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by Bamber Gascoigne

Alphonse Daudet (1840-1897)


French short-story writer and novelist, remembered for his Lettres de mon moulin (1866), light stories of southern France, and his egocentric hero Tartarin from Tartarin de Tarascon (1872) - the boastful, loud, vulgar 'Don Quixote' from the Midi. Alphonse Daudet, who has been called “the French Dickens”, published also under the influence of the Goncourt brothers and Zola such serious books as Fromont jeune et Risler aîné (1874), Jack (1876), and Sapho (1884), which had connections to Alexandre Dumas' (fils) The Lady of the Camillas (1848).

--In the middle of the room was an occasional table, on which stood a decanter of rum, a siphon of soda-water, a Turkish tobacco- pouch, "Captain Cook's Voyages," the Indian tales of Fenimore Cooper and Gustave Aimard, stories of hunting the bear, eagle, elephant, and so on, Lastly, beside the table sat a man of between forty and forty-five, short, stout, thick-set, ruddy, with flaming eyes and a strong stubbly beard ; he wore flannel tights, and was in his shirt sleeves; one hand held a hook, and the other brandished a very large pipe with an iron bowl-cap. Whilst reading heaven only knows what startling adventure of scalp- hunters, he pouted out his lower lip in a terrifying way, which gave the honest phiz of the man living placidly on his means the same impression of kindly ferocity which abounded throughout the house.
--This man was Tartarin himself -- the Tartarin of Tarascon, the great, dreadnought, incomparable Tartarin of Tarascon.

(from Tartarin of Tarascon)

Alphonse Daudet was born in Nimes, where he spent the first eight years of his life. Daudet’s early years were shadowed by the irritable character of his father, a silk manufacturer. After the collapse of the business, the family moved to Lyons. Daudet did not like his new surroundings and he attended school only sporadically.

Daudet wrote his first novel at the age of 14. He worked as a teacher in Alais, but in 1857 Daudet moved to Paris, where his older brother Ernest had settled. To earn his living, Daudet contributed to newspapers, especially for Figaro. From 1861 to 1865 he served as a private secretary for Duke de Morny. This undemanding employment enabled Daudet to devote himself to writing. In 1860 he met Frédéric Mistral, who awakened his enthusiasm for the life of the south France. For health reasons he spent some time in Corsica and Algiers and also collected material for his writings. Like many of the contemporary writers, Daudet contracted syphilis early in life. He was treated by Jean-Martin Charcot, a pioneering neurologist. Eventually Daudet's spinal cord illness tied him in his chair.

Daudet's only collection of poems, Les Amoureuses (1858), which appeared when he was 18, did not attract much attention. The book was dedicated to a model, Marie Rieu, with whom he formed a liaison. Their troubled relationship gave rise to his novel Sapho, where a young Parisian meets a courtesan, falls under her spell. He strives hard to free himself while the aging mistress slaves for him. In the end she returns to a former lover and the young man is left to continue with his own life.

The winter of 1861-62 Daudet spent in Algeria. In 1867 he married Julia Allard, who was a writer, too. During the Franco-Prussian war (1870-71) Daudet enlisted on the army, but fled from the terrors of Paris Commune of 1871. Daudet dealt the war in many stories, such as 'A Game of Billiards', which juxtaposed the realities of battles with a game played in a beautiful chateau. The army is waiting for orders but the Marshall, in full uniform, his breast covered with decorations, is interested in winning his staff officer at billiards. The sound of battle grows nearer, but the Marshall sees nothing, hears nothing, even when shells are falling in the park. He wins the game but the army is utterly routed. "They wait for orders. But men may die without orders, and these men die in hundreds, falling behind bushes, dropping in trenches in front of that great silent chateau. Even after their death, the grapeshot continues to lacerate their bodies; from those gaping wounds flows a silent stream - the generous blood of France." (from 'A Game of Billiards')

"Et maintenant, comment voulez-vous que je le regrette, votre Paris bruyant et noir? Je suis si bien dans mon moulin! C'est si bien le coin que je cherchairs, un petit coin parfumé et chaud, à mille lieues des journaux, des fiacres, du broillard!..." (From Lettres de mon moulin)

Lettres de mon moulin was written in a series of letters and tales from Provence. Tired of the hectic life in Paris, the narrator retreats to Provence. He observes the life of farmers, meets different people, and hears their stories. Among his new friends is Corneille. He struggles against the modern steam mills, who take all his custo thmers. Other stories include the tale of Pope's mule and father Gaucher's elixir. A short story, called 'L'Arlésienne,' was inspired by a real-life tragedy, which included a member of the poet Frédéric Mistral's family. 

