Anatole France

Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Wikipedia.

France, Anatole

France, Anatole (änätôlˈ fräNs), pseud. of Jacques Anatole Thibault (zhäk, tēbōˈ), 1844–1924, French writer. He was probably the most prominent French man of letters of his time. Among his best-remembered works is L'Île des pingouins (1908, tr. Penguin Island, 1909), an allegorical novel satirizing French history. His early fiction was characterized by a somewhat sentimental charm—e.g., Le Crime de Sylvestre Bonnard (1881, tr. 1906), his first successful novel, and Le Livre de mon ami (1885, tr. My Friend's Book, 1913), the first of a series of autobiographical novels. Half his work appeared in periodicals and newspapers. After the Dreyfus Affair (in which he supported Zola) his work was slanted more to political satire. The elegance and subtle irony of his style are displayed in Thaïs (1890, tr. 1909), Le Lys rouge (1894, tr. The Red Lily, 1908), Les Dieux ont soif (1912, tr. The Gods Are Athirst, 1913), and La Révolte des anges (1914, tr. The Revolt of the Angels, 1914). His liaison with Mme de Caillavet, lasting 27 years, had a profound influence on his work; she spurred his ambition and saved him from material concern. In 1896 he was elected to the French Academy, and he was awarded the 1921 Nobel Prize in Literature.


See biographies by J. J. Brousson (tr. 1925) and D. Tylden-Wright (1967); B. Cerf, Anatole France: The Degeneration of a Great Artist (1926); N. Ségur, Conversations with Anatole France (tr. 1926); J. M. Pouquet, The Last Salon (tr. 1927).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2022, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

France, Anatole


(pen name of Jacques Anatole François Thibault). Born Apr. 16, 1844, in Paris; died Oct. 12, 1924, in Saint-Cyr-sur-Loire. French writer. Member of the Académie Française (1896).

The son of a bookdealer, France began his literary career as a journalist and poet. Under the influence of the Parnassians, he published the book Alfred de Vigny (1868), the poetry collection Golden Tales (1873; Russian translation, 1957), and the dramatic narrative poem The Bride of Corinth (1876; Russian translation, 1957). In 1879 he wrote the novellas Jocasta and The Famished Cat, which reflected his interest in positivism and the natural sciences.

France gained renown with the publication of the novel The Crime of Sylvester Bonnard (1881; Russian translation, 1899). In the 1870’s and 1880’s he wrote articles and forewords to editions of the French classics that were later collected in The Latin Genius (1913). Influenced by the philosophy of J.-E. Renan, France in the 1880’s contrasted appreciation of spiritual values and sensual joys to the banality and emptiness of bourgeois life, as seen in the novel Thais (1890; Russian translation, 1891). He expressed his philosophical views most fully in the collection of aphorisms The Garden of Epicurus (1894; complete Russian translation, 1958).

France’s rejection of bourgeois life was manifested in his works as a skeptical irony, which was expressed by the abbot Coignard, the hero of the books At the Sign of the Queen Pédauque (1892; translated in Russian as The Salamander, 1907) and The Opinions of Jerome Coignard (1893; Russian translation, 1905). In using 18th-century France as the setting for these works, France satirized the mores of the past as well as the contemporary society of the Third Republic.

France’s short stories, collected in Balthazar (1889), Mother of Pearl (1892), The Well of St. Clare (1895), and Clio (1900), revealed him as a fascinating interlocutor and a brilliant stylist and stylizer. Condemning fanaticism and hypocrisy, France affirmed the sublimity of the natural laws of life and man’s right to happiness and love. France’s humanist and democratic views were in direct opposition to those of decadent literature, irrationalism, and mysticism.

In the late 1890’s, owing to an intensifying political reaction, one of whose manifestations was the Dreyfus case, France wrote a keen, bold satire, the tetralogy Histoire contemporaine. The work comprised the novels Elm Tree on the Mall (1897; Russian translation, 1905), The Wicker Work Woman (1897), The Amethyst Ring (1899; Russian translation, 1910), and M. Bergeret à Paris (1901; Russian translation, 1907). In this satirical survey, France depicted French political life of the late 19th century with documentary precision. The figure of the humanist and philologist Bergeret, a character dear to the author, appeared in all four books of the tetralogy. A social orientation was typical of most of the short stories in the collection Crainquebille, Putois, Riquet, and Other Profitable Tales (1904). The greengrocer Crainquebille, the hero of the short story of the same name, was victimized by judicial arbitrariness and the pitiless impersonality of the machinery of state; his fate became a symbol of social injustice.

