Alphonse Daudet (1840 – 1897) is a French naturalist novelist, often called the French Dickens. This title is also attributed to Hugo and Balzac. A man dogged through life by misfortune and failure. Alphonse, amid much truancy, had a depressing boyhood. In 1856 he left Lyon, where his schooldays had been mainly spent, and began life as a schoolteacher at Alès, Gard, in the south of France. The position proved to be intolerable. As Dickens declared that all through his prosperous career he was haunted in dreams by the miseries of his apprenticeship to the blacking business, so Daudet says that for months after leaving Alès he would wake with horror thinking he was still among his unruly pupils.
Though Daudet defended himself from the charge of imitating Dickens, it is difficult altogether to believe that so many similarities of spirit and manner were quite unsought. What, however, was purely his own was his style. It is a style that may rightly be called “impressionist,” full of light and colour, not descriptive after the old fashion, but flashing its intended effect by a masterly juxtaposition of words that are like pigments. Nor does it convey, like the style of the Goncourts, for example, a constant feeling of effort. It is full of felicity and charm, “un charmeur” Zola called him. An intimate friend of Edmond de Goncourt (who died in his house), of Flaubert, of Zola, Daudet belonged essentially to the naturalist school.