The Revolt of the Angels

by Jacques-Anatole-Françoi Thibault

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Critical Evaluation

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Anatole France was a revolutionary. Opposed to the Church and the state, he wrote many bitter novels ridiculing those institutions. THE REVOLT OF THE ANGELS is one of the most abusive satires of this century. In this satire, France attacked almost every established institution in the world, but in his desire to ridicule he often sacrificed sincerity and thus effectiveness. His greatest personal conviction, as reflected in this satire, was his love for and his faith in the little people of the world. This factor is the greatest positive quality of the novel.

Style is of primary importance in the satires of France, and THE REVOLT OF THE ANGELS is no exception. The brilliance of the style is continually dazzling, the crisp, ironic prose setting forth without comment the absurdities of the plot. At the same time, the novel is rich with witty conversations and lengthy and clever philosophical debates. The surface of the novel glitters, but beneath it lies the fundamentally serious nature of the work. One character in THE REVOLT OF THE ANGELS states that realities in the world are but appearances, and Anatole France deliberately deceives the reader, confusing both reality and appearance in this book. The realistic details so carefully described in the narrative lend verisimilitude and plausibility to the essential fantasy of the story.

The book is filled with delightful comic characters, such as the absurd detective Mignon and the doddering old librarian Monsieur Sariette. The fallen angel Theophile, who makes his living as a music teacher, and Arcade, the would-be revolutionary archangel, are brilliant comic creations. Perhaps Satan himself, however, is the most original character in the book, when he appears at the end and refuses to allow the angels to revolt because he is afraid that they will win and set him up as a new God.

THE REVOLT OF THE ANGELS provides a perfect example of the comic inventiveness of France; the book is crowded with hilarious scenes, such as the old librarian begging the monkey to forgive him for suspecting that it was raiding the library, or the incredible spectacle of a mortal man urging a naked angel to cease rebelling against God and return to its duty in Heaven. The entire comic-opera mystery of the disappearing and reappearing books is a brilliant opening to the absurd plot. The plot, however, is only a vehicle for the satirical intentions of the author. With impeccable logic, France proclaims the strangeness of the logical—a common theme in his novels. Deliberately, he turns cherished beliefs upside down, attacking the assumption that men are essentially good or thinking creatures and, at the same time, defending the much maligned Satan. Of all the activities of mankind, France states, only art is of any value. The fact is that mortals judge their actions strictly by the pleasure or pain resulting, and moral values are entirely utilitarian. Whether or not the reader sympathizes with France’s attack on Western civilization’s sacred cows, he will enjoy the wit and grace of the writing and the brilliance of the comic passages.

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