Daudet enjoyed for a few years prosperity and fame after the appearance of Fromont the Younger and Risler the Elder (1874), which won an award from the Académie Française. In the story of passions a cold, sphinx-like woman plays with the feelings of her suitors. Jack was a tale of a fatherless child, which moved deeply among others George Sand. In these works Daudet showed his pessimistic side, which became prominent from the 1880s. Like Emile Zola and other naturalist writers, he sharply recorded social evils of the period, but even the most tragic events he depicted with poetic refinement.

His own life the author depicted in Trente ans de Paris (1888) and Souvenirs d'un homme de lettres (1888). Le Petit Chose (1868) was a semiautobiographical novel about the author´s childhood years. During the last period of his life, Daudet suffered from the consequences of a venereal disease, which he had caught from a lectrice de la cour, a woman employed to read alout at the court of Napoleon III. Eventually it led to locomotor ataxia, a disease that produced violent, uncontrolled spasms and flashes of pain. The famous neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot, today best remembered for his work on hypnosis and hysteria, declared him "lost," but Daudet outlived him by three years. Charcot was one of regular visitors at the Daudet's weekly Thursday night gatherings.

"Fear of an attack: shooting pains that either nail me to the spot, or twist me around so that my foot pumps up and down like a knife-grinder's", Daudet described in the posthumously published book, entitled La Doulou. (In the Land of Pain, edited and translated by Julian Barnes, 2002, p. 5) This collection of notes contains an account of his sufferings, but he did not name the disease in this or other writings. Moreover, Daudet never mentioned of his son Léon's (1867-1942) subsequent development of the disease.

Marcel Proust, who was a close family friend of the Daudets', challenged the the gay literary critic Jean Lorrain to a duel, when he suggested that Proust was having an affair with their younger son Lucien. After the duel, Lorrain  stopped attacking Proust. "Unfortunately, I am not the right kind of friend for him, I to am too nervous. He needs someone who, along with similar intellectual and moral aspirations, has the opposite sort of temperament, calm rather than agitated, resolute and happy," Proust wrote to Lucien's mother. (Proust in Love by William C. Carter, 2008, p. 57) Lucien made a career as and artist and novelist. His more famous brother Léon became a novelist too.

Daudet died suddenly while at dinner, on December 16, 1897. Two doctors were called when he collapsed, Dr. Gilles de la Tourette, after whom Tourette’s syndrome was named, and Dr. Potain, Daudet’s old friend. Using a popular method at the time, they gave artificial respiration by pulling on his tongue for an hour and a half. Daudet was only aftewards pronounced to be dead.

Some of the best works of Daudet was published in journals, among them Letteres de mon Moulin and Tartarin de Tarascon, with its two sequels, Tartarin sur les Alpes (1886) and Port-Tarascon (1890). Henry James, who befriended Daudet and his son Léon during his residence in Paris, translated Port-Tarascon into English at the request of the author. He also published several articles on Daudet. James called Daudet his "cher ami et confrére."

Daudet’s satirical novel about the Académie Française, L'Immortel (1888), was considered a revenge – he was never elected its member. Daudet also wrote several theatrical pieces, including L'Arlésienne (1872), based on a story in Lettres de Mon Moulin. Originally this stage adaptation failed to attract an audience and Daudet abandoned the stage for fiction. However, when the producer, Leon Carvalho, commissioned Georges Bizet (1838-75) to write the incidental music for the drama, it became a minor hit. After Bizet's death, Ernest Guiraud put together a second L'Arlésienne suite. Clyde Fitch's stage adaptation of the novel Sapho (1884), about a flower-seller who becomes a famous model with many lovers, opened at the Wallack Theatre on Broadway in Febrary 1900, and was closed by the New York City police. William Randolph Hearst wrote in a New York Journal editorial that Sapho was "an insult to decent women and girls." (Banned Plays: Censorship Histories of 125 Stage Dramas by Dawn B. Sova, 2004, pp. 242-245) 

Lettres de Mon Moulin was adapted into screen by Marcel Pagnol in 1954, starring Roger Crouzet, Henri Cremieux, Edouard Delmont, Henri Vilbert, Fernand Sardou. Tartarin de Tarascon was filmed by Raymond Bernard in 1934. In the title role was the legendary character star Raimu, whom Orson Welles called "the greated actor who ever lived."

In addition to his other activities, Léon Daudet founded with Charles Maurras the right-wing newspaper L'Action Française. Léon married and later divorced the granddaughter of Victor Hugo, gained first fame with Les Morticoles (1894), and was known as a fierce royalist. When Émile Zola was sentenced to imprisonment during the famous Dreyfuss affair, Léon expressed his support to the court's decision. He wrote also a warm memoir of his father and family, Alphonse Daudet by Léon Daudet (1898).

