French literature

French literature


      the body of written works in the French language produced within the geographic and political boundaries of France. The French language was one of the five major Romance languages to develop from Vulgar Latin as a result of the Roman occupation of western Europe.

      Since the Middle Ages, France has enjoyed an exceptional position in European intellectual life. Though its literary culture has no single figure whose influence can be compared to that of Italy's Dante or England's Shakespeare, successive periods have seen its writers and their language exercise an influence far beyond its borders. In medieval times, because of the far-reaching and complex system of feudal allegiances (not least the links of France and England), the networks of the monastic orders, the universality of Latin, and the similarities of the languages derived from Latin, there was a continual process of exchange, in form and content, among the literatures of western Europe. The evolution of the nation-states and the rise in prestige of vernacular languages gradually eroded the unifying force of these relationships. From the early modern period onward, France developed its own distinctive and many-stranded cultural tradition, which, while never losing sight of the riches of the medieval base and the Judeo-Christian biblical tradition, has come chiefly to be thought of as Mediterranean in its allegiance, rooted in the imitation of Classical models as these were mediated through the great writers and thinkers of Renaissance Italy.

      The version of French tradition that began in the 17th century and has established itself in the cultural histories and the schoolbooks was given fresh force in the early 20th century by the philosopher-poet Paul Valéry and, especially, his English admirers in the context of the political and cultural struggle with Germany. In this version, French culture prizes reason, formal perfection, and purity of language and is to be admired for its thinkers as much as for its writers. By the end of the ancien régime, the logic of Descartes, the restraint of Racine, and the wit of Voltaire were seen as the hallmarks of French culture and were emulated throughout the courts and salons of the Continent. Other aspects of this legacy—the skepticism of Descartes, calling into question authoritarian axioms; the violent, self-seeking intensity of Racinian passion, fueled by repression and guilt; and the abrasive irony that Voltaire turned against established bigotry, prejudice, and injustice—were less well viewed in the circles of established order. Frequently forced underground, these and their inheritors nevertheless gave energy to the revolutionary ethos that constituted another, equally French, contribution to the radical traditions of western Europe.

      The political and philosophical revolutions installed by the end of the 18th century, in the name of science and reason, were accompanied by transformations in the form and content of French writing. Over the turn of the 19th century and beyond, an emergent Romantic sensibility challenged the Neoclassical ideal, which had become a pale and timid imitation of its former self. The new orthodoxy asserted the claims of imagination and feeling against reason and of individual desire against social and moral convention. The 12-syllable alexandrine that had been used to such effect by Jean Racine remained the standard line in verse, but the form was relaxed and reinvigorated; and the thematic domain of poetry was extended successively by Victor Hugo (Hugo, Victor), Alfred de Vigny (Vigny, Alfred-Victor, comte de), Charles Baudelaire (Baudelaire, Charles), and Arthur Rimbaud (Rimbaud, Arthur). All poetic form was thrown into the melting pot by the Modernist revolutions at the turn of the 20th century.

      As the novel overtook poetry and drama to become the dominant literary form in the 19th century, French writers explored the possibilities of the genre and, in some cases, reinvented it. The novel cycles of Honoré de Balzac (Balzac, Honoré de) and Émile Zola (Zola, Émile) developed a new mode of social realism to celebrate and challenge the processes at work in a nation that was being transformed by industrial and economic revolution. In the work of other writers, such as Stendhal, Gustave Flaubert (Flaubert, Gustave), and Marcel Proust (Proust, Marcel), each following his own distinctive path, a different kind of realism emerged, focused on a preoccupation with the analysis of individual action, motivation, and desire as well as a fascination with form. Between them, the 19th-century French novelists traced the fate of the individualistic sensibilities born of aristocratic and high bourgeois culture as they engaged with the collectivizing forms of a nation moving toward mass culture and the threshold of democracy. Joris-Karl Huysmans (Huysmans, Joris-Karl)'s aristocratic hero, Des Esseintes, in À rebours (1884; Against Nature or Against the Grain), offered a traditionalist, pessimistic version of the final outcome. Halfway through the next century, Jean-Paul Sartre (Sartre, Jean-Paul)'s trilogy Les Chemins de la liberté (1945; Roads to Freedom) responded to a world in which the balance of the argument had visibly shifted.

      During the first half of the 20th century, Paris remained the hub of European intellectual and artistic life. Its position was challenged from the 1930s, and especially after World War II, by Anglo-American writers, many of whom honed their own skills within its culture and its borders; but it still continued to generate modes of thinking and writing that others followed. From the 1950s, proponents of the nouveau roman, or New Novel, mounted a radical attack on the conventions of the genre. At the same time, boulevard drama felt on its neck the breath of the avant-garde; and from the 1960s onward French writers began stimulating new approaches to almost every field of rational inquiry. The international status of the French language has declined steadily since World War II, with the rise of American market hegemony and, especially, with the rapid spread of decolonization. French is still, however, the preferred medium of creative expression for many in Switzerland, Belgium, Canada, France's former colonies in Africa and Asia, and its Caribbean dependencies. The contribution of Francophone authors outside its borders to the renewal of French literary traditions has become increasingly significant.

