Mirbeau is best known for writing intensely polemical and satirical works in which he attacked many of the institutions and individuals representing the established social and political order of his time. The targets of Mirbeau's wrath included the Catholic Church, the bourgeoisie, the government of the French Third Republic, politicians, foreigners, and his numerous personal enemies. Critics have noted that although his political views changed during the course of his life from monarchist to Bonapartist to republican, and finally to anarchist, throughout his career Mirbeau consistently championed the causes of individual liberty and intellectual honesty.
The son of a physician, Mirbeau was born and raised in Normandy. In 1859 he began attending a Jesuit school in Vannes, Brittany, but was dismissed four years later for unknown reasons. Mirbeau continued his studies at various boarding schools, earned a baccalaureate diploma in 1866, and spent the next three years studying law. When the Franco-Prussian War began in 1870, Mirbeau joined the military and eventually rose to the rank of lieutenant before being wounded in December of that year. He was granted a leave to seek medical attention, but when he returned he found that he had been falsely accused of desertion. Although Mirbeau was cleared of all charges after an eight-month-long investigation, the incident left him with a profound mistrust of authority. In 1872 he went to Paris and began a career as a journalist and editor, focusing primarily on art, theater, and politics for Bonapartist and monarchist papers. His opinions were often controversial: he was dismissed from the staff of several journals and at least four of the twelve duels Mirbeau is known to have fought during his life were provoked by his articles. He began publishing short stories and novels during the late 1880s, achieving his first notable literary success with the novel Le Calvaire (1887; Calvary). During the 1890s Mirbeau began to sympathize with anarchist causes, and although many of his early articles had been...
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