Anatole France (French: [anatɔl fʁɑ̃s]; born François-Anatole Thibault, [frɑ̃swa anatɔl tibo]; 16 April 1844 – 12 October 1924) was a French poet, journalist, and novelist with several best-sellers. Ironic and skeptical, he was considered in his day the ideal French man of letters. He was a member of the Académie française, and won the 1921 Nobel Prize in Literature “in recognition of his brilliant literary achievements, characterized as they are by a nobility of style, a profound human sympathy, grace, and a true Gallic temperament”.
France is also widely believed to be the model for narrator Marcel’s literary idol Bergotte in Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time.
France began his literary career as a poet and a journalist. In 1869, Le Parnasse Contemporain published one of his poems, “La Part de Madeleine”. In 1875, he sat on the committee in charge of the third Parnasse Contemporain compilation. As a journalist, from 1867, he wrote many articles and notices. He became known with the novel Le Crime de Sylvestre Bonnard (1881). Its protagonist, skeptical old scholar Sylvester Bonnard, embodied France’s own personality. The novel was praised for its elegant prose and won him a prize from the Académie française.
In La Rotisserie de la Reine Pedauque (1893) France ridiculed belief in the occult; and in Les Opinions de Jérôme Coignard (1893), France captured the atmosphere of the fin de siècle. He was elected to the Académie française in 1896.
France took a part in the Dreyfus affair. He signed Émile Zola’s manifesto supporting Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish army officer who had been falsely convicted of espionage. France wrote about the affair in his 1901 novel Monsieur Bergeret.
France’s later works include L’Île des Pingouins (Penguin Island, 1908) which satirizes human nature by depicting the transformation of penguins into humans – after the birds have been baptized by mistake by the almost-blind Abbot Mael. It is a satirical history of France, starting in Medieval times, going on to the author’s own time with special attention to the Dreyfus affair and concluding with a dystopian future. Les dieux ont soif (The Gods Are Athirst, 1912) is a novel, set in Paris during the French Revolution, about a true-believing follower of Maximilien Robespierre and his contribution to the bloody events of the Reign of Terror of 1793–94. It is a wake-up call against political and ideological fanaticism and explores various other philosophical approaches to the events of the time. La Revolte des Anges (Revolt of the Angels, 1914) is often considered Anatole France’s most profound and ironic novel. Loosely based on the Christian understanding of the War in Heaven, it tells the story of Arcade, the guardian angel of Maurice d’Esparvieu. Bored because Bishop d’Esparvieu is sinless, Arcade begins reading the bishop’s books on theology and becomes an atheist. He moves to Paris, meets a woman, falls in love, and loses his virginity causing his wings to fall off, joins the revolutionary movement of fallen angels, and meets the Devil, who realizes that if he overthrew God, he would become just like God. Arcade realizes that replacing God with another is meaningless unless “in ourselves and in ourselves alone we attack and destroy Ialdabaoth.” “Ialdabaoth”, according to France, is God’s secret name and means “the child who wanders”.