Jennifer Birkett
      This article focuses on French literature produced within the Hexagon, as the country of France is often called because of the configuration of its boundaries, from the 9th century (to which the earliest surviving fragmentary texts belong) to the present day. Literary works written in French in countries outside the Hexagon, including former dependencies, are discussed under the appropriate national entries. For the French literature of Belgium, for example, see Belgian literature: French (Belgian literature). Other related entries of significance are Anglo-Norman literature and African literature: Modern literatures in European languages (African literature).

The Middle Ages

The origins of the French language
      By 50 BC, when the Roman occupation of Gaul under Julius Caesar was complete, the region's population had been speaking Gaulish (Gaulish language), a Celtic language, for some 500 years. Gaulish, however, gave way to the conquerors' speech, Vulgar Latin, which was the spoken form of Latin as used by the soldiers and settlers throughout the Roman Empire (ancient Rome). In different regions, local circumstances determined Vulgar Latin's evolution into the separate tongues that today constitute the family of Romance languages, to which French belongs. This linguistic development was speeded by the empire's collapse under the impact of the 5th-century-AD barbarian invasions and isolation from Rome. Gaul was overrun by Germanic tribes, in the north principally by the Franks (who gave France its name) and by the Visigoths and Merovingians in the south. But the Latin speech survived: not only was it the language of the majority of the population, but it was also backed by its associations with the old Roman culture and with the new Christian religion, which used Low Latin, its own form of the Roman tongue. While it retained relatively few Celtic words, the developing language had its vocabulary greatly enriched by Germanic borrowings, and its phonetic development was influenced by Germanic speech habits. The 9th-century Norse incursions and settlement of Normandy, by contrast, left few traces in the language.

      The Romans had introduced written literature, and until the 12th century almost all documents and other texts were in Latin. The first text in the vernacular is the Serment de Strasbourg, the Romance version of the Oath of Strasbourg (842), an oath sworn by Louis the German ( Louis II) and Charles the Bald ( Charles II) against their brother Lothar (Lothar I) in the partitioning of the empire of their grandfather Charlemagne. A German version also survives. Only a few other texts, all religious in content, survive from before about 1100.

      Early texts show a broad division between the speech of northern Gaul, which had suffered most from the invasions, and that in the more stable, cultured south, where the Latin spoken was less subject to change. The tongue spoken to the north of an imaginary line running roughly from the Gironde River to the Alps was the langue d'oïl (the future French), and to the south it was the langue d'oc (Occitan (Occitan language)), terms derived from the respective expressions for “yes.”

      Vulgar Latin's development had not been uniform throughout the area of the langue d'oïl; and, by the time a recognizable Old French had developed, various dialects had evolved, notably Francien (Francien dialect) (in the Île-de-France, the region around Paris), Picard, Champenois, and Norman. From the last one stemmed Anglo-Norman, the French used alongside English in Britain, especially among the upper classes, from even before the Norman Conquest (1066) until well into the 14th century. Each dialect had its own literature. But, for various reasons, the status of Francien increased until it achieved dominance in the Middle French period (after 1300), and from it Modern French developed. Old French was a fine literary medium, enlarging its vocabulary from other languages such as Arabic, Occitan, and Low Latin. It had a wide phonetic range and, until the decay of the two-case system it had inherited from Latin, syntactic flexibility.

The context and nature of French medieval literature
      Whatever Classical literature survived the upheavals of the early Middle Ages was preserved, along with pious Latin works, in monastic libraries. By encouraging scholars and writers, Charlemagne had increased the Latin heritage available to educated vernacular authors of later centuries. He also left his image as a great warrior-emperor to stimulate the legend-making process that generated the Old French epic. There one finds exemplified the feudal ideal, evolved by the Franks, that was the means of establishing a hierarchy of dependency and, thereby, a cohesiveness that would lead to a national identity. The warrior's code of morality, founded on loyalty to the monarch and on the bond between brother knights, bolstered the entire political system. As stability increased under the Capetians (Capetian dynasty), windows opened onto other cultures and elements: that of the Arabs in Spain and, with the Crusades, the East; the advanced Occitan civilization; and the legends of Celtic Britain. The Roman Catholic church grew in wealth and power, and by the 12th century its schools were flourishing, training generations of clerks in the liberal arts. Society itself became less embattled, and the nobility became more leisured and sophisticated. The machismo of the epics was tempered by the social graces of courtoisie: generosity, modesty, and consideration for others, especially the weak and distressed, and by a concept of love that did not view it as a weakness in a knight but as an inspiration consistent with chivalry.

      By the 13th century an additional source of patronage for writers and performers was the bourgeoisie of the developing towns. New genres emerged, and, as literacy increased, prose found favour alongside verse. Much of the literature of the time is enlivened by a rather irreverent spirit and a sometimes cynical realism, yet it also possesses a countercurrent of deep spirituality. In the 14th and 15th centuries France was ravaged by war, plague, and famine. Along with a preoccupation in literature with death and damnation, there appeared a contrasting refinement of expression and sentiment bred of nostalgia for the courtly, chivalric ideal. At the same time a new humanistic learning anticipated the coming Renaissance.

      Before 1200 almost all French “literature” had been composed as verse and had been communicated orally to its public. The jongleurs (jongleur), professional minstrels, traveled and performed their extensive repertoires, which ranged from epics to the lives of saints (the lengthy romances were not designed for memorization), sometimes using mime and musical accompaniment. Seeking an immediate impact, most poets made their poems strikingly visual in character, more dramatic than reflective, and revealed psychology and motives through action and gesture. Verbal formulas and clichés were used by the better poets as an effective narrative shorthand, especially in the epic. Such oral techniques left their mark throughout the period.

