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The Nabob   By: (1840-1897)

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by Alphonse Daudet

Translated By W. Blaydes


Daudet once remarked that England was the last of foreign countries to welcome his novels, and that he was surprised at the fact, since for him, as for the typical Englishman, the intimacy of home life had great significance. However long he may have taken to win Anglo Saxon hearts, there is no question that he finally won them more completely than any other contemporary French novelist was able to do, and that when but a few years since the news came that death had released him from his sufferings, thousands of men and women, both in England and in America, felt that they had lost a real friend. Just at the present moment one does not hear or read a great deal about him, but a similar lull in criticism follows the deaths of most celebrities of whatever kind, and it can scarcely be doubted that Daudet is every day making new friends, while it is as sure as anything of the sort can be that it is death, not estrangement, that has lessened the number of his former admirers.

"Admirers"? The word is much too cold. "Lovers" would serve better, but is perhaps too expansive to be used of a self contained race. "Friends" is more appropriate because heartier, for hearty the relations between Daudet and his Anglo Saxon readers certainly were. Whether it was that some of us saw in him that hitherto unguessed at phenomenon, a French Dickens not an imitator, indeed, but a kindred spirit or that others found in him a refined, a volatilized "Mark Twain," with a flavour of Cervantes, or that still others welcomed him as a writer of naturalistic fiction that did not revolt, or finally that most of us enjoyed him because whatever he wrote was as steeped in the radiance of his own exquisitely charming personality as a picture of Corot's is in the light of the sun itself whatever may have been the reason, Alphonse Daudet could count before he died thousands of genuine friends in England and America who were loyal to him in spite of the declining power shown in his latest books, in spite even of the strain which Sapho laid upon their Puritan consciences.

It is likely that a majority of these friends were won by the two great Tartarin books and by the chief novels, Fromont , Jack , The Nabob , Kings in Exile , and Numa , aided by the artistic sketches and short stories contained in Letters from my Mill and Monday Tales (Contes du Lundi) . The strong but overwrought Evangelist , Sapho which of course belongs with the chief novels from the Continental but not from the insular point of view and the books of Daudet's decadence, The Immortal , and the rest, cost him few friendships, but scarcely gained him many. His delightful essays in autobiography, whether in fiction, Le Petit Chose (Little What's his Name) , or in Thirty Years of Paris and Souvenirs of a Man of Letters , doubtless sealed more friendships than they made; but they can be almost as safely recommended as the more notable novels to readers who have yet to make Daudet's acquaintance.

For the man and his career are as unaffectedly charming as his style, and more of a piece than his elaborate works of fiction. A sunny Provencal childhood is clouded by family misfortunes; then comes a year of wretched slavery as usher in a provincial school; then the inevitable journey to Paris with a brain full of verses and dreams, and the beginning of a life of Bohemian nonchalance, to which we Anglo Saxons have little that is comparable outside the career of Oliver Goldsmith. But poor Goldsmith had his pride wounded by the editorial tyranny of a Mrs. Griffiths. Daudet, by a merely pretty poem about a youth and maiden making love under a plum tree, won the protection of the Empress Eugenie, and through her of the Duke de Morny, the prop of the Second Empire. His life now reads like a fairy tale inserted by some jocular elf into that book of dolors entitled The Lives of Men of Genius . A protege of a potentate not usually lavish of his favours, and a valetudinarian, he is allowed to flit to Algiers and Corsica, to enjoy his beloved Provence in company with Mistral, to write for the theatres, and to continue to play the Bohemian... Continue reading book >>

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