Mistral, Frédéric 1830-1914
MISTRAL, Frédéric 1830-1914
PERSONAL: Born September 8, 1830 in Maillane, France; died March 25, 1914 in Maillane, France; son of a farmer and homemaker; married Marie Rivière, 1876. Education: University of Aix, law degree, 1851.
CAREER: Poet, scholar, lexicographer, philologist, autobiographer, playwright, lecturer, and publicist. Cofounder, Félibrige, 1854.
AWARDS, HONORS: Nobel Prize for Literature, 1904.
Mirèio, 1859, translation by C. Grat, 1867, verse translation, H. Crichton (Paris, France), 1868, translation by Harriet W. Preston published as Miereill, 1872.
Lis Isclo d'or, 1876.
Les Secrets des bêtes (translated from L'Aîoli), 1896.
Oeuvres, 6 volumes, 1886-1921.
La Rèino Jano, 1890.
Lou Pouèmo dóu rose, 1897, translation by Maro Beath Jones published as Anglora: The Song of the Rhone, 1937.
Discours e dicho, 1906.
Moun espelido, memòri e raconte, 1906, translation published as The Memories of Frédéric Mistral, 1907, reprinted, 1928.
Lis Oulivado, 1912.
Proso d'Armana, 3 volumes, 1926-1930.
Correspondance de Frédéric Mistral et Adolphe Dumas, 1856-1861, 1959.
Oeuvres poétiques complètes, 2 vols., 1966-68.
Also author of Lou Tresor dóu Félibrige.
SIDELIGHTS: Scholar and poet Frédéric Mistral was devoted to his art and his region. Concerned that the literature and culture of his beloved, native Provence were evaporating amid the better-known French language, Mistral was one of seven Provençal poets to found the Félibrige in 1854. Its mission was to preserve and celebrate the Provençal language, and its character and history. Mistral composed his own works in that language, translated classics to Provençal and fought to have schools of southeastern France teach the language. His poetic talents were equally laudable. His art has been compared with that of the elite classicists. In Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism, Jean Carrère wrote: "No poet in the whole history of letters was more completely, more purely, more naturally saturated with the Hellenic spirit—more classical, in a word—than Mistral. He belongs to the same great, luminous family as Homer, Plato, [Virgil], Dante, Petrarch, and Racine."
Born in Maillane, a village in the Rhone Valley of southern France, Mistral enjoyed the rural countryside and missed the freedom of the outdoors when he was sent to school at Avignon at age eight. He became so fascinated, however, with the works of Homer and Virgil, that Mistral eventually translated the latter's first eclogue into Provençal. Joseph Roumanille, an assistant teacher at the school, inspired and impressed Mistral with his dialect poems, and other patriotic idealists joined the two in appreciating Provence and its heritage. By 1852 there was an organization of seven Provençal poets who decided to meet at Arles, and again in 1853 at Aix. The men, based on these two meetings, formed a movement devoted to the renaissance of the Provençal language. They met at the Château du Font-Segugne, near Avignon, in 1854 and formalized their goals. According to a Guide to French Literature writer, "The Félibrige was organized and adopted its first constitution in 1862, becoming widely accepted from the Alps to the Pyrénées and beyond."
Mistral's most celebrated literary endeavor was his first poem, the epic Mirèio (translated as Mireille). A writer in the Guide to French Literature noted that contemporaries hailed Mistral as a new Virgil and proclaimed that, with Mirèio, "un pays est devenue un livre" (a country has become a book). Mirèio, an instant success, was the story of a rich girl forbidden by her parents to associate with her indigent lover. After searching the countryside for assistance and spirituality, the girl dies of exhaustion in front of her parents and lover. In an 1885 essay in Catholic World that was reprinted in Twentieth Century Literary Criticism, a writer asserted that the author of Mireille "is probably the truest, if not also the greatest, poet now living in France. Born, dwelling, writing in Provence and in Provence's own enchanting language, he is a very lily of all that was best in the spirit of the Romance ages, flowering with a great strength in this rude century of iron and steam."
By his early thirties Mistral began compiling his two-volume Lou Tresor dóu Félibrige, a Provençal-French dictionary and thesaurus. While working on that project he published three more poems, though none as acclaimed as Mirèio. Calendau tells of a beautiful princess kidnapped by an outlaw and rescued by a handsome young fisherman. Lis Isclo d'or is a lyrical melange of Provençal fairy tales and fables featuring basic moral themes. Nerto is a tragic narrative poem presented in four acts that Mistral modestly called a Provençal novel despite its epic qualities. Nerto relates the struggle and ultimate victory of Nerto, a young girl whose father sold her soul to the devil. The Catholic World essayist wrote of Nerto: "It would be difficult to find in all French literature a more pliable, varied, and fecund talent than displayed here." The two volumes of the dictionary and thesaurus were completed in 1879 and 1887.
Seven years after he published La Rèino Jano, which critics considered his only failure due to its onedimensional characterizations and lack of dramatic action, Mistral presented Lou Pouèmo dóu rose. Critics praised Mistral's first attempt at blank verse. The poem captures the history of the Rhone since Roman times, centering on the barge life of the river and interweaving regional folklore.
Mistral received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1904 and invested the award money into a Provençal museum he established in Arles, France. More than one hundred years of critical commentary on Mistral have revealed two essential qualities. First, his respect for classical literary premises became his most effective literary instrument. By memorializing idyllic landscapes through sublime language and time-honored poetic forms, Mistral immortalizes his homeland. Second, Mistral based his work and spirit on human nobility, consecrating his regional stories through universal ideals.
As quoted in Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism, Charles Alfred Downer summarized: "All the charm and beauty of that sunny land, all that is enchanting in its past, all the best, in the ideal sense, that may be hoped for in its future, is expressed in [Mistral's] musical, limpid, lovely verse. Such a poet and such a leader of men is rare in the annals of literature. Such complete oneness of purpose and achievement is rare among men."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Guide to French Literature, 1789 to the Present, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1992.
Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism, Volume 51, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1994.*