The chansons de geste (chanson de geste)
      More than 80 chansons de geste (“songs of deeds”) are known, the earliest and finest being the Chanson de Roland (Chanson de Roland, La) (c. 1100; The Song of Roland). Most are anonymous and are composed in lines of 10 or 12 syllables, grouped into laisses (strophes) based on assonance and, later, rhyme. Their length varies from about 1,500 to more than 18,000 lines. The genre prospered from the late 11th to the early 14th century, offering exemplary stories of warfare, often pitting Franks against Saracens, that fire the emotions with their insistent rhythms. Under the influence of the genre known as romance, however (see below The romance), the chansons de geste lost some of their early vigour. Their story lines became looser, their adventures more exotic, and their tone often amatory or even humorous. Many were eventually turned into prose.

      Cycles formed as new songs were composed featuring heroes, families, or themes already familiar. The Chanson de Roland belongs to the cycle known as the Geste du Roi (“Deeds of the King”), the king being Charlemagne, Roland's uncle, in whose service he perished with the rear guard at Roncevaux. Dominating the Geste de Garin de Monglane is Garin's great-grandson, Guillaume d'Orange, whose historical prototype was the count of Toulouse and Charlemagne's cousin. His dogged loyalty to an unworthy monarch (Charlemagne's son Louis) is the subject of a group of poems that include the Chanson de Guillaume (“Song of William”). The epics in the Geste de Doon de Mayence deal with rebellious vassals, among them Raoul de Cambrai, in a gripping story of injustice and strained loyalties. The fanciful 13th-century Huon de Bordeaux (Huon of the Horn), which introduces the fairy king Auberon (Shakespeare's Oberon), has been placed here and in the Geste du Roi. The First Crusade (Crusades) is handled, with legendary embellishment, in a minor cycle.

      Controversy surrounds the origins of the genre and its development and transmission. It is not known how most of the poems came to contain elements, somewhat garbled, from Carolingian history some 300 years before their composition. Some scholars believe in a continuous process of oral transmission and elaboration. Others suppose the historical facts were retrieved much later by poets wishing to celebrate certain heroes, many of whom were associated with pilgrim routes that the jongleurs could then ply with profit. In fact, very few texts belong to the period before 1150.

      The romance, which came into being in the middle of the 12th century in France and flourished throughout the Middle Ages, was a creation of formally educated poets. The earliest romances took their subjects from antiquity: Alexander the Great, Thebes, Aeneas, and Troy were all treated at length, and shorter contes were derived from Ovid. Other romances, such as Floire et Blancheflor (adapted in Middle English as Flores and Blancheflur), exploited Greco-Byzantine sources; but by about 1150 the Celtic legends of Britain were capturing the public's imagination.

      The standard metre of verse romance is octosyllabic rhyming couplets. It differs from the chanson de geste in concentrating on individual rather than communal exploits and presenting them in a more detached fashion. It offers fuller descriptions, freer dialogue, and more authorial intervention. Christian miracles and fervour are replaced by Eastern or Celtic marvels and the cult of courtoisie and amour courtois (“courtly love”). There is more interest in psychology, especially in the love situations.

      The universally popular legend of Tristan and Isolde had evolved by the mid-12th century, apparently from a fusion of Scottish, Irish, Cornish, and Breton elements, beginning in Scotland and moving south. The main French versions (both fragmentary) are by the Anglo-Norman poet Thomas (c. 1170) and the Norman Béroul (rather later and possibly composite). The legend was reworked in French prose and widely translated (Thomas's version can be reconstructed from Gottfried von Strassburg's German rendering and another in Old Norse). Chrétien de Troyes's treatment, mentioned in his Cligès, has been lost.

      The deep-rooted British tradition of King Arthur (Arthurian legend) was firmly established on the Continent by Geoffrey Of Monmouth's Historia regum Britanniae (1135–38; History of the Kings of Britain), translated and romanticized by the Jerseyman Wace as the Roman de Brut (1155; Arthurian Chronicles [containing Wace's Roman de Brut and Lawamon's Brut]). The Bretons and Anglo-Normans were likely intermediaries in the transmission of further Arthurian material to French writers such as Chrétien de Troyes, the virtual founder of Arthurian romance, who wrote between about 1160 and 1185. His first known romance, Erec et Enide (Erec and Enide), is a serious study of marital and social responsibilities and contains elements of Celtic enchantment. Cligès, a partly Greco-Byzantine tale of young love and an adulterous relationship, uses the motif of feigned death best known, later, from Romeo and Juliet. Lancelot; ou, le chevalier de la charrette (Lancelot; or, The Knight of the Cart) relates the infatuated hero's rescue of the abducted queen Guinevere. Yvain; ou, le chevalier au lion (The Knight with the Lion) treats the converse of the situation depicted in Erec et Enide. Chrétien's ironies and ambiguities invited divergent interpretations, of no work more than the incomplete Perceval; ou, le conte du Graal, which may be the conflation of two unfinished poems. The Grail, first introduced here, was to become, as the Holy Grail, a remarkably potent symbol. The verse romance genre was diversely exploited well into the 14th century, but by then Jean Froissart (Froissart, Jean)'s contribution, Méliador (1383–88), was only a ponderous valediction to romance's golden age, and prose was the principal form (see below Prose literature). On the genre's periphery were short courtly tales and lais (lai) like those of Marie De France, treating Celtic themes and probably composed in England. The unique Aucassin et Nicolette (Aucassin and Nicolette), a charmingly comic idyll told in alternating sections of verse (to be sung) and prose (to be recited), pokes sly fun at the conventions of epic and romance alike.

