Anatole France
Photograph by Wilhelm Benque
Photograph by Wilhelm Benque
BornFrançois-Anatole Thibault
(1844-04-16)16 April 1844
Paris, France
Died12 October 1924(1924-10-12) (aged 80)
Tours, France
Notable awardsNobel Prize in Literature

Anatole France (French: [anatɔl fʁɑ̃s]; born François-Anatole Thibault, [frɑ̃swa anatɔl tibo]; 16 April 1844 – 12 October 1924) was a French poet, journalist, and novelist with several best-sellers. Ironic and skeptical, he was considered in his day the ideal French man of letters.[1] He was a member of the Académie Française, and won the 1921 Nobel Prize in Literature "in recognition of his brilliant literary achievements, characterized as they are by a nobility of style, a profound human sympathy, grace, and a true Gallic temperament".[2]

France is also widely believed to be the model for narrator Marcel's literary idol Bergotte in Marcel Proust's In Search of Lost Time.[3]

Early years

The son of a bookseller, France, a bibliophile,[4] spent most of his life around books. His father's bookstore specialized in books and papers on the French Revolution and was frequented by many writers and scholars. France studied at the Collège Stanislas, a private Catholic school, and after graduation he helped his father by working in his bookstore.[5] After several years, he secured the position of cataloguer at Bacheline-Deflorenne and at Lemerre. In 1876, he was appointed librarian for the French Senate.[6]

Literary career

France began his literary career as a poet and a journalist. In 1869, Le Parnasse contemporain published one of his poems, "La Part de Madeleine". In 1875, he sat on the committee in charge of the third Parnasse contemporain compilation. As a journalist, from 1867, he wrote many articles and notices. He became known with the novel Le Crime de Sylvestre Bonnard (1881).[7] Its protagonist, skeptical old scholar Sylvester Bonnard, embodied France's own personality. The novel was praised for its elegant prose and won him a prize from the Académie Française.[8]

France's home, 5 villa Saïd, 1894–1924

In La Rotisserie de la Reine Pedauque (1893) France ridiculed belief in the occult, and in Les Opinions de Jérôme Coignard (1893), France captured the atmosphere of the fin de siècle. He was elected to the Académie Française in 1896.[9]

France took a part in the Dreyfus affair. He signed Émile Zola's manifesto supporting Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish army officer who had been falsely convicted of espionage.[10] France wrote about the affair in his 1901 novel Monsieur Bergeret.

France's later works include Penguin Island (L'Île des Pingouins, 1908) which satirizes human nature by depicting the transformation of penguins into humans – after the birds have been baptized by mistake by the almost-blind Abbot Mael. It is a satirical history of France, starting in Medieval times, going on to the author's own time with special attention to the Dreyfus affair and concluding with a dystopian future. The Gods Are Athirst (Les dieux ont soif, 1912) is a novel, set in Paris during the French Revolution, about a true-believing follower of Maximilien Robespierre and his contribution to the bloody events of the Reign of Terror of 1793–94. It is a wake-up call against political and ideological fanaticism and explores various other philosophical approaches to the events of the time. The Revolt of the Angels (La Revolte des Anges, 1914) is often considered France's most profound and ironic novel. Loosely based on the Christian understanding of the War in Heaven, it tells the story of Arcade, the guardian angel of Maurice d'Esparvieu. Bored because Bishop d'Esparvieu is sinless, Arcade begins reading the bishop's books on theology and becomes an atheist. He moves to Paris, meets a woman, falls in love, and loses his virginity causing his wings to fall off, joins the revolutionary movement of fallen angels, and meets the Devil, who realizes that if he overthrew God, he would become just like God. Arcade realizes that replacing God with another is meaningless unless "in ourselves and in ourselves alone we attack and destroy Ialdabaoth." "Ialdabaoth", according to France, is God's secret name and means "the child who wanders".

France c. 1921

He was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1921. He died on 13 October 1924[1] and is buried in the Neuilly-sur-Seine Old Communal Cemetery near Paris.

On 31 May 1922, France's entire works were put on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum ("List of Prohibited Books") of the Catholic Church.[11] He regarded this as a "distinction".[12] This Index was abolished in 1966.

