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The Revolt of the Angels by France Anatole

The Revolt of the Angels (original 1914; edition 1924)

by France Anatole

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309652,886 (3.94)1 / 29
Title:The Revolt of the Angels
Authors:France Anatole
Info:Dodd Mead, (1924), Hardcover
Collections:Your library
Tags:Literary Fiction

Work details

The Revolt of the Angels by Anatole France (Author) (1914)

  1. 00
    The Silver Stallion : A Comedy of Redemption by James Branch Cabell (elenchus)
    elenchus: Anatole France and James Branch Cabell broadly share a stylised prose and a winking social commentary, hidden in tales of adventure and whimsy. A place to start is France's The Revolt of the Angels and Cabell's The Silver Stallion, if you like either it's a good bet you'll enjoy further reading in their respective bibilographies.… (more)

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Anatole France’s La Revolte des Anges tells the story of Arcade, the guardian angel of Maurice d’Esparvieu. While reading d’Esparvieu’s extensive library with tomes and treatises on metaphysics, astronomy, religion, and other subjects, the angel comes to the realization that god, whom he calls Ialdabaoth, could not conceivably have created the entire universe and ordered it and continued to control its movements. In his transition to an atheist, he seeks out other fallen angels who live in Paris as musicians and gardeners, seeking to raise an army in order to overthrow Ialdabaoth.

The gardener Nectaire tells of how Lucifer and his lot encountered humanity, whose “miserable lot and his painstaking spirit aroused the sympathy of the vanquished angels, who discerned in him an audacity equalling [sic] their own, and the germ of the pride that was at once their glory and their bane… they took pleasure in sharpening his talents and fostering his genius” (pg. 140). Inspired by this speech, Arcade and his group of angels seek out Lucifer, who ponders the matter of raging war once again on Heaven. In a vision, Satan sees “himself crowned God. Thronging round the glittering walls of Heavenly Jerusalem, apostles, pontiffs, virgins, martyrs, confessors, the whole company of the elect, who during the fierce battle had enjoyed delightful tranquility, tasted infinite joy in the spectacle of the coronation” (pg. 279). He realizes that, in its victory, his host would simply become that which it fought against. Satan cautions Nectaire, “It is in ourselves and in ourselves alone that we must attack and destroy Ialdabaoth” (pg. 282).

In many ways, the story captures much of the ennui that followed the fin de siècle period and links it with the modernism that followed the First World War, all while serving as a pseudo-sequel to Milton’s Paradise Lost. Much of the structure may of the novel may be difficult for modern readers, but the overall effect continues to resonate. This Heritage Press edition features illustrations from Pierre Watrin that are abstract enough to capture the philosophical content of the story. ( )
  DarthDeverell | Dec 31, 2018 |
Wherein we shall see revealed a dark and secret mystery and learn how it comes about that empires are often hurled against empires, and ruin falls alike upon the victors and the vanquished; and the wise reader (if such there be -- which I doubt) will meditate upon this important utterance: "A war is a matter of business."

-- Epigraph to Chapter XXVII

France imagines a literal angelic resurrection as an opportunity to examine the revolutionary aspirations of the Parisian classes, and finds everyone --men & angels alike-- subject to all manner of distraction: bruising of egos, seduction and chicanery, imagined slights, delusions of grandeur. Behind the satire of Church and State there lies, perhaps, a Gnostic critique of theology and social change. Ialdabaoth is named as the pretender to the throne, against whom the angels revolt, yet ironically these angels themselves root their insurrection in gnosis (Arcade plunders books from the library of the human for whom he is guardian) and seem to have no greater claim to rule than this self-professed knowledge. I sense France places these allusions as commentary on the story, and not as any key to interpreting them.


I've long been curious about Anatole France, named more than once in connection with James Branch Cabell and leaving the impression perhaps Cabell was an admirer. That may be true: Cabell introduced the Modern Library edition of The Queen Pedauque (though I've not read it, perhaps he skewers author & text cruelly). I've since learned Cabell claimed not to have been familiar with France's work until after Cabell's own style was established, so while potentially still an admirer apparently Cabell was not inspired by France.

Without knowing how representative is The Revolt of the Angels of France's novels generally, I found it amusing in premise and pleasurably Cabellian in both structure and characterisation. There is much to like. ( )
1 vote elenchus | Dec 4, 2017 |
Perhaps only an author whose literary reputation was firmly established could have published this novel in 1914. It has elements of science fiction, certainly of fantasy, yet is a satire on war, government and religion; and places the reader firmly in Paris, at a time when the city was braced for war. It is a delight to read with a writing style that looks back towards "le fin de siècle" rather than forwards to 20th century modernism.