lyric poetry to the 13th century
      The 12th century saw the revolution in sexual attitudes that has come to be known as amour courtois, or courtly love (the original term in Occitan (Occitan language) is fin'amor). Its first exponents were the Occitan troubadours, poet-musicians of the 12th and 13th centuries, writing in medieval Occitan, of whom some 460 are known by name. Among them are clerics and both male and female nobles. The troubadours no longer considered women to be the disposable assets of men. On the contrary, the enjoyment of a woman's love was a man's aspiration, achievable, if at all, only after the suitor had served a period of amorous vassalage, modeled on the subject's service to his lord and where spiritualization became an end in itself, based on the notion of an erotic, unsatisfied love. This is the main theme of the troubadours' songs, whose origins have been sought in Arabic poetry, the writings of Ovid, Latin liturgical hymns, and other, less likely sources. The canso (chanson) (French chanson), made of five or six stanzas with a summary envoi, was the favourite vehicle for their love poetry; but they used various other forms, from dawn songs to satiric, political, or debating poems, all usually highly crafted. Guilhelm IX, duke of Aquitaine (see William IX), the first known poet in the Occitan language, mixed obscenity with his courtly sentiments. Among the finest troubadours are the graceful Bernard de Ventadour; Jaufre Rudel (Jaufré Rudel, Seigneur de Blaye), who expressed an almost mystical longing for a distant love; the soldier and poet Bertran De Born; and the master of the hermetic tradition, Arnaut Daniel.

      The langue d'oïl had a tradition of dance and spinning songs before the troubadours exerted by the mid-12th century an influence encouraged by, among others, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Guilhelm IX's granddaughter and queen of France and later England (as the wife of Henry II). The troubadours' verse inspired a number of northern trouvères, including Chrétien de Troyes (two of whose songs are extant), Guiot de Provins, Conon de Béthune, and some nobles such as Thibaut ( Theobald I), count of Champagne and king of Navarre, and Richard Coeur de Lion ( Richard I of England, the Lion Heart).

      More interesting is the work of certain bourgeois poets, notably, in the 13th century, a group from Arras and especially Rutebeuf, a Parisian who perhaps came originally from Champagne and is often compared with François Villon (Villon, François). Rutebeuf wrote verse in personal, even autobiographical mode (though the personal details are probably fictional) on a variety of subjects: his own pitiful circumstances, the quarrel between the University of Paris and the religious orders, the need to support the Crusades, his reverence for the Virgin, and his disgust at clerical corruption.

satire, the fabliaux (fabliau), and the Roman de Renart
      Medieval literature in both Latin and the vernacular is full of sharp, often bitter criticism of the world's evils: the injustice of rulers, churchmen's avarice and hypocrisy, corruption among lawyers, doctors' quackery, and the wiles and deceits of women. It appears in pious and didactic literature and, as authorial comment, in other genres but more usually in general terms than as particular, corrective satire. Human vice and folly also serve purely comic ends, as in the fabliaux (fabliau). These fairly short verse tales composed between the late 12th and the 14th centuries—most of which are anonymous, though some are by leading poets—generate laughter from situations extending from the obscene to the mock-religious, built sometimes around simple wordplay and frequently elaborate deceptions and counterdeceptions. They are played out in all classes of society but predominantly among the bourgeoisie. Many fabliaux carry mock morals, inviting comparison with the didactic fables. Realistic in tone, they paint instructive pictures of everyday life in medieval France. They ultimately yielded in importance to the farces, bequeathing a fund of anecdotes to later writers such as Geoffrey Chaucer (Chaucer, Geoffrey) and Giovanni Boccaccio (Boccaccio, Giovanni).

      Inspired partly by the popular animal fable, partly by the Latin satire of monastic life Ysengrimus (1152; Eng. trans. Ysengrimus), the collection of ribald comic tales known as the Roman de Renart (Renard the Fox) began to circulate in the late 12th century, chronicling the rivalry of Renart the Fox and the wolf Isengrin, and the lively and largely scandalous goings-on in the animal kingdom ruled by Noble the Lion. By the 14th century about 30 branches existed, forming a veritable beast epic. Full of close social observation, they exude the earthy humour of the fabliaux; but, particularly in some of the later branches, this is sharpened into true satire directed against abuses in church and state, with the friars and rapacious nobility as prime targets.

