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|Alphonse Daudet (1840-1897)|
French short-story writer and novelist, remembered for his Lettres de mon moulin (1866), light stories of southern France, and his egocentric hero Tartarin from Tartarin de Tarascon (1872) - the boastful, loud, vulgar 'Don Quixote' from the Midi. Alphonse Daudet, who has been called “the French Dickens”, published also under the influence of the Goncourt brothers and Zola such serious books as Fromont jeune et Risler aîné (1874), Jack (1876), and Sapho (1884), which had connections to Alexandre Dumas' (fils) The Lady of the Camillas (1848).
--In the middle of the room was an occasional table, on which stood a decanter of rum, a siphon of soda-water, a Turkish tobacco- pouch, "Captain Cook's Voyages," the Indian tales of Fenimore Cooper and Gustave Aimard, stories of hunting the bear, eagle, elephant, and so on, Lastly, beside the table sat a man of between forty and forty-five, short, stout, thick-set, ruddy, with flaming eyes and a strong stubbly beard ; he wore flannel tights, and was in his shirt sleeves; one hand held a hook, and the other brandished a very large pipe with an iron bowl-cap. Whilst reading heaven only knows what startling adventure of scalp- hunters, he pouted out his lower lip in a terrifying way, which gave the honest phiz of the man living placidly on his means the same impression of kindly ferocity which abounded throughout the house.
Alphonse Daudet was born in Nimes, where he spent the first eight years of his life. Daudet’s early years were shadowed by the irritable character of his father, a silk manufacturer. After the collapse of the business, the family moved to Lyons. Daudet did not like his new surroundings and he attended school only sporadically.
Daudet wrote his first novel at the age of 14. He worked as a teacher in Alais, but in 1857 Daudet moved to Paris, where his older brother Ernest had settled. To earn his living, Daudet contributed to newspapers, especially for Figaro. From 1861 to 1865 he served as a private secretary for Duke de Morny. This undemanding employment enabled Daudet to devote himself to writing. In 1860 he met Frédéric Mistral, who awakened his enthusiasm for the life of the south France. For health reasons he spent some time in Corsica and Algiers and also collected material for his writings. Like many of the contemporary writers, Daudet contracted syphilis early in life. He was treated by Jean-Martin Charcot, a pioneering neurologist. Eventually Daudet's spinal cord illness tied him in his chair.
Daudet's only collection of poems, Les Amoureuses (1858), which appeared when he was 18, did not attract much attention. The book was dedicated to a model, Marie Rieu, with whom he formed a liaison. Their troubled relationship gave rise to his novel Sapho, where a young Parisian meets a courtesan, falls under her spell. He strives hard to free himself while the aging mistress slaves for him. In the end she returns to a former lover and the young man is left to continue with his own life.
The winter of 1861-62 Daudet spent in Algeria. In 1867 he married Julia Allard, who was a writer, too. During the Franco-Prussian war (1870-71) Daudet enlisted on the army, but fled from the terrors of Paris Commune of 1871. Daudet dealt the war in many stories, such as 'A Game of Billiards', which juxtaposed the realities of battles with a game played in a beautiful chateau. The army is waiting for orders but the Marshall, in full uniform, his breast covered with decorations, is interested in winning his staff officer at billiards. The sound of battle grows nearer, but the Marshall sees nothing, hears nothing, even when shells are falling in the park. He wins the game but the army is utterly routed. "They wait for orders. But men may die without orders, and these men die in hundreds, falling behind bushes, dropping in trenches in front of that great silent chateau. Even after their death, the grapeshot continues to lacerate their bodies; from those gaping wounds flows a silent stream - the generous blood of France." (from 'A Game of Billiards')
"Et maintenant, comment voulez-vous que je le regrette, votre Paris bruyant et noir? Je suis si bien dans mon moulin! C'est si bien le coin que je cherchairs, un petit coin parfumé et chaud, à mille lieues des journaux, des fiacres, du broillard!..." (From Lettres de mon moulin)
Lettres de mon moulin was written in a series of letters and tales from Provence. Tired of the hectic life in Paris, the narrator retreats to Provence. He observes the life of farmers, meets different people, and hears their stories. Among his new friends is Corneille. He struggles against the modern steam mills, who take all his customers. Other stories include the tale of Pope's mule and father Gaucher's elixir. Daudet enjoyed for a few years prosperity and fame after the appearance of Fromont the Younger and Risler the Elder (1874), which won an award from the Académie Française. In the story of passions a cold, sphinx-like woman plays with the feelings of her suitors. Jack was a tale of a fatherless child, which moved deeply among others George Sand. In these works Daudet showed his pessimistic side, which became prominent from the 1880s. Like Emile Zola and other naturalist writers, he sharply recorded social evils of the period, but even the most tragic events he depicted with poetic refinement.
