Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)
0111200553-France.jpg Anatole France (Library of Congress) Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Anatole France was the kind of thoroughgoing professional man of letters who did almost every conceivable kind of writing in his time: in verse and in prose, works of the imagination and works of scholarship, journalism, polemical tracts, and autobiography. Fame of international proportions came late in his career—he had passed his fiftieth birthday by the time he was recognized as one of his country’s great writers—and its basis was certainly his work in fiction, both novels and short stories. His first publication, however, was a work of literary criticism, and he achieved recognition as one of the best and most widely read critics and book reviewers in France during the 1880’s and 1890’s. He published two volumes of not-very-distinguished verse in the 1870’s, and over a period of twenty-five years, he patiently compiled a controversial but well researched historical study of the life of Joan of Arc, published in 1908. His polemical writings, some of them the texts of speeches made at public meetings, were related to two major events of his lifetime—the Dreyfus affair and World War I; in the former, he was a leading pro-Dreyfus spokesman, and in the latter he defended a pacifist point of view. For a time he also wrote polemical articles for a socialist newspaper. He ventured only once into theatrical writing, with a comedy published in 1908, based on the medieval tale of the man who married a dumb wife. His autobiography is mildly fictionalized, although accurate in essentials, and runs to four volumes spread over a period of more than thirty years. For all the variety of his chosen forms, however, his most characteristic literary posture was that of the storyteller. Even his work as literary critic and historian emphasizes the anecdotal approach, and the Nobel Prize in Literature, which he won in 1921, certainly honored, above all else, the novelist and short-story writer.