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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