Anatole France, The Revolt of the Angels
(La révolte des anges)
Translated by Mrs. Wilfrid Jackson
First published: 1914.
I know that it is/was possible to get a copy of this via Black Mask but that was a Bowdlerized version. I have checked my version against my paper copy and restored accents, italics, and several tame erotic passages in Chapter 9 and elsewhere, which a prudish hand inexplicably removed.
I had always thought of Anatole France as a bit of a society novelist but this work shows that he can be a great deal more. Imagine Philip Pullman with sex, political satire and irony, and you get some idea of this novel.
The extensive library of the d’Esparvieu household is thrown into confusion every night, as books are thrown about. The mysterious intruder has a penchant for theological works.
Maurice d’Esparvieu is a rather dim but fashionable young man. During an afternoon tryst with Madame des Aubels, his guardian angel appears to tell Maurice that he is giving up his unsuccessful mission to preserve Maurice’s chastity in order to lead a revolt against God, who is a tyrant and autocrat. He has been plundering the library in an attempt to educate himself.
However, the small band of renegade angels has some difficulty blending into Parisian society and is frequently distracted by the daughters of men. (Being angels, they have only a limited understanding of human feelings, and are overwhelmed by unexpected sensations when they take human form.) Despite this problem they manage to organise an anarchist revolutionary movement and prepare for war against the Heavenly Hosts.
Meanwhile Maurice finds himself bereft without his celestial guardian, in whom Madame des Aubels is taking too great an interest.
The novel shows an unusual prescience and humanity in its treatment of war. Published in 1914, just before the outbreak of the First World War, Anatole France makes it clear that in war the only winners are the arms dealers.
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