An 'Attic' Philosopherby Émile Souvestre
Attic Philosopher, An ('Un Philosophe sous les Toits') appeared in 1850. The author, Émile Souvestre, then forty-four, was already well known as a writer of stories; but this book was less a story than a collection of sympathetic moralizings upon life, "the commonplace adventures of an unknown thinker in those twelve hostelries of time called months." He shows us one year in the life of a poor workingman who, watching brilliant Paris from his garret window, knows moments of envy, ambition, and loneliness. For these moods he finds a cure in kindness to others, in a recognition of his own limitations, and in a resolve to make the best of things. The voice is that of Souvestre himself, deducing from his own experience lessons of contentment, brotherly love, and simplicity. His character sketches include the frail and deformed Uncle Maurice, learning self-abnegation; the drunken Michael Arout, regenerated through love and care for his child; the kind and ever-youthful Frances and Madeleine, middle-age workwomen, cheerful under all hardships; and many more vivid personalities. He excels in presenting the nobility hidden under commonplace exteriors, and the pathos involved in commonplace conditions. In 1851 the French Academy crowned the 'Attic Philosopher'; and in 1854, after the death of Souvestre, it awarded his widow the Lambert prize, which is always bestowed upon the most useful author of the year.
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