TARTARIN OF TARASCON is the first volume of what was to become a tetralogy, but the three later volumes, LA DEFENSE DE TARASCON (1873), TARTARIN ON THE ALPS (1885), and PORT TARASCON (1890), have been found by critics to be inferior to the book which first made Tartarin a popular comic hero. Readers of SKETCHES BY BOZ (1836) and THE PICKWICK PAPERS (1838) who then come to TARTARIN OF TARASCON may easily see why Alphonse Daudet has been called a French Charles Dickens. There is the same bubbling flow of high spirits in the writing, and the author clearly has an affection for the hero he is mocking in his burlesque. If one seeks, however, for a specific literary influence upon Daudet, it must be Cervantes, whose DON QUIXOTE DE LA MANCHA is repeatedly referred to in the story. Tartarin is part Sancho Panza, whom he resembles in physique, in his love of food and easy living, and in his practicality. He is kin to Don Quixote in his romantic dreaming, his love of reading books of adventure and heroism, and his inability to distinguish between reality and illusion. When Tartarin determines to hunt lions in the Atlas mountains, Daudet shows his two-sided hero in conflict. Sancho-Tartarin quarrels with Quixote-Tartarin, calling him “a cracked head, a visionary, imprudent, and thrice an idiot,” but Quixote-Tartarin, who has told a friend, “I am going,” is, like any romantic hero, a man of his word.
Most of TARTARIN OF TARASCON is narrated in a relaxed, playful tone with occasional remarks such as “You are all witness, dear readers” or “On my word as a story-teller” to suggest an intention only to entertain and amuse. One bit of fantasy even mocks the writers of sentimental fiction when an exiled and bedraggled stagecoach in Algeria mournfully recalls for Tartarin the good old days of its youth and shining beauty in Tarascon. Near the end of the story, however, several passages contain sharp satire upon the shabby French administration in colonial Algeria. Daudet’s brief descriptions and comments may interest twentieth century readers who remember the long and bitter war, which finally ended in Algeria’s independence from France in 1959.