      Allegory, popular from early times, was employed in Latin literature by such authorities as Augustine (Augustine, Saint), Prudentius, Martianus Capella (Capella, Martianus Minneus Felix), and, in the late 12th century, Alain de Lille. It was used widely in religious and moralizing works, as in the long Pèlerinage de la vie humaine (“The Pilgrimage of Human Life”) by Guillaume de Deguileville, Dante's contemporary and a precursor of John Bunyan (Bunyan, John). But the most influential allegorical work in French was the Roman de la rose (The Romance of the Rose), where courtly love is first celebrated, then undermined. The first 4,058 lines were written about 1225–30 by Guillaume de Lorris, a sensitive, elegant poet who, through a play of allegorical figures, analyzed the psychology of a young couple's venture into love. The affair is presented as a dream, in which the plucking of a crimson rose by the dreamer/lover would represent his conquest of the lady. Guillaume, however, left the poem unfinished, with the dreamer frustrated and his chief ally imprisoned. Forty or more years later, a poet of very different temperament, Jean de Meun (or de Meung), added more than 17,700 lines to complete it, submerging Guillaume's delicate allegory with debates and disquisitions by the characters, laden with medieval and ancient learning. Courtly idealism is shunned for a practical, often critical or cynical view of the world. Love, only one of many topics treated in the completed version, is synonymous with procreation; and a misogynistic tone pervades the writing. Embodying these two characteristically medieval but diametrically opposed attitudes to love, The Romance of the Rose was immensely popular until well into the Renaissance and gave rise to one of the earliest and most important instances of the Querelle des Femmes (“Debate on Women”; a literary disputation over the alleged inferiority or superiority of women.) Christine de Pisan's attack on the misogyny and obscenity of The Romance of the Rose, in the Épistre au Dieu d'Amours (1399; “Epistle to the God of Love”), foreshadows her later extended allegory in defense of women, the vigorous, scholarly, and immensely readable Livre de la cité des dames (composed 1404–05; The Book of the City of Ladies). Le Livre des trois vertus (1405; “The Book of Three Virtues”; Eng. trans. A Medieval Woman's Mirror of Honor: The Treasure of the City of Ladies) sets out in detail the important social roles of women of all classes.

Lyric poetry in the 14th century
      Allegory and similar conceits abound in much late medieval poetry, as with Guillaume de Machaut (Machaut, Guillaume de), the outstanding musician of his day, who composed for noble patronage a number of narrative dits amoureux (short pieces on the subject of love) and a quantity of lyric verse. A talented technician, Machaut did much to popularize and develop the relatively new fixed forms: ballade, rondeau, and virelai (a short poem with a refrain). Eustache Deschamps (Deschamps, Eustache), Machaut's great admirer and perhaps also his nephew, struck in his own verse a more personal note than many of his contemporaries. A prolific writer, he dealt with public and private affairs, sometimes satirically; but he composed little love poetry, and his work was not set to music. Jean Froissart (Froissart, Jean), the chronicler, also wrote pleasantly in a variety of lyric forms, as did Christine de Pisan, whose poetry had a greater individuality. Most court verse of this period has an unreal air, as if, amid the political and social agonies of the Hundred Years' War, the poets were voicing a yearning for humane and gracious living founded on the ideals of courtoisie. Thus Alain Chartier (Chartier, Alain), a political polemicist in both French and Latin, was most admired for his poem La Belle Dame sans mercy (1424; “The Beautiful Woman Without Mercy”), which tells of the death of a lover rejected by his lady.

Villon (Villon, François) and his contemporaries
      One distinguished victim of the Hundred Years' War was Charles, duc d'Orléans (Orléans, Charles, duc d'), who was captured at Agincourt at the age of 21 and was held prisoner in England for 25 years. There is an elegiac tone to much of his graceful courtly verse. On his return to France, his court at Blois became a literary centre, where he encouraged the work of artists and poets such as François Villon (Villon, François).

      Born in Paris about 1431 as François de Montcorbier, Villon adopted the name of his uncle, a priest, who saw to his upbringing. At the University of Paris, where he became Master of Arts in 1452, he acquired some learning but also became involved in rioting, robbery, and manslaughter. His forced departure from Paris was the occasion for his Le Lais, or Le Petit Testament (1456; The Legacy: The Testament and Other Poems). This mock legacy in eight-line octosyllabic stanzas is conversational and often facetious in tone, full of allusions to people and events sometimes made cryptic by Villon's taste for antiphrasis. His main work, the Testament (or Le Grand Testament), was written five or six years later after a spell in the bishop of Orléans's dungeons. It uses the octets of the Lais interspersed with ballades and rondeaux and is similarly packed with personal gossip, often tongue-in-cheek but leaving a bitter aftertaste. Following more brushes with justice, Villon disappeared for good, narrowly escaping hanging. Commonly considered to have been the first modern French poet, he brings a personal note to the familiar lyric themes of age, death, and loss and mixes elegy with irony, satire, and burlesque humour. His verse shows great technical skill, a keen command of rhythmic effects, and an economy of expression that not only enhances his lively wit but produces moments of intensely focused vision and, in individual poems, moving statements of human experience.

      None of his contemporaries or immediate successors was able to match the vigour of his verse. Often obsessed by metrical ingenuity, extravagant rhymes, and other conceits, they favoured Italian as well as Classical models, thus heralding the Renaissance. It is unfair, however, to judge them by their words alone, since music was, for most, a vital ingredient of their art.

Prose literature
      Prose flourished as a literary medium from roughly 1200. A few years earlier Robert De Boron had used verse for his Joseph d'Arimathie (associating the Holy Grail with the Crucifixion) and his Merlin; but both were soon turned into prose. Other Arthurian romances adopted it, notably the great Vulgate cycle written between 1215 and 1235, with its five branches by various hands. These included the immensely popular Lancelot, the Queste del Saint Graal (whose Cistercian author used Galahad's Grail quest to evoke the mystic pursuit of Christian truth and ecstasy), and La Mort le Roi Artu (The Death of King Arthur), powerfully describing the collapse of the Arthurian world. The Tristan legend was reworked and extended in prose. To spin out their romances while maintaining their public's interest, authors wove in many characters and adventures, producing complex interlacing patterns, which Sir Thomas Malory (Malory, Sir Thomas) simplified when he drew on them for his Le Morte Darthur (c. 1470).

