardin d’Épicure, 1895
    - The Garden of Epicuros (translated by Alfred Allinson, 1908)
  • L'Orme du mail, 1897 (L’Histoire contemporaine)
    - The Elm-Tree on the Mall: A Chronicle of Our Own Times (translated by M.P. Willcocks, in The Works of Anatole France in an English Translation, edited by Frederic Chapman, 1910)
  • Le Mannequin d'osier, 1897 (L’Histoire contemporaine)
    - The Wicker-Work Woman (translated by M.P. Willcocks, 1910)
  • Au petit bonheur, 1898
    - One Can But Try (tr. 1915)
  • L’Anneau d’améthyste, 1899 (L’Histoire contemporaine)
    - The Amethyst Ring (translated by B. Drillien, 1919)
  • Monsieur Bergeret à Paris, 1901 (L’Histoire contemporaine)
    - Monsieur Bergeret in Paris (translated by B. Drillien, 1921)
    - Bergeret'n avioliitto (suom. Huvi Vuorinen, 1945)
  • Pierre Nozière, 1898
    - Pierre Nozière (translated by J. Lewis May, 1916)
    - Pierre Nozière (suom. Arvi Nuormaa, 1925)
  • Clio, 1900
    - Clio (translated by Winifred Stephens, 1922)
  • Filles et garçons: scènes de la ville et des champs, 1900
    - Girls and Boys: Scènes from the Country and the Town (tr. 1913)
  • L'Affaire Crainquebille, 1901
    - Crainquebille, Putois, Riquet and Other Profitable Tales (translated by Winifred Stephens, 1922) / Crainquebille (translated by Jacques Le Clercq, ill. Bernard Lamotte, 1949)
    - Crainquebille y.m. kertomuksia (suom. Otto Manninen, 1907)
    - Films: Crainquebille, 1922, dir. by Jacques Feyder; Crainquebille, 1934, dir. by Jacques de Baroncelli; Crainquebille, 1954, dir. by Ralph Habib, starring Yves Deniaud, Christian Fourcade and Pierre Mondy; Crainquebille, TV film 2010, in Au siècle de Maupassant: Contes et nouvelles du XIXème siècle, dir. Philippe Monnier, starring Jean-François Stévenin, Martin Lamotte and Bastien Bouillon
  • Opinions sociales, 1902
  • Funérailles d'Émile Zola, 1902
  • Crainquebille, pièce en trois tableaux, 1903
    - Cranquebille (translated by Barrett H. Clark, 1915)
  • Histoire comique, 1903
    - A Mummer's Tale (translated by Charles E. Roche, 1908)
  • Le Parti noir, 1904
  • Sur la pierre blanche, 1905
    - The White Stone (translated by Charles E. Roche, in The Works of Anatole France, 1910)
    - Valkoisella kivellä (suom. Siimes Kanervio, 1910)
  • Vers les temps meilleurs, 1906
    - The Unrisen Dawn (translated by J. Lewis May, 1928)
  • Pour le prolétariat, 1906
  • L’Île des Pingouins, 1908
    - Penguin Island (translated by A.W. Evans, 1909; Belle Notkin Burke, 1968)
    - Pingviinien historia (suom. Väinö Hupli, 1911) / Pingviinien saari (suom. Joel Lehtonen, 1924)
    - Film: L'Exercice du pouvoir, 1978, dir. by Philippe Galland, starring Michel Aumont, Raymond Gérôme and Michèle Moretti
  • Les Contes de Jacques Tournebroche, 1908
    - The Merrie Tales of Jacques Tournebroche (translated by Alfred Allinson, 1909)
    - Paistinkääntäjän pakinoita (suom. Huvi Vuorinen, 1928)
  • La Vie de Jeanne d'Arc, 1908
    - The Life of Joan of Arc (translated by Winifred Stephens, 1908)
  • Les Sept Femmes de Barbe bleue et autres contes merveilleux, 1909
    - The Seven Wives of Bluebeard And Other Marvelous Tales (translated by D. B. Stewart, 1920)
    - Siniparran seitsemän vaimoa (suom. L. Onerva, 1920)
