Anatole France, an activist writer

Anatole France, an activist writer

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  • Anatole France, in Camera Work, April-July 1913.

    STEICHEN Edward (1879 - 1963)

  • Anatole France, French writer, at home.


To close

Title: Anatole France, in Camera Work, April-July 1913.

Author : STEICHEN Edward (1879 - 1963)

Creation date : 1913

Date shown: 1913

Dimensions: Height 0 - Width 0

Storage location: Orsay Museum website

Contact copyright: ADAGP © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - All rights reserved

Picture reference: 97CE14889 / Pho1981-32-14

Anatole France, in Camera Work, April-July 1913.

© ADAGP Photo RMN-Grand Palais - All rights reserved

To close

Title: Anatole France, French writer, at home.

Author : CHOUMOV (-)

Creation date : 1900

Date shown: 1900

Dimensions: Height 0 - Width 0

Storage location: Roger-Viollet collection website

Contact copyright: © Roger-Viollet Collection

Picture reference: 491-6

Anatole France, French writer, at home.

© Roger-Viollet Collection

Publication date: March 2016

Historical context

Crises and conflicts under IIIe Republic

If, from 1879, the Third Republic (1870-1940) appeared to be firmly established, despite strong ministerial instability due to the absence of structured political parties, it was nonetheless shaken from 1885 by a number of crises. This entry into force of ideologies on the front of the political scene thus had the notable consequence of the mobilization of many intellectuals.

Image Analysis

Anatole France, a mystical figure

Anatole France (1844-1924), who combined the functions of novelist, chronicler, literary critic and academician, and shone in the literary salons of the time, is one of those thinkers in love with justice and freedom who 'engaged in the fighting of the time. If he had until then behaved like a dilettante, contenting himself with casting a satirical and distanced look at politics, the Panama scandal and the Dreyfus affair encouraged him to embark on a reformist struggle to defend humanist values. to which he was particularly attached. Driven by great intellectual curiosity and by a permanent skepticism, he expressed his convictions to the end both through his works and through activism. Two photographs from the turn of the century thus emphasize his dual position: on the one hand, the recognized writer, and on the other hand, the man in the privacy of his living room. The first, by Edward Steichen, a great fashion photographer and celebrity portrait painter, represents Anatole France leaning on his desk, in 1913. Emphasizing the psychological dimension of the portrait, Steichen gives a somewhat enigmatic image of the character: his white goatee. Cut to a point, his tapered mustache and small lively, mocking eyes lend a mysterious character to his face, while his whole being indicates great determination and inner strength. The aura with which the photographer was able to surround Anatole France indicates the fame and respect attached to this writer.

It is another aspect of the character, on the other hand, that highlights the second photograph of France taken in the living room of his mansion, the Villa Saïd, in Paris. Standing in the corner of a monumental fireplace, the writer appears here as a keen collector of antiques: the richness of the interior decoration, which ranges from the Gothic to the 18th century, testifies to his financial ease, which he acquired gradually over the years. his publications, and his public recognition, consecrated by his entry into the French Academy. Anatole France’s career is therefore a remarkable example of the social success to which men of letters could claim through their art.


Between humanist utopia and political commitment

The starting point for the political engagement of many intellectuals, the Affair made Anatole France a Dreyfusard, isolated among his fellow academics, and a public figure, who did not hesitate to take sides for the values ​​he had made. his. This determination led to his evolution towards socialism. Become the friend of Jean Jaurès, eminent figure of the socialist movement which had a keen sense of the realities of the time and militated for a Republic of human rights, he publicly proclaimed his hostility towards a predominantly anti-Dreyfusard Church during the ministry of Emile Combes (1902-1905), whose bill he supported on the separation of churches and state, before becoming the apostle of peace during the years preceding the entry into the war of France. Aware of the defeat of the socialist utopia and of the impossibility of creating an international agreement between the workers, he nonetheless placed his hopes for a time in the Russian revolution until the opening of the major political trials in 1923. , in the name of progressive ideals and by fidelity to the legacy of Jaurès. This obsession with freedom and the hope of seeing the injustices which animated Anatole France disappear can be found from 1889 in his literary work, tinged with an entirely Voltairian irony and marked by his pessimistic and fatalist conception of history: many Greek skeptics and Darwinian theories of evolution, this writer was attached to the idea that the social progress of man is limited to those of his brain - skepticism which led to the reduction of history to a succession of misfortunes and calamities. This is how he engaged in a permanent critique of history, while paradoxically putting the latter at the service of the present and the defense of moral values.

In the course of his engagement in the political life of his time, Anatole France indeed let current events invade his novels, the transport to an earlier era of the intrigue serving as a pretext for denouncing contemporary abuses and lies: for example his anticlerical rereading in his Life of Joan of Arc (1908) and his virulent criticism of the dogmatic and abstract power at the time of the Terror in The gods are thirsty (1912). His literary talent, this deeply original conception of history and this openness to his time earned him a national consecration, as evidenced by the Nobel Prize for Literature which he received in 1921 and the national funeral - the most important since those of Victor Hugo. - offered to him by the State in 1924, a veritable funeral-event in memory of a writer faithful to the end to the causes which seemed to him to be right.

  • writers
  • portrait
  • socialism
  • Third Republic
  • Jaurès (Jean)
  • anticlericalism
  • commitment
  • France (Anatole)


Marie-Claire BANCQUART Anatole France, a passionate skeptic, Paris, Calmann-Lévy, 1984. Marie-Claire BANCQUART Writers and history Paris, Nizet, 1966. Jean-Denis BREDIN The case, Paris, Fayard, new ed. 1993, Jacques DROZ General history of socialism, Paris, PUF, 1972, Jacques JULLIARD and Michel WINOCK Dictionary of French intellectuals, Paris, Seuil, 1996. Madeleine REBERIOUX The Radical Republic? Paris, Seuil, coll. "Points Histoire", 1975.Michel WINOCK, The Century of Intellectuals, Paris, Seuil, 1997.

To cite this article

Charlotte DENOËL, "Anatole France, a militant writer"

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