      As well as traditional material, new fictions appeared in prose, taking a very different view of love, and often in the form of short comic tales. Early in the 15th century, the ironically titled Les Quinze Joies de mariage (The Batchelars Banquet, or The Fifteen Comforts of Matrimony) continued the tradition of misogynist satire. In his Histoire du petit Jehan de Saintré (1456; Little John of Saintre), Antoine de la Sale (La Sale, Antoine de) drew an ill-starred relationship in which hero and heroine both sought to exploit the social game of courtly love for their own ends; the work's realism and psychological interest have made it for some the first French novel. The bawdy tales of the Cent Nouvelles Nouvelles (c. 1465; The One Hundred New Tales), loosely modeled on the work of Giovanni Boccaccio (Boccaccio, Giovanni), are more in the spirit of the fabliaux, though written for the Burgundian court.

      Pious and instructional works abound. More interesting are the chronicles, which avoid the romantic extravagances of their verse predecessors. Geoffroy of Villehardouin (Villehardouin, Geoffrey of)'s Conquête de Constantinople (“Conquest of Constantinople”) is a sober, if biased, eyewitness account of the Fourth Crusade (1199–1204). Jean, sire de Joinville (Joinville, Jean, sire de), was 84 when, in 1309, he completed his Histoire de Saint Louis, a flattering biographical portrait of his intimate friend Louis IX, whom he had accompanied on the Seventh Crusade. (Both Villehardouin's account and Joinville's biography are to be found in a 20th-century English translation as Joinville and Villehardouin: Chronicles of the Crusades. Jean Froissart (Froissart, Jean), who traveled extensively in England and Scotland and on the Continent, projected his admiration of chivalry into his four books of chronicles. Covering the years 1325 to 1400, they contain much picturesque detail, largely from personal observation. A far more cynical view of people, politics, and feudal values is found in the Mémoires of Philippe de Commynes (Commynes, Philippe de), composed over the period 1489 to 1498 and published posthumously in 1524–28; these are the texts with which modern French historiography may be said to begin.

Religious drama
      Serious drama in Europe was reborn in the Middle Ages within the Roman Catholic church. There, from early times, musical and dramatic elements (tropes) were introduced into certain offices, particularly at Easter and Christmas. From this practice sprang liturgical drama. Performances took place inside churches, with the cast of clergy moving from place to place in the sanctuary. At first only Latin was used, though occasionally snatches of vernacular verse were included, as in the early 12th-century Sponsus (“The Bridegroom”; Eng. trans. Sponsus), which uses the Poitevin dialect. Stories from the Bible and lives of the saints were dramatized; and, as the scope of the dramas broadened, more plays were performed outside the church and used only the vernacular. The all-male casts employed multiple settings (décor simultané) and moved from one setting, or mansion, to another as the action demanded.

      The first extant mystère, or mystery play, with entirely French dialogue (but elaborate stage directions in Latin) is the Jeu d'Adam (Adam: A Play). It is known from a copy in an Anglo-Norman manuscript, and it may have originated in England in the mid-12th century. With lively dialogue and the varied metres characteristic of the later mystères (all of which were based on biblical stories), it presents the Creation and Fall, the story of Cain and Abel, and an incomplete procession of prophets. Neither it nor the Seinte Resurreccion (c. 1200; “Resurrection of the Saviour”), certainly Anglo-Norman, shows the events preceding the Crucifixion, the matter of the Passion plays; these first appeared in the early 14th century in the Passion du Palatinus (“Passion of Palatinus”). Of relatively modest proportions, this contains diversified dialogue with excellent dramatic potential and probably drew on earlier plays now lost.

      The oldest extant miracle, or miracle play (a real or fictitious account of the life, miracles, and martyrdom of a saint), is the remarkable 13th-century Jeu de Saint Nicolas (“Play of Saint Nicholas”), by Jehan Bodel (Bodel, Jehan) of Arras, in which exotic Crusading and boisterous tavern scenes alternate. Rutebeuf's Miracle de Théophile is an early version of the Faust theme, in which the Virgin Mary secures Théophile's salvation. From the 14th century comes the Miracles de Notre-Dame par personnages (“Miracles of Our Lady with Dramatic Characters”), a collection of 40 miracles, partly based on a nondramatic compilation by Gautier de Coincy. These miracles probably were performed by the Paris goldsmiths' guild.

 By the 15th century, societies had been formed in various towns for the performance of the increasingly elaborate mystery plays. In Paris the Confraternity of the Passion (Confrérie de la Passion) survived until 1676, though its production of sacred plays was banned in 1548. Notable authors of mystères are Eustache Marcadé; Arnoul Gréban (Gréban, Arnoul), organist and choirmaster at Notre-Dame, and his brother Simon; and Jehan Michel. Arnoul Gréban's monumental Mystère de la Passion (c. 1450, reworked by Michel in 1486; The True Mistery of the Passion) took four days to perform. Other plays took up to eight days. Biblical material was supplemented with legend, theology, and elements of lyricism and slapstick, and spectacular stage effects were employed.

