The Crime of Sylvestre Bonnard

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Transaction Publishers, 2010 - Fiction - 245 pages
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This charming story portrays the literary life of Paris in the nineteenth century. Sylvestre Bonnard, a retiring philologist and bachelor, upon finding the daughter of his long ago love resolves to provide for her and supply her with a dowry. However, she already has a guardian. After a series of incidents, and learning that she is being badly treated, Bonnard is driven to abduct her. He escapes prosecution and eventually is appointed her guardian. When Jeanne, his ward, marries, he sells his treasured library to secure her dowry, guiltily withholding a few volumes, and retires to the country.

The Crime of Sylvestre Bonnard views the eighteenth century as a golden age far more so than the nineteenth century. Its main character, Sylvestre Bonnard, was the first of many fictional individuals, who represented France's own qualities at the time. The work was praised for its graceful writing style and won the author a prize from the French Academy—for its moral as well as literary characteristics.

Critics have been divided over just what the crime is referred to in the title. Is it the crime of abduction of which Bonnard is guilty, or the crime of retaining a few beloved books from auction, or is his rescue of Jeanne from mistreatment a poignant irony, making his crime one of benevolence in an inherently malignant social order? It remains the reader's call.

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About the author (2010)

Anatole France was the pen name of Jacques Anatole Francois Thibault, who was born in Paris in 1844. The son of a bookseller, Thibault had a lifelong interest in literature. He worked as a schoolteacher, as a reader and editor for publishing houses, and as an assistant librarian in Paris' Senate Library, in addition to writing fiction, plays, poetry, criticism, and autobiographical stories. In his lifetime, Thibault was considered one of France's most beloved authors, and he received the Nobel Prize for literature in 1921. France's first novel was The Famished Cat, published in 1879. France's best-known novels include Monsieur Bergeret in Paris, The Crime of Sylvestre Bonnard, Member of the Institute (for which he received an award from the French Academy in 1881), At the Sign of the Reine Pedauque, Penguin Island, Thais (which became the basis for an opera), The Gods Are Athirst, and The Revolt of the Angels. During the late 1890s Thibault became very involved in political and social issues. He was especially committed to socialism and to the fight against anti-Semitism, mainly as a result of the Dreyfuss affair. This new awareness was reflected in his writing, particularly in books such as Penguin Island, which criticized contemporary French society, and The Revolt of the Angels, which parodied the Catholic Church. He also became the literary advisor to l'Humanitie, an influential socialist newspaper, and frequently contributed articles to it until, dissatisfied with the Communist party that had eventually evolved, he renounced all political ties to the left just before his death in 1924.

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