The Present as Past: Anatole France's Histoire Contemporaine


The weekly satirical articles that Anatole France published between 1896 and 1900, commenting on current happenings, were turned into an unusual four-volume novel entitled Histoire contemporaine (1897-1901). While the weekly articles had the journalistic purpose of political satire, the rigorous selectivity, drastic cutting and extensive rearranging of the material that went into the book version displayed an artistic purpose not visible in the newspaper pieces. That artistic purpose was to create a novel in which current events were distilled into fiction and interpreted from the perspective of history. To accomplish this bold experiment of attempting an historical novel based on the present rather than the past, Anatole France invented the character of Monsieur Bergeret, an ironic classical scholar whose training and disposition impelled him to analyze the passing scene with amused detachment and a sense of historical proportion. The techniques devised for this not wholly successful novel formed the basis for Anatole France's two finest works of historical fiction, L'Ile des pingouins (1908) and Les Dieux ont soif (1912). (MS)

Sachs, Murray
Release Year:
1976-1977 Fall-Winter; 5(1-2): 117-28.