Secular drama
      A crucial factor in the emergence of the comic (comedy) theatre was the oral presentation of much medieval literature. A natural consequence was complete dramatization and collaborative performances by jongleurs and later by guilds or confréries (confraternities) formed for the purpose.

      The earliest comic plays extant date from the second half of the 13th century. Le Garçon et l'aveugle (“The Boy and the Blind Man”), a simple tale of trickster tricked, could have been played by a jongleur and his boy and ranks for some scholars as the first farce. At the end of the century, the Arras poet Adam De La Halle composed two unique pieces: Le Jeu de la feuillée (“The Play of the Bower”), a kind of topical revue for his friends, and Le Jeu de Robin et de Marion (The Play of Robin and Marion), a dramatized pastourelle (pastoral literature) (a knight's encounter with a shepherdess and her friends) spiced with song and dance. The first serious nonreligious play was L'Estoire de Griseldis (1395), the story of a constant wife.

      The profane theatre eventually had its own societies of actors, such as the Basoches (associations of lawyers and clerks) and the Enfants sans Souci (probably a special group of Basochiens) in Paris. The societies frequently presented plays in triple bills: first a sotie, a slight, sometimes satiric, sketch; next a moralité ( morality play), a didactic and often allegorical piece; and finally a farce. Some 150 farces have survived from the 15th and 16th centuries. Most are of fewer than 500 lines and involve a handful of characters acting out plots similar to those of the fabliaux. They use the octosyllabic rhyming couplet and may include songs, commonly in rondeau form. By far the best is the unusually long La Farce de maistre Pierre Pathelin (c. 1465; Master Peter Patelan, a Fifteenth-Century French Farce), a tale of trickery involving a sly lawyer, a dull-witted draper, and a crafty shepherd.

      For information related to French literature of this period, see also Anglo-Norman literature.

D.D.R. Owen Jennifer Birkett

The 16th century

Language and learning in 16th-century Europe
      The cultural field linking the Middle Ages and the early modern period is vast and complex in every sense. Chronologically, there is no simple or single break across the turn of the century, though there is indeed among many writers of the period the sense of a cultural rebirth, or Renaissance. The term, first used during the 18th century, was given currency in the 19th century by Jacob Burckhardt (Burckhardt, Jacob) and Jules Michelet (Michelet, Jules), who used it to describe what they perceived as a movement representing a clean break with the medieval past and inaugurating the forms and values of modern European secular and progressive nation-states. But the turn to antiquity was already visible in France in the 12th century, and echoes of Classical literature and traces of Latinizing style are present again from the mid-15th century in the work of the Grands Rhétoriqueurs (poets such as Guillaume Crétin, Octovien de Saint-Gellais, Jean Marot (Marot, Jean), Jean Bouchet, and Jean Lemaire de Belges (Lemaire de Belges, Jean)), better known for their commitment to formal play, rhyme games, and allegorizing, in the medieval tradition. Writing inspired by the medieval tradition continued to be produced well into the 16th century. Old and New Testaments of the Christian Bible were as much a sourcebook as any Latin or Greek text, especially with the new impetus provided by the Catholic Reformation. Writers were certainly grouping in new ways around their patron courts, and their writing was becoming attached to the defense of particular positions within the nascent nation-state. Themes and forms would mutate within the developing context, but the processes making the literature of early modern France are characterized by struggle rather than by any clear moment of change.

      Many of the thinkers and writers of the 16th century belong to Europe as a whole as much as to a particular nation. Many still wrote and thought in Latin, and neo-Latin literature continued to thrive. Even those who preferred the vernacular, however, saw themselves as heirs and contributors to a European as much as a local inheritance. Erasmus (Erasmus, Desiderius), though born in Rotterdam, Holland, lived in France, England, and Switzerland. The assignment of Jean Lemaire de Belges (Lemaire de Belges, Jean) to a particular country is equally difficult, for he was a Walloon who wrote in French and traveled among various courts. During this period writers made many journeys, either by choice or by necessity. François Rabelais (Rabelais, François), Joachim du Bellay (du Bellay, Joachim), and Michel de Montaigne (Montaigne, Michel de) all made the trip from France to Italy. Clément Marot (Marot, Clément) died in Turin, and Marc-Antoine de Muret (Muret, Marc-Antoine de), after a long exile, died in Rome. This was a time of intensive and varied cultural exchanges, which focused on, for example, the crossroads city of Lyon, turned as much toward Italy as toward Paris, or on the courts of a succession of great royal patrons, such as Marguerite de Navarre ( Margaret Of Angoulême), in Béarn, and Charles IX, in Paris. The craving for new knowledge was fueled by the books coming off the recently developed printing press, both original works and the great texts newly come into translation that were to form the mind and manners of the cultured European: the Bible (available in full for the first time in 1530, in the translation by Jacques Lefèvre d'Étaples (Lefèvre d'Étaples, Jacques)); Baldassare Castiglione (Castiglione, Baldassare)'s Il cortegiano (Book of the Courtier), translated into French by Jacques Colin in 1537; and Plutarch's Bioi paralleloi (Parallel Lives), translated by Jacques Amyot in 1559. Martin Luther (Luther, Martin)'s writings helped spread the ideas of the Protestant Reformation swiftly through France from 1519 onward. In 1536 the first version of the refugee John Calvin (Calvin, John)'s study of Christianity was distributed from Basel; by the early 1540s Calvin was finally settled in Geneva, with the resources of Geneva's publishing trade at his disposal to disseminate the French version of his work. The classical texts of Renaissance humanism moved with equal speed, disseminating across Europe the Neoplatonism of Marsilio Ficino (Ficino, Marsilio) and the morality of Plutarch and Seneca (Seneca, Lucius Annaeus), along with the poetic forms of Ovid and Horace.

