Anatole France as a Politician

Joanna Richardson finds that Anatole France's politics, like his private life, remained unorthodox, but the Dreyfus Affair in the 1890s changed his literary life.

‘Literature is my hobby, my violon dlngres. I should have liked to be in politics.’ So Anatole France is reported to have said in the latter years of his life. In his scale of values, politics came first, then history, and then literature.

Life was unkind enough to impose literature upon him. He felt that he had a gift for writing history - but we are all apt to be wrong about our abilities. As for politics, Anatole France was unhappy that he was not made for them. ‘I can’t understand’, said Maurice Barrès, ‘why Anatole has not contrived to be a Deputy or a Senator, since he is so fascinated by politics.’

Alas, who could hope to enter politics when he lacked the gift of oratory? Anatole France was no public speaker. He did not stammer (as some have said), but his voice was not strong, his speech was slow, and his timidity and awkwardness returned as soon as he was forced to speak.

The first time he was asked to preside at a meeting, legend goes, he rose and said: ‘L’ouverte est la séance.’ Brilliantly though he could write, Anatole France was not a master of the spoken word.

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