Edmond François Valentin About (ah-bew) was born at Dieuze, France, on February 14, 1828. His studies included several years in a French archaeological school in Athens, an experience which he used as the basis for his first book. La Grèce contemporaine (contemporary Greece), published in 1854, was a collection of travel sketches and observations on the life and social conditions of the Greeks. About returned to Paris, tried unsuccessfully to become an actor, and began writing for various French newspapers and periodicals. While a journalist, he began writing witty, comic novels, the most famous of which are The King of the Mountains and The Notary’s Nose.
About was well known as a man of wit and charm around Paris in the period of the Second Empire. After the war of 1870, About became more liberal and was soon the powerful and energetic editor of a literary and political periodical called Le XIX Siècle. As an editor he exercised a consistent liberal and anticlerical influence on his generation, and his later works such as Le Roman d’un brave homme (the story of an honest man) became more serious forms of social commentary. Widely popular and influential, he was elected to the French Academy in 1884, but before he could take his seat he died in Paris on January 16, 1885.
Although his own age respected About most as an editor, a commentator on the current scene, and a serious novelist with an anticlerical theme, today he is primarily remembered for his comic novels. His wit, charm, and ability to mock any form of pretense make his novels still popular.