Thursday, May 29, 2014
The Crime of Sylvestre Bonnard by Anatole France
Author: Anatole France
Original Publication Date: 1881
Monsieur Sylvestre Bonnard, a member of The Institute, a philologist who in the twilight of his years lives in a City of Books accompanied by his condescending cat, Hamilcar, and Therese, his adroit and remarkably annoying house help, finds himself committing a crime. And you wonder, what crime he did commit? He commits two actually, both of which stems from love. The former impelled by the haunting quest for redemption of a failed unrequited love, the latter, inevitably constrained by a passion unmatched. Of the two, he was not indicted for the former, and I am sure you will understand and forgive the latter, as I did.
The Crime of Sylvestre Bonnard is divided into two stories, The Log and Daughter of Clementine, both presented as Bonnard's diary entries. The entries are intermittently recorded, sometimes years apart. In both stories, Bonnard is the central character, and the connection in the stories are subtly and beautifully formed.
Of all of France's works I've had the pleasure of reading so far, I've come to appreciate he Crime of Sylvestre Bonnard the most. The differences were readily apparent. Bonnard is a warm and gentle kind man. He was not cynical, only true and honest. He wore his heart on his sleeves. "Then he said to her that the troubles in which we often involve ourselves, by trying to act according to our conscience and to do the best we can, are never of the sort that totally dishearten and weary us, but are, on the contrary wholesome trials."(148)The profound human sympathy and grace France is known for defines this book. It was poignant and beautiful, down from the vivid imagery he employed up to the ruminations in life, but still remaining to be critical without any hint of naivety just as he did on his later works. France's development as an author and a person is evident in this work too. Written earlier in his career in 1881 compared to Penguin Island and The Revolt of the Angels written in 1908 and 1912 respectively, both books the majority of which are criticisms on the church and of faith in the divine, the Crime of Sylvestre Bonnard professes however a faith in the church, and France even goes so far as ending this work by leaving a blessing in the name of God! It is so evident that what faith he had lost through those intervening years was still there. And it is interesting and amazing to experience a writer change and develop, and at times contradict himself, almost like how the young Nietzsche is so different to the old Nietzsche. And I like this kind and warm story, it makes you appreciate life.
Other Books by Anatole France:
Revolt of the Angels(4 Stars)
Penguin Island (3 Stars)
This book forms part of my remarkably extensive reading list on Nobel Prize for Literature Awardees