Jules Vallès (1832–1885), French writer and revolutionary, is most famous for his trilogy of autobiographical novels: L’Enfant (The Child), Le Bachelier (The Graduate), and L’Insurgé (The Insurgent). Through Vallès’s alter ego, Jacques Vingtras, the books describe the writer’s difficult childhood as the abused son of a schoolteacher, his rejection of his classical education and growing admiration for the peasant class, and finally his bohemian life in Paris as a militant journalist and pamphleteer. Vallès grew up in the provinces and came to Paris to study as a young man. Forced by his family to return home, he soon rebelled against his socially ambitious father and returned to the capital. There Vallès associated with other young radicals and published articles in various left-wing newspapers under a series of pseudonyms, which nevertheless failed to protect him from government persecution. Vallès led protests against the repressive policies of Napoleon III and played a significant role in the Paris Commune of 1871; his newspaper, Le Cri du Peuple (The Cry of the People), became the mouthpiece of the revolt. After the defeat of the Commune, Vallès was exiled for nine years, which he spent mostly in London, writing articles and composing his autobiographical trilogy. Upon his return to Paris, he resurrected Le Cri and spent the last five years of his life working furiously on articles, pamphlets, and the last book of his trilogy.
Vallès’s book is one of the funniest books in French literature, a triumph of insubordinate comedy over the forces of order and the self-appointed defenders of decency.