The Book, Cat, & Cat Book Lovers Almanac

of historical trivia regarding books, cats, and other animals. Actually this blog has evolved so that it is described better as a blog about cats in history and culture. And we take as a theme the advice of Aldous Huxley: If you want to be a writer, get some cats. Don't forget to see the archived articles linked at the bottom of the page.

May 13, 2017

May 13, 1840

Alphonse Daudet (May 13, 1840 to December 16, 1897) ) we read, was afraid of cats.

In  Volume 3 of The Novels, Romances, and Memoirs of Alphonse Daudet, (1904) we get a sketch of this writer:

As an artist in literature Daudet was greater than Dickens. His literary form, though it is not at all the finest form known to French literature, is yet much finer than that of Dickens, his choice of language more perfect, his descriptions sharper cut and more vivid.

This interplay of French and British literature is no new thing. We know how profound an impression Edgar Allen Poe made in France. ....

The charm of Daudet lies to a large extent in his style, yet he is not a stylist, not even to the extent that Pierre Loti and Anatole France are stylists. It may be found in his realism, which is the mark of the day; but he is not a realist in Zola's sense. It scarcely lies in his choice of certain subjects which British and American readers prefer to see in any other tongue than English, because le drame passionel, much as it has been introduced into his books by Daudet, is not really the essence of them.

I think it is an elusive thing, this charm, just as in the man himself one could not say exactly what it was that made him a charming man. Was it sprightliness? Was it tact? Was it a beaming cordiality that seemed, and probably was, genuine? Was it the impression he gave that he possessed a generous nature raised above the ignoble passions of envy and jealousy?
.... We who have strolled about Paris for any length of time know them [Daudet's characters] by sight; we have seen them industriously reading a "yellow journal" on the benches in the Luxembourg Gardens and watched their portentous labor over a "bock" in front of one of those ghastly cafes on the Boulevard des Italiens, beloved, alas, of foreigners as well as Parisians. .....

His humor, then, may well cause Daudet's novels to find favor in the eyes of American readers and make them forgive the frequency with which he finds it necessary to introduce unlawful love as the mainspring of his figures. I have a feeling that Daudet himself used this theme with some repugnance, but found it, or thought he found it, absolutely necessary for retaining the favor of the public. This I say without intent to offer an apology for Daudet; he needs no apologist; his work is there for people to read or not as they choose.

..... Paris is still the centre of the intellectual world; that craving for stories of wickedness which has always existed in human beings is catered to at Paris; the consumption is more by the foreigner than the Frenchman. Among the literary articles de Paris for the foreigners there and for export, the novels of Daudet are redeemed by their artistic power.

In writing prose Daudet had a rhythm all his own, a crisp yet flowing measure; he was an artist in words and he looked his part.

If your preconception of the outward appearance of a literary man includes a mass of dark hair, a pale, finely-chiselled face and large eyes of a charming blackness, Alphonse Daudet was not the man to disappoint you. He looked every inch the literary person. But if your idea comprised a man morose in character, a fidgety, crotchety nature, or one who posed and imposed himself on others, there was nothing in the reality to warrant your expectation.
Did you ever notice how often Daudet writesnin an unkindly way concerning the climate of Paris? If Daudet found the actual skies of Paris black and forbidding, no less did he give us to understand that the moral tone is horrible....

This example of the literary criticism a century ago,  has a certain charm. We glimpse standards, arguments, a logic, that is not foreign, even if dated.

One of the stories in this volume describes a clerk named "Risler, a species of tiger-cat who bristled up at the slightest word and talked of nothing less than killing people....."

Cat references are uncommon in  Daudet's fiction. It sounds like the feline species did not step gently in Alphonse Daudet's life.

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