Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
France, Anatole

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Pseudonym of French writer Anatole-François Thibault (1844-1924), winner of the Nobel Literature Prize. His first long fantasy was a moralistic novella in the sentimental tradition of Charles Nodier's Trilby, "The Honey-Bee" (in Balthazar coll 1889; trans Mrs John Lane as Balthasar 1909; vt Honey-Bee 1911; vt Bee and – in Lin Carter's Great Short Novels of Adult Fantasy anth 1972 – "The Kingdom of the Dwarfs"). The eponymous princess is abducted by Dwarfs while her beloved foster-brother is imprisoned by nixies (water spirits); the king of the dwarfs becomes enamoured of her, but gradually discovers an altruistic determination to reunite the lovers.

AF's classic Christian Fantasy Thaïs (1890; trans Charles Carrington 1901 UK) is closely related to Gustave Flaubert's The Temptation of St Anthony (1874), following the Quest of Anthony's disciple Paphnuce to save the soul of the eponymous actress; he persuades her to enter a nunnery, but is subsequently forced to realize that his desire to "save" her was really a perverted sublimation of lust. More attacks on the life-denying asceticism of orthodox Christianity are featured in L'étui de nacre (coll 1892; trans Henry Pene du Bois as Tales from a Mother-of-Pearl Casket 1896; vt Mother of Pearl 1908 UK), including "Amycus and Celestine", in which the friendship between a hermit and a faun contrives an eclectic fusion of Epicurean and Christian ideals, and "Leslie Wood", in which a similar modification is achieved in the relationship between a man and his wife's Ghost. The argument was further extrapolated in Le puits de Sainte Clare (coll 1895; trans Charles Carrington as The Well of Santa Clara 1903; vt The Well of St Clare 1909 UK). "San Satiro" (trans as "Saint Satyr") explains how the tomb of a mistakenly beatified Satyr became a refuge for the last remnants of a Classical glory eroded by Thinning, while the brilliant novella "L'humaine tragédie" (new trans Alfred R Allinson as The Human Tragedy 1917 UK) explains how a saintly medieval monk imprisoned by corrupt churchmen discovers that Satan is his only friend.

The Rabelaisian La rôtisserie de la reine Pédauque (1893; trans Mrs Wilfrid Jackson as At the Sign of the Reine Pédauque 1912 UK; vt At the Sign of the Queen Pedauque US) offers a satirically sceptical account of the follies of 18th-century occultism, while the Visionary Fantasy Sur le pierre blanche (1905; trans Charles E Roche as The White Stone 1909 UK) is a philosophical discourse on the difficulties plaguing attempts to foresee the future. Another extended conte philosophique is L'île des pingouins (1908; trans A W Evans as Penguin Island 1909 UK), which traces in savage Satire the history of an Island race of penguins mistakenly baptised by a myopic saint, paying particular attention to their version of the Dreyfus affair. Les sept femmes de le Barbe-Bleu et autres contes merveilleux (coll 1909; trans Mrs D B Stewart as The Seven Wives of Bluebeard and Other Marvellous Tales 1920 UK; vt Golden Tales of Anatole France 1926 US) features stories in a lighter vein, concluding with the fine novella "The Shirt", in which emissaries of an unhappy king search unsuccessfully for the shirt of a happy man with which to redeem his melancholy spirit.

The various strands of France's fantastic fiction culminated in his second adventure in Literary Satanism, written on the eve of WWI, which became the archetype and masterpiece of that subgenre: La révolte des anges (1914; trans Mrs Wilfrid Jackson as The Revolt of the Angels 1914 UK). The story tells how a guardian Angel, Arcade, is converted to free thought by Lucretius' summary of Epicurean philosophy De rerum natura and organizes a new revolution of the fallen angels, most of whom are teachers and artists – but when he offers Satan (who is now a humble gardener) a commanding role his offer is politely declined, on the grounds that the fight must be won in the hearts and minds of mortals, not on the field of battle. [BS]

Other work: Crainquebille, Putois, Riquet et plusieurs autres récits profitables (coll 1904; trans Winifred Stephens as Crainquebille, Putois, Riquet and Other Profitable Tales 1924 UK).

Anatole-François Thibault


This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.