Jacques-Anatole-Françoi Thibault Biography


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Far more than for most writers, for Anatole France (born Jacques Anatole François Thibault) the world of the book was the central arena of his life. He was the son of a well-known Paris bookseller, and he grew up and was largely educated in the atmosphere created by the bookshop and its customers. His first employment was as researcher for reference works in preparation, and as editor in a publishing house. For some years he worked in the library of the French Senate, and much of the journalism he did while getting established as a writer took the form of book criticism. The subject matter of most of his novels and short stories either was derived from books or, not infrequently, was about writers and intellectuals. The immersion in the book world was so complete that his life apart from books had little substance, even in those years when he seemed actively involved in public events such as the Dreyfus affair. Most of the “events” of his eighty years were publications; nothing else in his life really mattered.

Perhaps the most interesting feature of his biography is that, although he never seems to have contemplated any vocation other than that of man of letters, it took him a very long time to become securely established as a writer. He was twenty-four years old when his first publication appeared; it was a critical study of the recently decreased poet, Alfred de Vigny. He was almost thirty when the traditional first volume of verse appeared,...

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(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Anatole France, born Jacques-Anatole-François Thibault in 1844, was the only child of a well-established Parisian bookdealer and was seemingly predestined to the world of books. His father, Noël-François Thibault, ran the sort of bookshop that was also a gathering place of the literati, who would come as not only customers but also friends. They would sit and talk with the owner, whom they called by the familiar diminutive France, an abbreviation of François. Once the son was old enough to help in the shop and participate in the daily conversations, he was naturally called le jeune France, a custom that suggested to young Anatole the pen name he would choose when he began to write.

Shy and unassertive by nature and unprepossessing physically, France matured into an unworldly and bookish young man, easily intimidated by the “real” world and much given to periods of solitude and quiet reverie. In his twenties, he did occasional research and editing chores for the publishers of dictionaries and encyclopedias, having definitely decided against following in his father’s footsteps as a bookseller. Eventually, he became a reader of manuscripts for a publisher, wrote articles for ephemeral journals, and took a civil servant’s position, working in the senate library, all the while using his leisure moments to learn the craft of writing. He was thirty-three years old, and a published but thoroughly obscure and unknown author, when he overcame his timidity long enough to marry, in 1877. The marriage produced one child, a daughter born in 1881, but was...

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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

0111200553-France.jpg Anatole France (Library of Congress) Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Anatole France, born Jacques-Anatole-François Thibault, was the son of a Parisian bookseller, François Thibault. The father was nicknamed France, and Anatole began to use the pseudonym for the poems he wrote as a boy. Educated at a religious school, the Collège Stanislas, he received a thorough and disciplined education in both religion and the classics. The classical side of his education, however, had the greater impact, for he quickly became skeptical about religion and began writing precise, neoclassic poems.{$S[A]Thibault, Jacques-Anatole-François;France, Anatole}

After writing several unsuccessful novels, France found both his private style and public success in The Crime of Sylvestre Bonnard in 1881. France portrayed Bonnard, an old classical scholar, with charm, humor, erudition, and an edge of irony. Gently skeptical about religion, science (although France had acknowledged Charles Darwin, Hippolyte-Adolphe Taine, and Ernest Renan as his masters during his school days), and scholarship, France began to develop a graceful, discursive style. At about this time, a wealthy literary patron, Madame Arman de Caillavet, took an interest in France. While Madame de Caillavet introduced France to the world of the literary salon in Paris, she also made sure he worked, and she helped change his attitude gradually from that of the skeptical dilettante to that of an energetic champion of Alfred Dreyfus and other social causes. After France and his wife were divorced in 1892, he began to work at the home of Madame de Caillavet, an association that lasted until her death in 1910.

In 1886 France began to contribute weekly essays on literary life to Le Temps. At first the essays were mild and pleasant excursions into literary topics, but they soon began to assume a more biting and skeptical attitude toward the church and the established institutions of the day. His attacks against Christianity became more explicit in his novel Thaïs, in which he saved the licentious courtesan and damned the religious hermit while maintaining a constant ironic attitude toward conventional...

(The entire section is 868 words.)