Anatole France (1844 - 1924)

Anatole France


Journalists & intellectuals

The only member of the Académie Française to have sided with the Dreyfusards, François Anatole Thibault, who wrote under the name Anatole France, was born in Paris on 16 April 1844.

Thibault was the son of a Paris book dealer. As a young man, he published his work in reviews before becoming a publisher's assistant at Editions Lemerre in 1869 and then a librarian at the French Senate in 1876. He wrote plays and was a member of the Parnassian group of poets, as well as a literary critic for the conservative daily paper Le Temps from 1885 to 1893. In 1896, he was elected to France's Institute, taking the chair of Ferdinand de Lesseps. In 1925, Paul Valéry would be given this same chair.

Taking Dreyfus's side, this officer in the Legion of Honor returned his cross after Zola's conviction. He spoke at Zola's funeral in 1902, insisting that I Accuse! was "a moment in human conscience," an act that was "intelligible for the world (…) an immortal example."

In 1899 and 1901, Anatole France staged episodes from the Dreyfus Affair in the third and fourth volumes of his Histoire Contemporaine. L'Anneau d'Améthyste denounces the infamous anti-Semitic campaign and claims to recognize the "divine manner" in "these revelations coming from everywhere, this assembly of red robes." In Monsieur Bergeret à Paris, the academic hero calls "the vilification of the enemies of justice" recompense, and refers to them as irremediably lost; "Your ruin lies within you. The necessary consequences of your errors and your crimes take place in spite of you (…) see how the enormous share of iniquity that had remained intact, respected and feared falls and crumbles in on itself (…) Why complain that the major culprits escape the law and hold onto their miserable honors? In our current social state, this matters as little as the fact that, when the earth was young (…) a few monstrous survivors of a condemned race remained stranded in layers of silt."

He again fictionalized the tensions of the years 1897-99 in the short stories in Penguin Island, published in 1908, the year of his daughter's second marriage to the grandson of Ernest Renan and son of Jean Psichari, the first secretary of the League of Human Rights. Although he did not attend the Institute from 1902 to 1916, Anatole France was the preeminent author of the left; a pacifist, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1921. He died on 12 October 1924 in Saint-Cyr-sur-Loire, where he was buried after a national funeral commemoration held in Paris.