In the early 20th century, France was influenced by the Socialists and J. Jaurès; in 1904 he published in the newspaper l’Humanité the social and philosophical novel The White Stone (separate edition, 1905), which affirmed socialism as the logical and the only positive ideal of the future. As a publicist writer, France consistently opposed ecclesiastical and nationalist reaction, as seen in The Church and the Republic (1904). France’s civic activities reached their peak during the Revolution of 1905–07 in Russia: he was president of the Society of Friends of the Russian People and of the Peoples Annexed to Russia, which he founded in February 1905. His publicist writings of the period from 1898 to 1906 were partially included in the collections Social Convictions (1902) and Vers les temps meilleurs (1906).

The defeat of the revolution in Russia was a hard blow for France. His works written during this period reflected his own painful inner conflicts and doubts and, after 1905, were marked by increasingly keen criticism of bourgeois society. These works included the novels Penguin Island (1908; Russian translation, 1908) and The Revolt of the Angels (1914; Russian translation, 1918) and the short stories in the collection The Seven Wives of Bluebeard (1909). In the historical novel The Gods Are Athirst (1912; Russian translation, 1917), France depicted the greatness of the common people and the selflessness of the Jacobins but at the same time asserted pessimistically that the revolution was doomed. Early in World War I (1914—18), France was briefly influenced by chauvinist propaganda, but by 1916 he came to understand the imperialist nature of the war.

France’s publicist and civic activities intensified again after the revolutionary events of 1917 in Russia, which restored France’s faith in revolution and socialism. He became one of the first friends and supporters of the new Soviet republic, protesting against foreign intervention and blockades. Together with H. Barbusse, France wrote the manifestos and declarations of unity issued by Clarté, the international society of writers and cultural leaders. In 1920 he gave his wholehearted approbation to the newly founded French Communist Party. Late in life, France completed his cycle of reminiscences about his childhood and adolescence comprising Little Pierre (1919) and The Bloom of Life (1922) and the earlier works My Friend’s Book (1885) and Pierre Nozière (1899). He also worked on the philosophical collection Under the Rose (1917–24; published 1925). France was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1921.

As a writer, France underwent a difficult, complex course of development. He began as a refined depictor of ancient times, was later a passive, skeptical observer, and finally became famous as a satirist and publicist who supported the revolutionary struggle of the proletariat and the creation of socialism. The value of his works lies in their bold, merciless denunciation of the flaws of bourgeois society, their affirmation of the lofty ideals of humanism, and their original and discriminating literary mastery. M. Gorky included France among the world’s great realist writers, and France was highly regarded by A. V. Lunacharskii.


Oeuvres complètes illustrées, vols. 1–25. Paris, 1925–35.
Vers Les Temps meilleurs; Trente Ans de vie sociale, vols. 1–3. Paris, 1949–57.
In Russian translation:
Poln. sobr. soch., vols. 1–14; vols. 16–20. Edited by A. V. Lunacharskii. Moscow-Leningrad [1928]-31.
Sobr. soch., vols. 1–8. Moscow, 1957–60.


Istoriia frantsuzskoi literatury, vol. 3. Moscow, 1959.
Lunacharskii, A. V. “Pisatel’ ironii i nadezhdy.” In Stat’i o literature. Moscow, 1957.
Dynnik, V. Anatol’ Frans: Tvorchestvo. Moscow-Leningrad, 1934.
Frid, Ia. Anatol’ Frans i ego vremia. Moscow, 1975.
Corday, M. A. France d’après ses confidences et ses souvenirs. Paris [1927].
Séillière, E. A. France, critique de son temps. Paris, 1934.
Suffel, J. A. France. Paris, 1946.
Suffel, J. A. France par lui-même. [Paris, 1963].
Cachin, M. “Humaniste—socialiste—communiste.” Les Lettres françaises, no. 280, Oct. 6, 1949.
Europe, 1954, no. 108. (Issue devoted to France.)
Ubersfeld, A. “A. France: De l’Humanisme bourgeois à l’humanisme socialiste.” Cahiers du communisme, 1954, nos. 11–12.
Vandegans, A. A. France: Les Années de formation. Paris, 1954.
Levaillant, J. Les Aventures du scepticisme: Essai sur l’évolution intellectuelle d’A. France. [Paris, 1965].
Lion, J. Bibliographie des ouvrages consacrés à A. France. Paris, 1935.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.