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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Nothing had more effect on Alphonse Daudet’s rather uneventful life than the fact that he was born and brought up in southern France, the Midi. Throughout his life, Daudet maintained that the meridional temperament, which was his heritage, made him profoundly different from Northerners and accounted for his facile volubility and intense emotionalism. Although he was a Parisian by adoption for most of his life, it is a fact that his identity as a southerner, including the distinctive accent of the Midi, never faded, and his great gifts as a spellbinding talker in social situations is widely attested.
For the first eight years of his life, Daudet lived in Nîmes, with its strong flavor of ancient Roman civilization. The family then moved to Lyons, where Alphonse experienced both a less prosperous family life and a more “northern” culture and atmosphere than Nîmes had afforded, although it was still distinctly part of the Midi. His studies were interrupted at age sixteen so he could take on the post of class assistant in a school in the southern town of Alès, thus relieving his family of a financial burden.
He lasted only a few months in that post, however, and at the age of seventeen he went to Paris and moved in with his older brother Ernest. He had been writing since his early teens, and within a year of his arrival in Paris he was able to arrange publication of a small volume of his poems and even had some success reciting his poems...
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