About the Author

Portrait of Anatole France

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

"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 in Paris. His real name was Jacques Anatole François Thibault. France's father was a bookseller and called his shop the 'Librarie de France' - from this the future writer took his surname. France acquired at early age a love for books and reading. He 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. He started his weekly column next year. These columns were published between 1889 and 1892 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 Poémes Dorés (1873). France's first collection of stories was published 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.

France married Valérie Guérin de Sauville in 1877. The marriage ended in divorce in 1893, several years after his liaison with Mme Arman de Caillavet (Leontine Lippmann), a patron of arts and the great love of France's life. This period inspired France's Christian fantasy about beauty and wisdom, Thaïs (1890), closely related to Gustave Flaubert's The Temptation of St. Anthony. Les 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. 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, and an American woman whom he had deserted, killed herself in 1911.

"We have medicines to make women speak; we have none to make them keep silence." (from The Man Who Married a Dumb Wife, 1912)

Among France'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.

Most author biographies courtesy of Author's Calendar. Used with permission.