Anatole France

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Anders Zorn : Portrait of Anatole France (1906)
Signature of Anatole France
Anatole France

Anatole France ( François Anatole Thibault ; born April 16, 1844 in Paris , † October 12, 1924 in Saint-Cyr-sur-Loire ) was a French writer . In 1921 he received the Nobel Prize for Literature .

Life and work

France grew up as the son of a highly educated bookseller and finished high school in 1864 at the Catholic College Stanislas in Paris with a Baccalauréat . He was interested in literature at an early age and developed a profound humanistic education . In 1866 he met the publisher Alphonse Lemerre and became a freelance editor with him , for example when he edited a multi-volume anthology of contemporary poetry. In 1876, in order to have a steady income for his marriage and starting a family, he took a job as a library clerk , which he gave up in 1890 after he was able to make a living from his writing.

As an author he began with poetry in the style of the poet of Parnasse , in whose circle around Charles Leconte de Lisle he moved from 1867. But he worked early as narrator and as a literary critic (who, for example, the new symbolism about Mallarmé or Verlaine's first not goutierte).

His breakthrough came in 1881 with the novel Le Crime de Sylvestre Bonnard, membre de l'Institut (The crime of Sylvestre Bonnard, member of the institute ), which was awarded the Prix ​​de l'Académie française , gave him access to the Parisian literary salons , a . a. that of Mme de Caillavet, and earned him the Legion of Honor in 1884 . Le Crime (the title is ironic, by the way) is a sentimental novel that tells in diary form the story of an unworldly older private scholar who finds real life in what at first appears to be a rather coincidental commitment to the needy, especially the orphaned granddaughter of his childhood sweetheart.

In line with its middle-class tradition, France took a more conservative stance for a long time. B. in the novel Les désirs de Jean Servien (1882) set at the time of the Paris Commune or in 1887 in a negative review by Émile Zola . In 1888 he even sympathized for a short time with the chauvinism of Georges Boulanger , the "Général revanche". However, around 1890 it slowly moved to the left. He opened up to anti-clerical and humanitarian-socialist ideas, whereby he was less interested in revolutionizing society than in the emancipation of the individual from inhumane material and moral constraints. Not uninvolved in his rethinking was probably the biographical fact that he had started an extramarital relationship with Mme de Caillavet in 1888, which led him to separate his wife and daughter in 1892.

Evidence of his rethinking was his first historical novel, Thaïs , in 1889/90 . It tells the story of an ascetic Christian monk, set in the cosmopolitan Alexandria of the 4th century, who tries to convert the pagan courtesan Thaïs, but is himself converted to the insight that renouncing all sensual pleasure cannot be willed by God (1894 by Jules Massenet set to music as an opera Thaïs ).

Anti-clerical and progressist thinking is also evident in the very successful short novel La Rôtisserie de la Reine Pédauque ( The Brat Kitchen for Queen Pedauque ) from 1892/93. It is a narrative work in the style of the philosophical novels and narratives of the 18th century, which is supposed to be taken from a manuscript that was found by chance from that period. Here a Picaresque first-person narrator reports his manifold experiences with the very unorthodox former churchman and high school professor Jérôme Coignard (whose figure of an undogmatic skeptic and free thinker France also used in the same year 1893 in the satirical series of articles Les opinions de Jérôme Coignard ).

In the present, however, the autobiographically inspired novel Le lys rouge (The Red Lily) from 1894 tells the story of a banker's wife's difficult love for an artist (made into one piece and performed in 1899).

In 1895, France was promoted to officer of the Legion of Honor in his capacity as a moderate progressist author . On January 23, 1896, the versatile man of letters and brilliant stylist was accepted into the Académie française as the successor to the late Ferdinand de Lesseps ( Fauteuil 38 ).

The romantic tetralogy Histoire contemporaine (contemporary history) is a clear expression of his position, which is constantly drifting further to the left . Volumes I and II (both 1897) were still a satirical portrayal of the French province ruled by clerical and monarchist forces, so are Volume III (1899) and especially Volume IV (1901), whose story is about the university lecturer Bergeret in Paris, under the impression of the Dreyfus affair, which worsened from the end of 1897 . They show a transition from mere social criticism from the perspective of a moderately left republican to the decidedly left engagement of a sympathizer of the socialist party and its leader Jean Jaurès .

His new commitment also manifested itself in 1898 in his journalistic statements on the Dreyfus affair. He signed the petition published on January 15, 1898 in Le Temps , in which the revision of the misjudgment against Alfred Dreyfus was requested. He also commented on the politically motivated trial against Émile Zola. It was also shown in the biting story L'Affaire Crainquebille (1901), where he describes how a ruthless judge, together with an authoritarian police officer, tried a small greengrocer and robbed the criminal of his bourgeois existence (1903 processed and performed in one piece ).

