Other Free Encyclopedias » 21st Century Webster's Family Encyclopedia » 21st Century Webster's Family Encyclopedia - Forest to Gabon

French literature

century writers included jean

French literature, poetry, prose, and drama written by authors of France in standard modern French, as well as works in the medieval French dialects, in Breton, and in Provençal. French literature has exerted a strong influence on the writers of many nations, right up to the present.

Medieval French literature

Provençal, the language of the south of France, seems to be the first vernacular language used in French commerce and literature. It drew on elements of Latin and Arabic and flourished during the 1 1th and 12th centuries, when troubadours (musicians/poets) composed love songs. The form traveled to northern France, where it was imitated by the trouvères. In addition, jongleurs (itinerant poets and entertainers) popularized such songs throughout France and Norman England. François Villon (b.1431?) was the most remarkable medieval lyric poet.

The jongleurs and trouvères also developed epics and romances. The chansons de geste were epics that concentrated on a particular hero, the best known being the Song of Roland (c. 1100). Romances were based on classical themes (e.g., the Trojan War) or on the Celtic legends of Breton (the Arthurian cycle). Chrétien de Troye's Lancelot (late 12th century) is a prime example. The allegorical romance, a symbolic story, also developed about this time. The greatest of these is the Romance of the Rose (c.mid-12th century). Prose was confined to historical chronicles, while drama developed in the mystery plays (depicting scenes from Scripture), miracle plays (about the saints and the Virgin Mary), and morality plays (meant to educate).

Renaissance French literature

The outstanding writer of the French Renaissance was Francois Rabelais (c. 1490–1553). His 2 great prose narratives, Gargantua and Pantagruel (1532–52), are large, sprawling, often ribald works that satirize and comment on serious questions pertaining to education, politics, religion, and certain social institutions of the day. La Pléiade (c. 1553) were a group of 7 poets, led by Pierre de Ronsard, who encouraged writing poetry in French rather than Latin and sought to create a French literature equal to other literatures. Michel Montaigne (1533–92) was the last of the major French renaissance writers. He wrote several books of essays on a wide range of subjects. They are written in an informal, conversational style, but they reveal a sophisticated, skeptical, urbane mind. They have been widely read since their publication (late 16th century), and they greatly influenced English literature.

Classical French literature

During the 17th century, French literature enjoyed a golden age. French classicism was manifest in the 3 great dramatists, Pierre Corneille (Polyeucte, 1642), Jean Racine (Andromaque, 1667), and Molière (Tartujfe, 1664–69). The works of these playwrights still hold the stage today in France and in many other countries as well.

The philosophers René Descartes (Discourse on Method, 1637) and Blaise Pascal (Pensées, 1670) wrote clear, elegant prose that typified classical thought. Descartes was influential in furthering rationalist thinking while Pascal examined closely his deep commitment to the Christian religion, especially as embodied in the Jansenist sect. Pascal was also a mathematician and scientist (Pascal's Law on the properties of liquids). Madame de La Fayette's The Princess of Cleves (1678) was one of the first French novels; it is still read for its psychological analysis and its fine style.

Classical French poetry began with the poet/critic François de Malherbe. His critical works, especially, influenced French literature, as he was a consistent advocate of precise language, objectivity, and serious intent in all literary endeavor, all of which became the hallmarks of French classicism. Other writers of this period include the historian Jacques Boussuet, La Rochefoucauld, La Fontaine, Madame de Sévigné, and La Bruyère. In addition, during this period Richelieu founded the Académie Français (1634).

French literature and the Age of Reason

The Age of Reason (18th century) saw some of its most influential political and philosophical writing come from France. The rationalist satires of Voltaire (Candide, 1759) and the enormous Encyclopédie (1751–72), compiled under Denis Diderot, are prime examples of the period's sense that truth could be obtained mainly through reason. Other notable writers of the time included Charles Montesquieu, whose social commentaries affected the makers of the American Revolution; the playwrights Pierre Beaumarchais and Pierre Marivaux; and the novelists Alain René Lasage and the Abbé Prévost.

French literature and romanticism

Towards the end of the 18th century, a new sensibility took hold, due in part to the upheavals of the French Revolution. Jean Jacques Rousseau (Confessions, 1764–70) was a precursor of the movement in that he emphasized the primacy of feeling over reason and valued spontaneity over self-discipline. François René de Chateaubriand and Madame de Staël also heralded the romantic emphasis on feeling and self by the end of the century. The great figures of 19th-century French romantic literature were Victor Hugo (Les Misérables, 1862), a poet, dramatist, and novelist, and the poet Alphonse de Lamartine (Poetic Meditations, 1820). Other major romantic writers included Alfred de Vigny, Alfred de Musset, and Alexandre Dumas père (The Three Musketeers, 1844) and Dumas fils (Camille, 1852).

Some writers of the period mixed romantic sensibility with a more realistic depiction of the human condition. Among them were Honoré de Balzac (The Human Comedy, 1842–48, a collection of almost 100 novels and stories); George Sand, (The Haunted Pool, 1846); and Stendhal (The Red and the Black, 1831).

French literature and realism/naturalism

By the mid-19th century, the movement toward depicting life realistically, honestly, and objectively had begun to supplant the romantic sensibility. The novels of Gustave Flaubert (Madame Bovary, 1857), Émile Zola, and the brothers Goncourt are major examples. Other writers included Guy de Maupassant, Prosper Mérimée, and Alphonse Daudet; playwrights Eugène Scribe and Henri Becque; and critics Charles Sainte-Beuve and Hippolyte Taine.

French literature and symbolism

Late in the 19th century, a group of poets turned against both romanticism and realism/naturalism to write prose whose aim was to suggest meaning through impressions and intuition rather than by objective description. Known as symbolists, these poets included Charles Baudelaire (Flowers of Evil, 1857), Stéphane Mallarmé (Afternoon of a Faun, 1876), Paul Verlaine (Songs Without Words, 1874), and Arthur Rimbaud (A Season in Hell, 1873).

French literature in the h century (20t)

Early-20th-century French literature was dominated by 4 figures: André Gide, Paul Claudel, Marcel Proust, and Paul Valéry. Also important at this time was the devel-opment of surrealism, an ill-defined movement that placed emphasis on randomness and unconscious thought processes. Surrealism was manifest notably in the poetry of Guillaume Apollinaire and, later, in that of René Char and Louis Aragon. During World War II a school of philosophy called existentialism became a rallying point for French writers, especially Jean-Paul Sartre (No Exit, 1944). Allied with him were several writers who also emphasized involvement with the moral and social problems of the day. These included Albert Camus (The Stranger, 1942), Simone de Beauvoir (The Mandarins, 1955), and, to a certain extent, Jean Genet, who wrote plays (The Maids, 1948) and autobiographical prose works. Both Sartre and Camus wrote plays as well as novels. Other significant playwrights of the mid-20th century included Jean Anouilh, Jean Giraudoux, and Jean Cocteau. Later in the century came Theater of the Absurd, primarily evidenced in the works of Samuel Beckett and Eugène Ionesco, neither of whom were French-born but wrote in the language. The New Novel (nouveau roman) turned away from traditional concerns of the novel with plot and character to depictions of the characters' internal reactions to the outside world. Writers of these experimental novels included Alain Robbe-Grillet, Nathalie Sarraute, Michel Butor, and Claude Simon. Recent feminist writers include Marguerite Duras and Hélène Cixous.

French Morocco [next] [back] French language

User Comments

Your email address will be altered so spam harvesting bots can't read it easily.
Hide my email completely instead?

Cancel or