The disparate elements which make up this novel hold together reasonably well, because the reader never loses the charm with which it is written. It starts off as a mystery with books disappearing from the wealthy family d'Esparvieu's private library. Poor Sariette the family librarian cannot explain the weird things going on in the library, books displaced, thrown around, found outside the library and worst of all randomly desecrated. Arcade is soon revealed as the culprit; an angel who materialises in front of Maurice d'Esparvieu and is using the library to gain an education. There is no call for an education in heaven and with the help of his reading Arcade is planning a revolution that will dethrone God and replace him with Lucifer. Arcade however is Maurice's guardian angel, but he cannot lead a revolution and keep his day job as a guardian to Maurice, and there is a further complication as angels are notoriously liable to desire mortal women and he wants Maurice's mistress; Madame des Aubels.

There is a group of characters around the art forger Guinardon that become closely linked with other fallen angels and Maurice enters their world in pursuit of Arcade, but these tales of life and loves in Paris are a backdrop to the coming revolution in heaven. We learn that God is in fact Ialdabaoth a minor demiurge who has gained control of heaven through his lies and deceitful ways. He is a narrow minded tyrant, only one of many who operate in our galaxy, he has based his power on the fable of Christianity, which Anatole France says, could influence those feeble intellects that are to be found everywhere in great masses and enjoy the idea of suffering in this world to gain an advantage in the next. Anatole France then launches the reader on an alternative version of a history of creation and the domination of man in our world, before dropping back to the fallen angels and their dealings with the local Parisians in present times. On the way through all of this there is plenty of opportunity for satire and some choice remarks:

Max Everdirgen is a fallen angel who has become a financier who encourages war because of course it is good for business. Ialdabaoth (God) has little general culture but is a soldier - to the marrow of his bones, The organisation of paradise is a thoroughly military operation, it is founded on hierarchy and discipline. Passive obedience is imposed there as a fundamental law. The fallen angels are lectured on the advantages of modern warfare where numbers of men are all important and the fact that promotion in the military is based on time served rather than brilliant generalship. The heading to chapter XXVII starts with a typical summary by the author:

wherein we shall see revealed a dark and secret mystery and learn how it comes about, that empires are often hurled against empires, and ruin falls alike upon the victors and the vanquished; and the wise reader (if such there be - which I doubt) will meditate on the important utterance "a war is a matter of business"

The lives of the Parisians on the ground and the final battle in heaven provide a climax to the book. There are lessons to be learned and Anatole France's wry views on the human condition permeate throughout his fantastical story.

Just so as the reader is in no doubt that this is a French novel written by a Frenchman Anatole reminds us that:

French cooking is the best in the world. It is a glory that will transcend all others when humanity has grown wise enough to put the spit before the sword

Just as H G Wells' story of a fallen angel [The Wonderful Visit] published 20 years earlier gave a parochial feeling of Southern England Anatole Frances' book gives us Paris, but a city nervous about a war coming ever closer. Frances' book is of a grander scale but the angels are curiously similar to Wells' angel, We might want them to be friends and guardians, but we might need to keep them away from our partners. A thoroughly enjoyable read which I rate at 4 stars. ( )
8 vote baswood | May 2, 2014 |
Maurice d'Esparvieu's guardian angel, Arcade, after studying many ancient texts, decides he no longer believes in the power of Ialdabaoth (God), and wishes to live among men on earth. Here withother earthly angels a revolt is planned.
An enjoyable tale, laced with humor, which discusses the balance between good and evil. ( )
2 vote TheWasp | Jul 4, 2011 |
Sometimes you read a novel which has a great idea, a well thought out concept and a style that completely nullifies all of the amazing thoughts embedded in the work. The Revolt of the Angels is such a book. Much like Paradise Lost and Dante's Divine Comedy, the novel takes on such big concepts as the ever raging conquest of heaven and the eternal struggle between good and evil. In this case however God (or Good) is shown to be very human and not as all powerful or righteous as we have assumed it to be and Evil is portrayed in very much a humanitarian way doomed to suffer for all his misdeeds. By diminishing humanity's role in the novel and by describing unearthly beings as us humans, we gain more insight in what it means to be human. This book is not about angels at all, it is about people.