France also pursues politically left-wing intentions in the biography La Vie de Jeanne d'Arc (1908), where he tries to disenchant the figure of Joan of Arc , who has just been stylized as a national icon by the French right (beatification by the Pope 1909) .

Two excursions into the theater with Noces corinthiennes (1902) and La Comédie de celui qui épouse une muette (1908) had little consequences.

The most famous were the novels L'Île des pingouins ( The Island of the Penguins ) of 1908 and Les dieux ont soif (The Gods Thirst) of 1912. The former is a sarcastic outline of French history from the beginning to the present, disguised as the story of a fictional penguin empire, whereby the author judges its future very pessimistically due to the greed and haughty lack of insight of the "penguins". The other novel tells the story of a doctrinal revolutionary and his contribution to the bloodthirsty reign of terror of 1793/94. It is a call against the ideological and political fanaticism that polarized France of the time.

During the First World War, France, after initially attempting to act as a peace warning, took a moderately patriotic position.

After the Communists left the Socialist Party at the end of 1920, he took their side and was one of the first prominent pro-communist intellectuals. He did not become a party member, however, and as early as 1922 he cautiously withdrew from them because of their absolute submission to Moscow. At the end of the same year, texts by him were no longer allowed to be printed in party-affiliated journals.

In 1921 he was the fourth French author to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature. By contrast, the Vatican placed his complete works on the Librorum Prohibitorum index in 1922 .

The author's home in Paris 1894–1924.

On his 80th birthday in 1924, France was showered with honors and, on his death that same year, was awarded a state funeral in Paris. After the celebrations, his remains were buried, as he wished, in the old cemetery of Neuilly-sur-Seine , where his parents were also buried.

The fame soon faded, however, not least because France's protagonists appear psychologically flat and undifferentiated to today's readers, often representing too clearly what the author wanted or rejected. In the last year of his life he was also reviled as a pseudo-left bourgeois by the pro-communist surrealists , especially Louis Aragon , which earned him the odor of a disguised right among many left intellectuals of the interwar, war and post-war periods.

Anatole France is particularly valued by today's readers as a novelist and author of L'Ile des Pingouins and Les dieux ont soif .


«[...] la majestueuse égalité des lois, qui interdit au riche comme au pauvre de coucher sous les ponts, de mendier dans les rues et de voler du pain. »

"[...] under the majestic equality of the law, which forbids rich and poor to sleep under bridges, beg on the streets and steal bread."

- Anatole France : Le lys rouge , 1894 (German from Franziska zu Reventlow : Die rote Lilie , Munich 1925, p. 116)

Awards and honors

Works (selection)

  • Le crime de Sylvestre Bonnard. 1881
    • Professor Bonnard's fault. Reclam, Leipzig 1911
  • The roast kitchen for Queen Pedauque ("La rôtisserie de la Reine Pédauque"). Piper, Munich 1987 ISBN 3-492-10729-X
  • Crainquebille ("L'affaire Crainquebille"). Reclam, Stuttgart 1984 ISBN 3-15-009162-4
  • The island of the penguins ("L'Île des pingouins"). Fischer, Frankfurt 1991 ISBN 3-596-10393-2
  • Le lys rouge. 1894
  • Les dieux ont soif , 1912
    • The gods thirst . Georg Müller Verlag, 1912; Again construction publishing house, Berlin 1989 ISBN 3-351-01393-0
  • Riot of the angels ("La révolte des Anges"). Zsolnay, Vienna 1981 ISBN 3-552-03304-1
    • Riot of angels . New transl. Oliver Fehn . Pandämonium-Verlag, Kassel 2018
  • The novels of the present. A cycle of four novels. ("Histoire contemporaine"). Musarion-Verlag, Munich 1920/1921 (Contains: The Elm on the Wall , The Tasting Dummy , The Amethyst Ring , Professor Bergeret in Paris )
  • On the white rock. Novel. ("Sur la pierre blanche") Piper, Munich 1910
  • The life of St. Joan ("Vie de Jeanne d'Arc "). Carl Verlag, Nuremberg 1946
  • The garden of Epicurus. ("Le Jardin d'Épicure"). Publishing house Bruns, Minden 1906
  • Thaïs, Bluebeard, Crainquebille and other stories . Translated by Irmgard Nickel, Günther Steinig (only for Crainquebille ). Dieterich Verlag, Leipzig 1975 and others. ( Dieterich Collection , 342)


  • Valéry Dupuy: Proust et Anatole France . Dissertation, University of Paris 2001.
  • Heinrich Mann : Anatole France . In: Ders .: Spirit and Action. French from 1780 to 1930. Essays . Fischer Taschenbuchverlag, Frankfurt / M. 1997, ISBN 3-596-12860-9 (reprint of the Berlin 1931 edition).
  • Jean Marvaud: Anatole France, écrivain français . Levebvre, Paris 1962.
  • Edith Tendron: Anatole France inconnu . Editions du Céfal, Liège 1996, ISBN 2-87130-046-1 .

Web links

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