  • The Works of Anatole France in an English Translation, 1909–1926 (36 vols., edited by Frederick Chapman, James Lewis May, and Bernard Miall)
  • Rabelais, 1909
    - Rabelais (translated by Ernest Boyd, 1929)
  • La Comédie de celui qui épousa une femme muette, 1912
    - The Man Who Married a Dumb Wife (translated by Curtis Hidden Page, in The Works of Anatole France, 1915)
    - Films: The Man Who Married a Dumb Wife, TV film 1954, starring Alistair Cooke, Zachary Scott and Fredd Wayne; Mies, joka nai mykän vaimon, TV film 1965, dir. Ritva Arvelo, Kaarlo Hiltunen, starring Martti Järvinen, Markku Nirola, Oiva Lohtander, Arja Pessa, Marjatta Raita, Marja-Leena Syvänen; Mamali-qirurgi, 1970, dir. by Mikheil Chiaureli
  • Les dieux ont soif , 1912
    - The Gods Are Athirst (translated by Alfred Allinson, 1913; Linda Frey et al., 1927; Alec Brown, 1950) / The Gods Will Have Blood (translated by Frederick Davies, 1979)
    - Jumalat janoavat (suom. L. Onerva, 1911) / Jumalat janoavat; Enkelten kapina (suom. Tuula Helasti, 1979)
    - Film: Les dieux ont soif, 1926, dir. by Charles Maudru
  • Le Génie latin, 1913
    - The Latin Genius (translated by Wilfrid S. Jackson, 1924)
  • La Révolte des anges, 1914
    - The Revolt of the Angels (translated by Mrs. Wilfrid Jackson, 1914) - Enkelten kapina (suom. Joel Lehtonen, 1925) / Jumalat janoavat; Enkelten kapina (suom. Tuula Helasti, 1979)
  • Sur la voie glorieuse, 1915
    - The Path of Glory (translated by Alfred Allison, 1916)
  • Ce que disent nos morts, 1916
  • Le Petit Pierre, 1918
    - Little Pierre (translated by J. Lewis May, 1920)
    - Pikku Pietari (suom. J.A. Hollo, 1924)
  • Stendhal, 1920
    - Stendhal (translated by J. Lewis May, 1926)
  • Le comte Morin, député, 1921
    - Count Morin, Deputy (translated by J. Lewis May, 1921)
  • Les matinées de la Villa Saïd, 1921 (ed. Paul Gsell)
    - The Opinions of Anatole France (translated by Ernest Boyd, 1922)
  • La vie en fleur, 1922
    - The Bloom of Life (translated by J. Lewis May, 1923)
  • Le Chanteur de Kymé, 1923
  • Mademoiselle Roxane, 1923
  • Dernières pages inédites, 1925 (ed. Michel Corday)
  • Œuvres complètes, 1925-35 (25 vols., ed. Claude Aveline and Léon Carias)
  • Prefaces, Introductions, and Other Uncollected Papers, 1927 (translated by J. Lewis May)
  • Anatole France 1844-1924, 1948 (edited by Claude Aveline)
  • Lettres inédites d’Anatole France à Jacques Lion, 1965 (edited by Marie-Claire Bancquart)
  • Lettres inédites d’Anatole France à Paul-Louis Couchoud et sa femme, 1968 (edited by Gérald Bloch)
  • Œuvres complètes, 1968 (29 vols., ed. Jacques Suffel)
  • Lettres inédites d’Anatole France à Paul Grunebaum-Ballin, 1971 (edited by Jean Diedisheim)
  • Anatole France et Madame de Caillavet: lettres intimes, 1888-1889, 1984 (edited by Jacques Suffel)
  • Œuvres, 1984-1994 (4 vols., ed. Marie-Claire Bancquart)
  • Les pensées, 1994 (selected by Eric Eugène; preface by Marie-Claire Bancquart)
  • Au tournant du siècle, 2000 (preface by Olivier Barrot)
  • Penguin Island, 2016 (Ile des pingouins; illustrated by Frank C. Papé)
  • The Revolt of the Angels, 2018 (Révolte des anges; illustrated by Frank C. Papé; translated by Mrs. Wilfrid Jackson) 

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