Anatole France, forotten link?
What has always intrigued me is to see Anatole France appear among the favourite authors of Ho Chi Minh, he had lived in France from 1918 to 1923 under the name of Nguyen Ai Quoc, or “Nguyen the Patriot.”
What do the two men have in common: on the one side Asia’s anti-colonialist revolutionary militant, ascetic but optimistic, and on the other side a dilettante French writer, Epicurean, sceptic and disenchanted at the same lane?
I believe their first link would have been of a practical kind. As a left-wing journalist starting his career in Paris, Ho Chi Minh might have taken die clear, sober and elegant writing style of Anatole France - the 1921 Literature Nobel Prize winner - as a model. Moreover, imbued with Sino-Vietnamese humanities, he might have felt close to the author of The Crime ofSylvestre Bonnard, which is steeped in Greek-Latin humanities. He might have found in Anatole France’s defence of social justice and tolerance a I continuation of the ideas of the Enlightenment philosophers, from ị Crainquebille to Dreyfuss.
During the first 20 years of the 20th century, Anatoie France enjoyed high prestige. He has now, however, practically ceased to exert influence over French literature. When travelling to France, I only met few admirers of the writer.
Among the generations educated in French schools during the colonisation period, many recall with emotion a text by Anatoie France on the first day back to school (“I will tell you what comes back to mind...”), which was learnt by heart in primary schools. In their eyes, Anatoie France remains a profoundly humane narrator, full of irony and compassion.
Though works on the history of contemporary French literature do not even mention Anatoie France, one enjoys flicking through pages of his ¡oughts from time to time as if seeking a forgotten scent in old paths.
Here are some of the thoughts of the 1921 Nobel Prize winner, selected random:
“The more I think of human life, the more I believe in the necessity for »have irony and pity as witnesses and judges. Irony and pity are two good counsellors. The first smiles to make life more amiable, the second weeps to make it more sacred. The irony which I invoke is not in the least cruel, it mocks neither love nor beauty, Irony is gentle and benevolent; it soothes anger and teaches us to mock the wicked and fools, whom we might otherwise be so weak as to hate.”
“The believer rejoices at his ulcers; he considers as pleasant the injustices and violence of his enemies; even his faults and crimes do not take away his hopes. But in a world where the enlightenment of faith has died out, evil and pain have lost their very significance and merely appear as odious jokes and sinister farces.”
“To enhance the value of the terrestrial globe, we should first of all enhance the value of man.”
“The fundamental principle of all colonial wars is that a European be superior to the people against whom he fights.”
“One calls good people those who act like others.”
“Things are by themselves neither big nor small. When we think that the universe is vast, it is simply a human’s idea.”