Personal life

In 1877, France married Valérie Guérin de Sauville, a granddaughter of Jean-Urbain Guérin, a miniaturist who painted Louis XVI.[13] Their daughter Suzanne was born in 1881 (and died in 1918).

France's relations with women were always turbulent, and in 1888 he began a relationship with Madame Arman de Caillavet, who conducted a celebrated literary salon of the Third Republic. The affair lasted until shortly before her death in 1910.[13]

After his divorce, in 1893, France had many liaisons, notably with a Madame Gagey, who committed suicide in 1911.[14]

In 1920, France married for the second time, to Emma Laprévotte.[15]

France had socialist sympathies and an outspoken supporter of the 1917 Russian Revolution. However he also vocally defended the institution of monarchy as more inclined to peace than bourgeois democracy, saying in relation to efforts to end the First World War that "a king of France, yes a king, would have had pity on our poor, exhausted, bloodlet nation. However democracy is without a heart and without entrails. When serving the powers of money, it is pitiless and inhuman."[16] In 1920, he gave his support to the newly founded French Communist Party.[17] In his book The Red Lily, France famously wrote, "The law, in its majestic equality, forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal loaves of bread."[18]


The English writer George Orwell defended France and declared that his work remained very readable, and that "it is unquestionable that he was attacked partly from political motives".[19]



France pictured by Jean Baptiste Guth for Vanity Fair, 1909
Nos Enfants, illustrations by Louis-Maurice Boutet de Monvel (1900)

Prose fiction



Historical biography

Literary criticism

Social criticism


  1. ^ a b "Anatole France, Great Author, Dies", The New York Times, October 13, 1924, p.1
  2. ^ "The Nobel Prize in Literature 1921". Retrieved 28 September 2023.
  3. ^ "Marcel Proust: A Life, by Edmund White". 12 July 2010. Retrieved 28 September 2023.
  4. ^ "Anatole France". benonsensical. 24 July 2010. Archived from the original on 13 November 2012. Retrieved 30 July 2012.
  5. ^ Tylden-Wright, David (1967). Anatole France. New York: Walker and Company. p. 37.
  6. ^ Tylden-Wright, David (1967). Anatole France. New York: Walker and Company. p. 55.
  7. ^ "France, Anatole". Encyclopedia.Com, Cengage. 2018. Retrieved 28 September 2023.
  8. ^ "Book awards: Prix Montyon de l'Académie française: Book awards by cover". LibraryThing. Retrieved 11 June 2022.
  9. ^ Virtanen, Reino (1968). Anatole France. New York: Twayne Publishers, Inc. p. 88.
  10. ^ Tekijä, jonka. Anatole France (1844-1924)- pseudonym for Jacques Anatole Francois Thibault. Authors’ Calendar. books and writers. Retrieved 11 June 2022.
  11. ^ Halsall, Paul (May 1998). "Modern History Sourcebook: Index librorum prohibitorum, 1557–1966 (Index of Prohibited Books)". Internet History Sourcebooks Project (Fordham University).
  12. ^ "ANATOLE FRANCE REGARDS IT AS A "DISTINCTION" TO HAVE HIS BOOKS BANNED BY THE HOLY ROMAN CHURCH". Current Opinion. September 1922. p. 295. Retrieved 30 September 2023.
  13. ^ a b Édouard Leduc (2004). Anatole France avant l'oubli. Éditions Publibook. pp. 219, 222–. ISBN 978-2-7483-0397-1.
  14. ^ Leduc, Edouard (2006). Anatole France avant l'oubli (in French). Editions Publibook. p. 223. ISBN 9782748303971.
  15. ^ Lahy-Hollebecque, M. (1924). Anatole France et la femme 252 pp. Baudinière.
  16. ^ Original text here. Marcel Le Goff, Anatole France à La Béchellerie - Propos et souvenirs 1914-1924 (Léo Delteil, Paris, 1924), p. 166.
  17. ^ "Anatole France". The Free Dictionary. Retrieved 28 September 2023.
  18. ^ Go, Johann J. (2020). "Structure, choice, and responsibility". Ethics & Behavior. 30 (3): 230–246. doi:10.1080/10508422.2019.1620610. S2CID 197698306.
  19. ^ Harrison, Bernard (29 December 2014b). What Is Fiction For?: Literary Humanism Restored. Indiana University Press. ISBN 9780253014122. Retrieved 28 September 2023.