The Child is a story about growing up that is comparable in humor and humanity to Great Expectations, even as its unflinching exposure of violence and hypocrisy foreshadows the nightmare realsim of Louis-Ferdinand Céline. Jules Vallès, an anarchist and a bohemian, dedicated his book “to all those who were bored stiff at school or reduced to tears at home, who in childhood were bullied by their teachers or thrashed by their parents,” and it tells the (autobiographical) tale of a young boy constantly scapegoated and abused, emotionally and physically, by his peasant mother and schoolteacher father, whose greatest concern is to improve their social status. But the young hero learns to stand up to his parents, even to love them, in time, and for all the intense pain the book registers it is anything but dreary. To the contrary, Vallès’s book is one of the funniest in French literature, a triumph of insubordinate comedy over the forces of order and the self-appointed defenders of decency.
[Vallès] is a more reliable witness of his society, or at least certain sectors of it, than many more renowned but less involved writers of his age.
— Walter D. Redfern, Times Literary Supplement
Essentially autobiographical, Valles’s 19th-century novel charts the author’s experience of growing up in an emotionally distant family obsessed with social status.
— The Guardian
The author of The Child is one of the masters of French prose. There’s no denying that. But his work shouldn’t be considered an exercise in virtuosity. It has an exact and terrible significance. His work stands as an act of liberation. Vallès is the man who liberates us from the family, who liberates us from our father and our mother, who says to us: “judge them and, if there is cause to, condemn them.”
— Maurice Barrès
A true book, a book composed of the most exact, the most poignant human documents. It’s been ten years since a work has moved me to such a degree.
— Émile Zola