For further reading: Alphonse Daudet, romancier de la famille by Maria Cerullo (2016); La grande affaire du Petit chose: figures de la perversion dans l'œuvre d'Alphonse Daudet by Jean Le Guennec; préface de Roger Ripoll (2006); 'Introduction,' in In the Land of Pain, edited and translated by Julian Barnes (2002); 'Of Sapho and Syphilis: Alphonse Daudet on and in Illness' by Michael Worton, in L'Esprit Créateur, Volume 37, Number 3 (Fall 1997); Alphonse Daudet: maître des tendresses by Marie-Thérèse Jouveau (1990); Les Daudet: 1840-1940: une famille bien française by Jean-Paul Clébert (1988); Alphonse Daudet: la bohème et l'amour by Marc Andry (1985); Alphonse Daudet, a critical bibliography by Geoffrey E. Hare (1978); Alphonse Daudet by Alphonse Victor Roche (1976); Alphonse Daudet by G.V. Dobie (1974); The Career of Alphonse Daudet by Murray Sachs (1965); La jeunesse d'Alphonse Daudet by M. Bruyère (1955); Les années d'aprentissage d'Alphonse Daudet by J.H. Bornecque (1951); Vie d'Alphonse Daudet by Lucien Daudet (1941); Alphonse Daudet (1840-1897) sa vie et son oeuvre. Mémoires et récits by Yvonne Martinet (1940); Daudet et la société du second empire by E. Fricker (1938) - See Henry James, whose novel The Bostonian's is based on Daudet's L'Évangeliste (1883) - In Finnish: Suuri ranskalainen kuvalehti tilasi Albert Edelfeltiltä muotokuvan Daudetista. Edelfelt tapasi kirjailijan 1881, hänestä on mm. piirros Eino Palolan toimittamassa teoksesta Brontësta Lagerlöfiin (1950) - Muita suomennoksia: Seinevirran laivuri, suom. Juhani Aho (1890). Juhani Aho oli ehkä suomalaisista kirjailijoista itse lähimpänä ranskalaista kolleegaansa.

Selected works:

