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Daudet, Léon


Writer, politician, codirector of action franÇaise;b. Paris, Nov. 16, 1867; d. St.-Rémy-de-Provence, July 2, 1942. He was the son of Alphonse Daudet, the writer. He studied medicine at the University of Paris (188591), and then abandoned this profession for literature and journalism, publishing essays and novels, and contributing to various newspapers. His civil marriage with the granddaughter of Victor Hugo (1891) ended in divorce (1895). In 1903 he became for life a practicing Catholic, and entered a sacramental marriage with Marthe Allard. He succeeded his father as a member of the Académie Goncourt (1897). Daudet, known as a sociable, sophisticated bon vivant who frequented Parisian literary and political salons, with Charles maurras, a man of very different temperament, founded Action Française (1908). He led campaigns against Jews, Dreyfus, anti-clericals, Freemasonry, members of parliament, Catholic supporters of the Third Republic or the ralliement, and defeatists during World War I. He was elected to the Chamber of Deputies (191924). When his 14-year-old son Philippe was found in a taxi dead of bullet wounds (1923), possibly self-inflicted, Daudet accused the police of murder, and the taxi driver of complicity in the crime. The latter individual caused Daudet to receive a five-month prison sentence for defamation; but he fled to Belgium for three years until pardoned (1930). Like Maurras he rebelled in 1927 against the condemnation of Action Française by Pius XI, and did not submit until 1939.

Daudet's literary output of some 100 books and numerous articles (sometimes under the pseudonym Rivarol) included almost daily contributions for years to L'Action française. These writings dealt with medicine, psychology, politics, and literary criticism; they also comprised novels, essays, and personal reminiscences. Pius XI once declared: "His criticisms are more valuable than his novels, and his literary reminiscences are more valuable than his criticisms, but he does not know how to separate the pure from the impure." Le Voyage de Shakespeare was placed on the Index (Dec. 14, 1927), as was Les Bacchantes (Feb. 17, 1932). Other works of his also caused scandal. His writings are not of enduring interest save for his reminiscences, which were written in a sparkling style and abounded in truculent phrases and unforgettable word portraits. Daudet was devoid of charity, critical spirit, and sound theological or philosophical judgment; but his genius with words, violent, satirical, and Rabelaisian, and his talent for polemics made him the leading French pamphleteer of his time.

Bibliography: p. dresse, Léon Daudet vivant (Paris 1948). j. morienval, Catholicisme. Hier, aujourd'hui et demain, ed. g. jacquemet (Paris 1947) 3:475477. h. temerson, Dictionnaire de biographie française (Paris 1929) 10:262265.

[a. dansette]

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