Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Happy birthday, Anatole France

It is the birthday of French novelist Anatole France (1844), whose fascination with literature developed when he was a child surrounded by books in his father's bookstore. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in his late 70s. France's first successful novel was The Crime of Sylvestre Bonnard (1881), about an old man who is obsessed with acquiring a manuscript by an author who is his personal hero. In his quest he encounters a host of strange characters, including a rich couple who collect matchboxes. One of France's most well-known works is Monsieur Bergeret in Paris (1901), a story set against the backdrop of the notorious Dreyfus Affair in which a Jewish army captain was wrongly accused of espionage. France poked fun at the Catholic Church in his satire Penguin Island (1908), in which a nearsighted abbot accidentally baptizes penguins, transforming them into humans. Church officials took  a dim view of this and other works by France.

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