Fabre, Ferdinand

FABRE, FERDINAND (1830-1898), French novelist, was born at Bédarieux, in Hérault, a very picturesque district of the south of France, which he made completely his own in literature. He was the son of a local architect, who failed in business, and Ferdinand was brought up by his uncle, the Abbé Fulcran Fabre, at Camplong among the mulberry woods. Of his childhood and early youth he has given a charming account in Ma Vocation (1889). He was destined to the priesthood, and was sent for that purpose to the seminary of St Pons de Thomières, where, in 1848, he had, as he believed, an ecstatic vision of Christ, who warned him "It is not the will of God that thou shouldst be a priest." He had now to look about for a profession, and, after attempting medicine at Montpellier, was articled as a lawyer's clerk in Paris. In 1853 he published a volume of verses, Feuilles de lierre, broke down in health, and crept back, humble and apparently without ambition, to his old home at Bédarieux. After some eight or nine years of country life he reappeared in Paris, with the MS. of his earliest novel, Les Courbezon (1862), in which he treated the subject which was to recur in almost all his books, the daily business of country priests in the Cevennes. This story enjoyed an immediate success with the literary class of readers; George Sand praised it, Sainte-Beuve hailed in its author "the strongest of the disciples of Balzac," and it was crowned by the French Academy. From this time forth Fabre settled down to the production of novels, of which at the time of his death he had published about twenty. Among these the most important were Le Chevrier (1868), unique among his works as written in an experimental mixture of Cevenol patois and French of the 16th century; L'Abbé Tigrane, candidat à la papauté (1873), by common consent the best of all Fabre's novels, a very powerful picture of unscrupulous priestly ambition; Mon Oncle Célestin (1881), a study of the entirely single and tender-hearted country abbé; and Lucifer (1884), a marvellous gallery of serious clerical portraits. In 1883 Fabre was appointed curator of the Mazarin Library, with rooms in the Institute, where, on 11th February 1898, he died after a brief attack of pneumonia. Ferdinand Fabre occupies in French literature a position somewhat analogous to that of Mr Thomas Hardy amongst English writers of fiction. He deals almost exclusively with the population of the mountain villages of Hérault, and particularly with its priests. He loved most of all to treat of the celibate virtues, the strictly ecclesiastical passions, the enduring tension of the young soul drawn between the spiritual vocation and the physical demands of nature. Although never a priest, he preserved a comprehension of and a sympathy with the clerical character, and he always indignantly denied that he was hostile to the Church, although he stood just outside her borders. Fabre possessed a limited and a monotonous talent, but within his own field he was as original as he was wholesome and charming.

See also J. Lemaître, Les Contemporains, vol. ii.; G. Pellissier, Etudes de littérature contemporaine (1898); E.W. Gosse, French Profiles (1905).

(E. G.)

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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