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Anatole France and Gaston Paris

Dumbarton Oaks Music Room
December 13, 2018
06:00 PM to 07:30 PM
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Public lecture by Professor Michel Zink

Michel Zink, member and Permanent Secretary of the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres (Institut de France), will deliver a lecture on fin-de-siècle Parisian culture and French writers Gaston Paris and Anatole France, preceded by a gallery viewing from 5:30 to 6:00 p.m. An expert on medieval French literature, Zink is the author of a number of publications, including Bienvenue au Moyen Âge and Nature et poésie au Moyen Âge.

Anatole France (1844–1924) was an illustrious writer and Gaston Paris (1839–1903) a fairly well-known scholar—a professor of medieval French language and literature at the Collège de France and a member of the Académie des inscriptions et belles-lettres. They were elected the same day, Thursday, May 27, 1896, to the Académie française. This twin election is not the only link between them: Anatole France was interested in the Middle Ages, and the eponymous character of the novel that made him famous, The Crime of Sylvestre Bonnard (1881) is a medievalist, a graduate of the École des Chartes, and a member of the Académie des inscriptions et belles-lettres, just like Gaston Paris. Anatole France dedicated his short story The Juggler of Our Lady to Gaston Paris because the medieval tale on the same subject was introduced to him by a book of Paris’s on medieval literature.

Both men were dreyfusards (supporters of captain Dreyfus during the Dreyfus Affair), though as far as I know, they were not friends; Anatole France became more of a leftist than Gaston Paris. Anatole France loved the Middle Ages as an amateur and a poet, while Gaston Paris studied it as a positivist philologist, the kind Anatole France liked to gently make fun of. But the parallels between them are highly suggestive of what France was like at the turn of the 20th century, not only in terms of the cultural perception and knowledge of the Middle Ages, but also the intellectual, literary, and political life of the period.

Juggling the Middle Ages

Featuring more than 100 objects, Juggling the Middle Ages explores the influence of the medieval world by focusing on a single story with a long-lasting impactLe Jongleur de Notre Dame or Our Lady’s Tumbler. The exhibit follows the tale from its rediscovery by scholars in the 1870s to its modern interpretations in children’s books, offering viewers a look at a vast range of objects, including stained glass windows, illuminated manuscripts, household objects, and vintage theater posters.

Illustration of the old académicien, Sylvestre Bonnard, on page 3 of Anatole France, The Crime of Sylvestre Bonnard, translated by Lafcadio Hearn, illustrated by Sylvain Sauvage (New York: Limited Editions Club, 1937).