Alphonse Daudet was the fifth child of Vincent Daudet and Adeline Raynaud, but only the third to survive. Childhood was not a particularly happy time for Daudet. His health was delicate, and the family was forced to live in a state of financial stress, which grew as his father’s silk business gradually declined and finally collapsed. In 1849, the family was forced to move to Lyons in search of work.
Daudet’s formal schooling took place in Lyons. During this period, he showed some signs of literary talent, but they were not encouraged. A fairly good student when he attended classes, the youngster often chose to explore the city instead. In the spring of 1857, Daudet was taken out of school and sent to Alès in Provence as a study assistant in a secondary school. By November, he had resigned his position and was soon in Paris with his first literary manuscript.
Daudet’s older brother, Ernest, gave Daudet shelter and encouragement. In quick order, the young literary hopeful had entered the bohemian circles of the capital, had taken a mistress, and had found a publisher for his poems. Throughout his career, Daudet would draw on his own life for his fiction. His childhood and adolescence are chronicled in his first novel, as is his early life in Paris. Reminiscences of this later period and its bohemian aspects are frequent in many of his works.
The slight reception given to Les Amoureuses convinced Daudet that he was not a good poet. He turned to short, topical pieces for Paris journals, and in 1860 was fortunate enough to receive a sinecure as secretary to the duke of Morny, a position he held until the duke’s death, five years later. Daudet had been frail since childhood, and health problems began to affect him in the early 1860’s. Under doctor’s orders, he spent winters in his native Provence and in Algeria and Corsica. During these southern sojourns, he became acquainted with the Provençal poet Frédéric Mistral. In 1862, Daudet’s first play, La Dernière Idole, written with L’Épine, was successfully produced at the Théâtre de l’Odéon. Daudet began to write for the theater, concentrating on plays for the next ten years. None of his efforts, however, had the success of the first. Even The Woman from Arles, Daudet’s most familiar play, was a failure when initially staged in...
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