Summary

Despite his Nobel Prize, Anatole France’s international reputation has always suffered somewhat from the fact that he does not fit into either of the literary categories currently regarded as the most prestigious. His early adventures in poetry were undistinguished, and the bare handful of realistic novels that he produced are very obviously novels of ideas rather than novels of character. His best work is in the tradition of Voltairean contes philosphiques, which never won much acclaim outside France and petered out even within its native land. He remains, however, one of the finest contributors to the later days of that tradition (and a very significant influence on James Branch Cabell, the one writer who tried hard to import it into the United States). France’s greatest virtues—his painstaking erudition and the dispassionate coolness of his intelligence and wit—are sometimes held against him by critics who prefer more intimate narratives and more intricate plots, but they are rare virtues that ought to be accounted more precious than they often are. The Revolt of the Angels remains the classic work of the tradition of “literary Satanism” that sprang from William Blake’s observation that the author of Paradise Lost, John Milton, had been “of the devil’s party without knowing it.” Such literature raises the important question of whether the commandments of a jealous God are really the best basis for human morality.