  • Les Amoureuses, 1858 [Women in Love]
  • La Dernière Idole, Drame en un acte et en prose, 1862 (play)
  • Le Roman du Chaperon Rouge, 1862
  • Chapatin, le tueur de lions, 1863 [Chapatin the Lion Killer]
  • Les Absents, 1864 (play)
  • L'Œillet blanc, 1865 (play)
  • Le frère aîné, 1867 (play)
  • Le Petit Chose, 1868
    - The Little Good-For-Nothing (transl. by Mary Neal Sherwood, 1878) / Little What's-His-Name (translation and introduction by W.P. Trent, 2008)
    - Pikku Mies (suom. Hanna Asp, 1917)
    - film: (1938), prod. Compagnie Industrielle et Commerciale Cinématographique (CICC), dir. Maurice Cloche, starring Robert Lynen, Arletty, Marcelle Barry, Raymonde Cazaux, Jean Mercanton
  • Lise Tavernier, 1869 (play)
  • Lettres de mon moulin, 1869
    - Letters from My Mill (translators: Frank Hunter Potter, 1893; John P. Macgregor, 1967) / Letters from My Windmill (trans. by Frederick Davies, 1978)
    - Kirjeitä myllyltäni (suom: Viljo Tarkiainen,1907; Kirsti Luova, 1984)
    - film (1954), dir. by Marcel Pagnol, starring Roger Crouzet, Henri Cremieux, Edouard Delmont, Henri Vilbert, Fernand Sardou
  • Les aventures prodigieuses de Tartarin de Tarascon, 1872
    - The New Don Quixote or the Woderful Adventures of Tartarin de Tarascon / Tartarin of Tarascon (translators: Jacques Le Clercq, 1930; J. M. Cohen, 1968; Oliver C. Colt, 2000) 
    - Tarasconin Tartarin (suom. Jalmari Hahl, 1900) / Tartarin seikkailut (suom. 1937) / Tarasconin mestariampuja (suom. Timo Kylmälä, 1960)
    - films: (1934), prod. Pathé-Natan, dir. by Raymond Bernard, starring Raimu, Fernand Charpin and Sinoël; (1962), dir. Francis Blance, starring Francis Blanche, Alfred Adam and Jacqueline Maillan 
  • L'Arlésienne, 1872 (music for the play composed by Georges Bizet; also an opera by F. Cilèa, performed first time in Milan on November 27, 1897)
    - The Woman of Arles (tr. 1930) / The Girl From Arles (transl. by Sargon de Jesus, 2007)
    - Arlesitar (suom. Viljo Tarkiainen, 1907)
    - films: (1930), dir. Jacques de Baroncelli, starring Blanche Montel, José Noguéro and Germaine Dermoz; (1942), dir. Marc Allégret, starring Raimu, Gaby Morlay, Louis Jordan, Édouard Delmont
  • Les contes du lundi, 1873
    - Monday Tales (transl. by Marian McIntyre, 1900)
    - Maanantai-tarinoita (suom. O. A. Kallio, 1908)
  • Fromont jeune et Risler aîné, 1874
    -  Fromont the Younger and Risler the Elder (tr. 1880) / Fromont Junior and Risler Senior (tr. 1894) / Fromont and Risler (tr. 1899)
    - Fromont nuorempi ja Risler vanhempi: Parisin tapoja (suom. M. Wuori, 1885)
    - film: (1921), dir. Henry Krauss; (1941), dir. Léon Mathot, starring Mireille Balin, Bernard Lancret and Marguerite Pierry 
  • Les femmes d'artistes, 1874
    - Artist’s Wives (transl. by Laura Ensor Daudet, 1890)
    - Taiteilijan avioliitto: pariisilaisia kuvia (suom. K. Halonen, 1909)
  • Jack, mœurs contemporaines, 1876
    - Jack (transl. by Mary Neal Sherwood, 1877; Laura Ensor, 1890)
    - films: (1913), dir. André Liabel; (1925), dir. Robert Saidreau, starring Jean Yonnel, Yanne Exiane and Madeleine Carlier; Las aventuras de Jack (1949), dir. Carlos F. Borcosque; (1975), TV series, dir. Serge Hanin, starring Evelyne Séléna, Stéphane Di Napoli and William Coryn
  • Le Nabab, 1877
    - The Nabob (translators: E. Clavequin, 1879; W. Blaydes, 1902)
  • Les Rois en exil, 1879
    - Kings in Exile (transl. by Virginia Champlin [pseud.], 1880; Katharine Prescott Wormeley, 1900)
    - Kuninkaita maanpaossa (suom. Kasimir Leino, 1907)
  • Numa Roumestan, 1881
    - Numa Roumestan (transl. by Charles De Kay, 1900)
  • L'Évangeliste, 1883
    - (transl. by Mary Neal Sherwood, 1883)
  • Sapho, 1884 
    - Sappho: Parisian Customs (transl. by T.F. Rogerson, 1897) / Sappho: A Picture of Life in Paris (transl. by Eithne Wilkins, 1954)
    - Viimeinen suudelma (suom. Hilkka Kerosuo, 1948)
    - films: (1913), dir. Lucius Henderson; (1917), dir. Hugh Ford; The Eternal Sappho (1916), dir. Bertram Bracken, starring Theda Bara, James Cooley and Walter P. Lewis; (1917), dir. Hugh Ford; (1922), starring Cyril Raymond; (1934), dir. Léonce Perret, starring Mary Marquet, Jean-Max and Marcelle Praince; Safo, historia de una pasión (1943), dir. Carlos Hugo Christensen; Sapho ou La fureur d'aimer (1971), dir. Georges Farrel, starring Marina Vlady, Renaud Verley and Dawn Addams
  • Tartarin sur les Alpes, 1886
    - Tartarin on the Alps (transl. by Henry Firth, 1896)
  • Trente ans de Paris, 1888
    - Thirty Years of Paris and of My Literary Life (transl. by Laura Ensor, 1893)
  • L'Immortel, 1888
    - The Immortal (transl. by J. M. Percival, 1889)
  • Souvenirs d'un homme de lettres, 1889
  • Port-Tarascon, 1890
    - Port Tarascon: The Last Adventures of the Illustrious Tartarin (transl. by Henry James, 1890)
  • L'Obstacle, 1890
  • La Petite Paroisse, 1895
  • La Belle-Nivernaise, and Other Stories, 1895
  • Soutien de famille; moeurs contemporaines, 1898
  • Notes sur ma Vie, 1899
  • The Works of Alphonse Daudet, 1898-1900 (24 vols.)
  • Premier voyage, premier mensonge: souvenirs de mon enfance, 1900
  • Œuvres completes, 1899-1901, 1929-31
  • La Doulou, 1930
    - In the Land of Pain (transl. by Julian Barnes, 2002)
  • Selected Plays, 1944
  • Letters from My Mill & Letters to an Absent One, 1971
  • Histoire d’une amitié: correspondance inédite entre Alphonse Daudet et Frédéric Mistral, 1860-1897, 1979 (edited by Jacques-Henry Bornecque)
  • Œuvres, 1986-1994  (3 vols., edited by Roger Ripoll)
  • Correspondance / Edmond de Goncourt et Alphonse Daudet, 1996 (edited by Pierre Dufief and Anne-Simone Dufief)
  • In the Land of Pain, 2002 (edited and translated by Julian Barnes)

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