Saturday, 29 April 2017

France's "The Revolt of the Angels".

A bookish angel whose studies turned into a blasphemer and a rebel against the Creator, an idle and womanising aristocratic youth who rediscovered his own version of Catholic faith after being dumped by his guardian angel, and a librarian with an unhealthy attachment to books are the main characters of Anatole France's "The Revolt of the Angels".

Around these three characters, whose paths criss-cross, France, the 1921 Nobel Prize in Literature winner, weaves a story set in early 20th century Paris, in 35 short vignettes, telling their frequently small, occasionally large, personal adventures and dramas. Surprisingly and in contrast to the supernatural nature of its protagonist and his epic quest, those episodes, often told with charm and a subtle, benign humour, are eminently down to earth, providing a glimpse into the final years of the French Belle Époque.


Readers familiar with Salman Rushdie's momentous 1988 "Satanic Verses" should find a comparison with "The Revolt of the Angels" irresistible. Beyond the similarity between their general premises, both books created waves with the wider public. France's books gained him a place in the Catholic Church's index librorum prohibitorum: although a certainly less fearsome punishment, not entirely unlike Rushdie's fatwa.

Personally, after reading only a fraction of "Satanic Verses" I tired of its humour and its story became ponderous. "The Revolt of the Angels", by contrast, was a page-turner.


A classic of the fantastique littéraire genre, "The Revolt of the Angels" was published originally in French in 1914, as "La Révolte des anges". The Catholic prohibition of the book, apparently, wasn't any more successful than Rushdie's fatwa: after being awarded the Nobel prize, in 1922 France's "The Revolt of the Angels" was published by Dodd, Mead & Company Publishers, from New York, in an excellent English translation by Mrs. Wilfrid Jackson. The Internet Archive makes both French original and English translation available for free.

The Catholic Church eventually ceased practicing censorship. More enduring, I suspect, was fascists' ill-will towards France.


Without given away any spoilers, I'll say that the Big Baddy's dream and meeting with our heroes is most surprising. Those infatuated with big names should give them some thought.

Image Credits:
[A] The Index Librorum Prohibitorum, title page of the 1564 edition, printed in Venice. Source: Wikimedia. Work in the public domain.

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