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Literature / Sans Famille

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Sans Famille (Translation: Without Family) is an 1878 French novel by Hector Malot. It has been released in English (as Nobody's Boy and more recently Alone in the World) as well as many other languages, and has been adapted for film, television and theater multiple times.

The story revolves around a young boy named Rémi, who at age 8 finds out he is actually adopted. Shortly after, he is sold to a travelling musician named Vitalis by his grumpy step dad, which is the start of a long series of adventures. Along the way, Remi makes new friends, but also loses several people close to him, and slowly learns more about his past.

Among many adaptations, the best known is probably the 1977-1978 anime Ie Naki Ko (Nobody's Boy: Remi) by TMS Entertainment, Madhouse and Osamu Dezaki. There is also another anime from the 1990's, also titled Ie Naki Ko Remi, and a 2018 French film, Rémi sans Famille, starring Daniel Auteuil and Virginie Ledoyen.


Sans Famille contains examples of:

  • Big Bad: James Milligan is eventually revealed to be the driving force behind Remi being abandoned in France and adopted by the Barbarins. He wanted the boy out of the way in an attempt to gain access to his late brothers’ fortune.
  • Blackmail: Garofoli keeps Vitalis from going to the police by threatening to tell "some people just one name which will make Vitalis red from shame". We find out later Garofoli was referring to the fact that he knew Vitalis is actually the former singer Carlo Balzani.
  • Breather Episode: The two years Remi spends with the Acquins.
  • Circus Brat: Mattia is revealed to have spent some time in the circus.
  • Cool Old Guy: Vitalis.
  • Cute Mute: Lise Acquin, untill she regains her voice near the end of the novel.
  • Doorstop Baby: After being stolen from his family, baby Remi was left behind in Paris and found by Jerome Barbarin.
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  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Remi is put through a lot of misery, but in the end he finds his real family and lives happily ever after.
  • Elegant Classical Musician: A rare male example; Remi becomes a talented harp player under Vitalis’ training.
  • Evil Uncle: James Milligan towards Arthur and Remi.
  • The Fagin: Garofoli, a man who keeps a group of boys, sold by their poverty-stricken parents. He force them to work for him and abuses those who do not bring home the amount of money required.
  • Fake Nationality: In-Universe example. When he takes in Remi, Vitalis insists the boy pretends to be Italian rather than French as part of their act.
  • A Friend in Need: Remi to Mattia when he finds the boy starving near a church on the streets of Paris, and takes him into his troupe. Mattia becomes Remi’s closest friend and ally for the rest of the book.
  • Hidden Depths: We first learn there might be more to Vitalis than meets the eye when, during a performance to raise money for a doctor to help the sic Joli-Cœur, Vitalis sings. Remi is bewildered to find out his master can sing, and Vitalis’ singing is praised by a rich lady. Although Vitalis pretends it is nothing, and that he simply used to be a singer's servant, we learn after his death that he indeed was a famous singer once.
  • Killed Off for Real: in order: Zerbino and Dolce, Joli-Cœur, Vitalis, and Jerome Barbarin.
  • No Name Given: We never learn Mother Barbarin’s first name.
  • Not Blood Siblings: The Acquin children come to regard Remi as one of their siblings during the 2 years he stays with them. Sadly, the various aunts and uncles that take in the children after father goes to jail don’t share this attitude and thus don’t want anything to do with Remi.
  • Oblivious Adoption: For the first 8 years of his life, Remi has no idea the Barbarins are not his real parents, until one fateful night he overhears Jerome and his wife talk about him.
  • Official Couple: Remi and Lise.
  • Papa Wolf: Vitalis towards Remi, even though the two are not related. Vitalis genuinely cared for the boy and became his mentor and example. His "Papa Wolf" side shows more strongly when he discovers that Garofoli, the man whom he was going to ask to look out for Remi in the winter, actually abuses his protegees and forces them to steal for him, and later when he protects Remi from dying in a snowstorm... in a Heroic Sacrifice. And he was also hinted to be one in his first apparition, when he "buys" Remi... after witnessing how horribly his abusive stepfather Jerome treats him, therefore choosing to "purchase" Remi half to have an apprentice and half to protect him.
  • Passed-Over Inheritance: The reason James Milligan tried to get rid of Remi and even plots to murder Arthur is because his late brother left his fortune to his sons, leaving James empty handed.
  • Savage Wolves: Zerbino and Dolce are killed and eaten by wolves.
  • Snow Means Death: Jolie-Coeur and Vitalis both succumb to the cold during winter.
  • The Trap Parents: After Jerome’s death, Remi is told that his real parents are a British couple named the Driscolls. Along with his friend Mattia, Remi seeks them out and is taken in by them, however they are very cold towards him. Eventually, it turns out they aren’t his real parents at all, but just a bunch of thieves who are in league with James Milligan to keep Remi away from his real family.
  • Wandering Minstrel: Vitalis is one. Remi and Mattia also spend quite some time as travelling musicians.
  • Wicked Stepmother: Gender-inverted. Remi’s adoptive mother Mother Barbarin is a kind lady who truly loves Remi. It’s his adoptive father, Jerome, who is bitter towards the boy and eventually decides to get rid of him.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Several examples, Garofoli being one of the main examples.