Michelet, Jules

Michelet, Jules zhül mēshəlāˈ [key], 1798–1874, French writer, the greatest historian of the romantic school. Born in Paris of poor parents, he visualized himself throughout his life as a champion of the people. He headed the historical section of the national archives and was professor of history at the Collège de France, but he lost his positions when he refused (1851) the oath of allegiance to Louis Napoleon (later Napoleon III). His major work is his Histoire de France (many volumes, 1833–67; several partial translations into English); its style, its emotional strength, and its powerful evocation make it a masterpiece of French literature. Michelet traced the biography of the nation as a whole, instead of concentrating on persons or groups of persons. His most convincing pages deal with the Middle Ages. Michelet had vast knowledge of factual detail and original documents, but his history, especially the latter part, is marred by emotional bias against the clergy, the nobility, and the monarchic institutions. Many of Michelet's other political and historical works are outgrowths of his history of France; especially notable are Le Peuple (1846) and the biography of Joan of Arc (1853). He also wrote romantic impressions of nature and life.

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