A guardian angel by the name of Arcade after leaving heaven discovers a vast library somewhere in Paris. Through his readings he discovers that much is to be admired about humans and that God is not as almighty or as all Awesome as we so far have assumed. Through his human charge, Arcade, the guardian angel discovers that earth's population is at least half made up of former angels. Acrade having discovered human knowledge and the limits of his creator sets out to bring about a revolt of those angels dwelling here on earth. But as angels do when they are no longer part of the heavenly abode they soon fall in love with our lowly customs and habits. If the earthly angels manage to take over heaven is for the reader to discover and I will not reveal much more.

Frans Anatole, as Somerset Maugham irritably noted in his imaginary autobiography: The Summing Up, was completely enamored with the language and writing style of the 18th century. Through the first couple of chapters the reader is perhaps slightly unnerved or confused since here and there the author hints at placing the book in contemporary times, meaning early 20th century. But when Anatole starts describing both cars, buses and sword duals in the same paragraphs things get a bit confusing. A saving grace throughout all this is a steady sense of humor, which ultimately carries the story. It does work, the story does work and it is difficult not to be pleased by the grace with which Frans Anatole describes complex issues. Religion is completely left out of this novel, impressive for a book that discusses the fate of God, the Devil, Humanity and a legion of miscellaneous angels. But it works, it does work. Anatole brings deities on our level without diminishing their important, their grace or their divinity. At the same time he shows us how we all in our own ways can be angelic.

With all the flowery language and choice of stuffy otherwise boring 18th century characters, it is interesting to wonder what would have happened if the setting had been more contemporary. Did Anatole's writing style hamper his message? Could he have won more than one Nobel prize, or are all the choices appropriate? Maybe we're too used to slick language designed to move the reader through at text as smoothly as possible. Perhaps Somerset Maugham would have liked this novel if it had been written in the style of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo? ( )
2 vote TheCriticalTimes | Mar 3, 2011 |
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» Add other authors (6 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
France, AnatoleAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Auer, AlexandraTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Jackson, Mrs. WilfridTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Leonhard, RudolfTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
MacCarthy, DesmondIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mayer, HansAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Papé, Frank C.Illustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Watrin, PierreIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Beneath the shadow of St. Sulpice the ancient mansion of the d'Esparvieu family rears its austere three stories between a moss-grown forecourt and a garden hemmed in, as the years have elapsed, by ever loftier and more intrusive buildings, wherein, nevertheless, two tall chestnut trees still lift their withered heads.
While Napoleon’s amusements were throwing Europe into a turmoil, we congratulated ourselves on our wisdom, a little sad, withal, at seeing the era of philosophy ushered in with massacre, torture, and war…War and Romanticism, what terrible scourges! And how pitiful to see these same people nursing a childish and savage love for muskets and drums! They did not understand that war, which trained the courage and founded the cities of barbarous and ignorant men, brings to the victor himself but ruin and misery, and is nothing but a horrible and stupid crime when nations are united together by common bonds of art, science, and trade.
War never was an exact science, a clearly defined art. The genius of the race, or the brain of the individual, has ever modified it. Now how are we to define the qualities necessary for a general in command in the war of the future, where one must consider greater masses and a larger number of movements than the intelligence of man can conceive? The multiplication of technical means, by infinitely multiplying the opportunities for mistake, paralyses the genius of those in command. At a certain stage in the progress of military science, a stage which our models, the Europeans, are about to reach, the cleverest leader and the most ignorant become equalized by reason of their incapacity. Another result of great modern armaments is, that the law of numbers tends to rule with inflexible rigour…Great numbers, in war as elsewhere, annihilate intelligence and individual superiority in favour of a sort of exceedingly rudimentary collective soul.
“Can it be that we are the sport of financiers?”

“Pooh!” said the beautiful archangel. “War is a business. It has always been a business.”
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Haiku summary
Ruin falls alike
upon victors and vanquished;
"War is a business"

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"Books are missing from the archbishop's shelves and the librarian is helpless to explain until the culprit is revealed. Arcade, the clergyman's guardian angel, has been educating himself. Immersion in works of philosophy ans science has convinced Arcade that God is a cruel tyrant. Revolution is the only answer, and Arcade joins a host of angels to mount a rebellion that proposes to install Satan on the throne of heaven." -- From publisher."The 1914 novel by Nobel laureate Anatole France offers a brilliant satire of war, government, and religion. Published on the eve of World War I, the fable voices an ever-resonant protest against violence and despotism. The author's sense of humor brings a remarkably contemporary air to the Paradise Lost scenario." -- From publisher.… (more)

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