His own life the author depicted in Trente ans de Paris (1888) and Souvenirs d'un homme de lettres (1888). Le Petit Chose (1868) was a semiautobiographical novel about the author´s childhood years. During the last period of his life, Daudet suffered from the consequences of a venereal disease, which he had acquired in his youth at the court of Napoleon III. Eventually it led to locomotor ataxia, a disease that produced violent, uncontrolled spasms and flashes of pain. “I react like a berserk marionette”, Dauded wrote in the posthumously published book, entitled La Doulou, which contains an account of his sufferings as a syphilitic.
Daudet died suddenly while at dinner, on December 16, 1897. Two doctors were called when he collapsed, Dr. Gilles de la Tourette, after whom Tourette’s syndrome was named, and Dr. Potain, Daudet’s old friend. Using a popular method at the time, they gave artificial respiration by pulling on his tongue for an hour and a half. Daudet was only aftewards pronounced to be dead.
Some of the best works of Daudet was published in journals, among them Letteres de mon Moulin and Tartarin de Tarascon, with its two sequels, Tartarin sur les Alpes (1886) and Port-Tarascon (1890). Daudet’s satirical novel about the Académie Française, L'Immortel (1888), was considered a revenge – he was never elected its member. Daudet also wrote several theatrical pieces, including L'Arlésienne (1872), based on a story in Lettres de Mon Moulin. Originally it failed to attract an audience, but after Georges Bizet (1838-75) composed music for the drama, it became a minor hit.
Lettres de Mon Moulin was adapted into screen by Marcel Pagnol in 1954, starring Roger Crouzet, Henri Cremieux, Edouard Delmont, Henri Vilbert, Fernand Sardou. Tartarin de Tarascon was filmed by Raymond Bernard in 1934. In the title role was the legendary character star Raimu, whom Orson Welles called "the greated actor who ever lived." Daudet's son Léon (1867-1942) became a journalist, memorialist, critic, and novelist; he was the founder of the the right-wing newspaper L'Action Française. Léon married and later divorced the granddaughter of Victor Hugo, gained first fame with Les Morticoles (1894), and was known as a fierce royalist. When Émile Zola was sentenced to imprisonment during the famous Dreyfuss affair, Léon expressed his support to the court's decision. He wrote also a warm memoir of his father and family, Alphonse Daudet by Léon Daudet (1898).
For further reading: Alphonse Daudet: maître des tendresses by Marie-Thérèse Jouveau (1990); Les Daudet: 1840-1940: une famille bien française by Jean-Paul Clébert (1988); Alphonse Daudet: la bohème et l'amour by Marc Andry (1985); Alphonse Daudet, a critical bibliography by Geoffrey E. Hare (1978); Alphonse Daudet by Alphonse Victor Roche (1976); Alphonse Daudet by G.V. Dobie (1974); The Career of Alphonse Daudet by Murray Sachs (1965); La jeunesse d'Alphonse Daudet by M. Bruyère (1955); Les années d'aprentissage d'Alphonse Daudet by J.H. Bornecque (1951); Vie d'Alphonse Daudet by Lucien Daudet (1941); Alphonse Daudet (1840-1897) sa vie et son oeuvre. Mémoires et récits by Yvonne Martinet (1940); Daudet et la société du second empire by E. Fricker (1938) - See Henry James, whose novel The Bostonian's is based on Daudet's L'Évangeliste (1883) - In Finnish: Suuri ranskalainen kuvalehti tilasi Albert Edelfeltiltä muotokuvan Daudetista. Edelfelt tapasi kirjailijan 1881, hänestä on mm. piirros Eino Palolan toimittamassa teoksesta Brontësta Lagerlöfiin (1950) - Muita suomennoksia: Seinevirran laivuri, suom. Juhani Aho (1890). Juhani Aho oli ehkä suomalaisista kirjailijoista itse lähimpänä ranskalaista kolleegaansa.