One of the current buzz word expressions is that of “change agent”. It describes those events or persons who are responsible for making profound changes in our world. Anatole France (1844-1924), born Francoise-Anatole Thibault, was a French poet, journalist, and novelist. He was born in Paris, and died in Saint-Cyr-sur-Loire. He was a successful novelist, with several best-sellers. Ironic and skeptical, he was considered in his day the ideal French man of letters.
He was a member of the Academie Francaise, and won the Nobel Prize for Literature in recognition of his literary achievements.
He was a man of great personal integrity, and had a profound sense of right and wrong. It is noteworthy that in the face of great public outcry France took an important part in the Dreyfus Affair. He signed Emile Zola’s manifesto supporting Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish army officer who had been falsely convicted of espionage. The Dreyfus affair exposed the major fault lines in the French culture of the day, including a virulent strain of anti-Semitism and Zola took an enormous amount of criticism for his very public defense of Dreyfus. France wrote about the affair in his 1901 novel Monsieur Bergeret.
He was also a clear eyed intellectual, and often chided his fellow Frenchmen for the failure to understand and act appropriately in the face of change. On this subject he famousl;y opined:
“All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy, for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one’s life before we can enter into another.”