Alphonse Daudet (doh-day) is among the most durable of the literary figures of France in the last half of the nineteenth century, as well as one of the most prolific of his generation. His poetic approach to realism made him universally popular, for, unlike his contemporaries, he wrote with a sympathy and a cautious optimism that produced an appealing tenderness without recourse to mawkish sentimentality. Critics who find his prose difficult to define have termed him variously a realist, a naturalist, an impressionist, and an independent. Daudet himself professed to follow no school, maintaining that all such inflexibility is absurd.
A native of Nîmes, in Provence, where he was born in 1840 and where his family struggled to preserve a rapidly failing silk weaving business, Daudet grew up in a period of financial crises which taught him sympathy for all human failings. At the age of sixteen, he was forced to take a position as a novice instructor in a small provincial school at Alais, where he suffered innumerable humiliations and hardships, most of which he later incorporated into his first novel, My Brother Jack. Two years later, he joined his brother in Paris to seek his fortune as an author. Believing himself destined to be a poet, Daudet made his debut with a small volume of poetry patterned after the romantic verses of Alfred de Musset. Entitled Les Amoureuses, the collection had a vogue in the salons of the period and brought him to the attention of the Duc de Morny, who hired him as a secretary. It was at this time that Daudet was stricken with a nervous disease that was to...
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