The elevation of the French language
      Latin remained important as the language of diplomats, theologians, philosophers, and jurists; though the Edict of Villers-Cotterêts (1539), requiring judgments in the law courts to be given solely in French, marked a turning point. Erasmus polemicized in Latin with the Sorbonne or with Luther. Calvin used Latin to write the first version of his Christianae Religionis Institutio (1536; definitive Latin version, 1559; Institutes of the Christian Religion). Petrus Ramus (Ramus, Petrus) (Pierre de la Ramée) created a sensation when, after earlier writings in Latin, he produced his Dialectique (1555; “Dialectics”), the first major philosophical work in French. In 1562 his Gramère (“Grammar”) was a significant contribution to a host of new studies produced in the midcentury of the vocabulary and syntax of French. At the same time, the poets began to declare their mission to work, through their writing, for the elevation of the national language. Thomas Sébillet, a humanist of the school of Clément Marot, who also looked back to the later Middle Ages, produced his Art poétique français (“The Art of French Poetry”) in 1548. It was overshadowed in the following year by Joachim du Bellay's Deffence et illustration de la langue francoyse (1549; The Defence and Illustration of the French Language), which came to be considered as a manifesto by the group of young poets known as the Pléiade (Pléiade, La) (Pierre de Ronsard, du Bellay (du Bellay, Joachim), Jean Dorat, Jean-Antoine de Baïf (Baïf, Jean-Antoine de), Rémy Belleau (Belleau, Rémy), Étienne Jodelle, and Pontus de Tyard (Tyard, Pontus de)), who were totally committed to the new learning in its classical forms, and who attached themselves to the service of the Valois (Valois Dynasty) court. As the century drew to its close, the great political thinker Jean Bodin (Bodin, Jean), the first theorist who sought to define the powers and the limits of sovereignty, published in French his Six livres de la République (1576; The Six Books of a Commonweale). The Latin version of the work followed 10 years later.

Major authors and influences
      The art of Clément Marot (Marot, Clément), at least at the beginning of his career, took its inspiration and the forms to express it from the Grands Rhétoriqueurs (rhétoriqueur), as in the allegorical poem “Le Temple de Cupidon” (“The Temple of Cupid”). But aspects of humanism in his culture, life at court (a protégé of Marguerite de Navarre throughout his life, he succeeded his father as valet de chambre to Francis I in 1527), and, above all, the events of his day gave his works a new dimension. Practitioner of a wide range of forms—including the medieval fixed forms of the ballade and the rondeau, chansons, blasons (poems employing descriptive details to praise or to satirize), and elegies (elegy)—Marot preferred the epistle for its freedom of style and the epigram for its vivacity. With the epistle he reached the summit of the highly subtle art by which he defined himself, a poet of the court and also a Protestant, aspiring to a pure and simple happiness of true religious faith. He wrote his allegorical satire on justice, L'Enfer (“Hell”), in 1526 after his brief imprisonment on charges of violating Lenten regulations, and he fled into exile in 1534 to avoid persecution after the Affaire des Placards (in which placards attacking the Mass appeared in several cities and on the king's bedchamber door). His return to Paris in 1537 made him no more prudent; he continued his translations of the Psalms, a brilliant literary achievement, publishing the first collection in 1539. Marot's translation, continued by the Calvinist theologian Theodore Beza (Beza, Theodore), became the Huguenot psalter.

      While Marot was translating the Psalms, other poets were engaged with a different kind of mysticism. In Lyon an important group including Maurice Scève (Scève, Maurice), Pernette du Guillet, and Louise Labé (Labé, Louise) were writing Neoplatonist and Petrarchan love poetry, highly stylized in form, in which desire for an earthly Beauty inflames the poet with an inspirational frenzy that elevates his creative powers and draws him toward the spiritual Beauty, Truth, and Knowledge that she mirrors. In her Euvres (1555; Louise Labé's Complete Works), Labé presents a collection of elegies, sonnets, and prose reversing the usual gender perspective and summoning other women to follow her example in search of poetic fame. The love poetry of the Pléiade is in similar mode, as reflected in the sonnet cycles of du Bellay (L'Olive, 1549) and Ronsard (Ronsard, Pierre de) (from Les Amours [1552] to the Sonnets pour Hélène [1578, 1584, 1587; Eng. trans. Sonnets pour Hélène]) and in the metrical experiments of Baïf. It is more varied in its inspirations and in its technique; Ronsard, for example, uses a wide range of Classical models to write poems in different registers to different mistress-figures, and he often brings more sensuous variations to the stylized motifs. There is also a conscious foregrounding of a more worldly dimension, especially in Ronsard. The desire for fame, the recognition of one's creative genius by contemporaries and posterity, merges with the aspiration to possess the mistress and the divine Truth she represents.

      The themes and modes of Pléiade poetry, however, ranged wider than love, even the love that presides over the life of the entire cosmos, as sung by Jacques Peletier (Peletier, Jacques) in L'Amour des amours (1555; “The Love of Loves”). Ronsard's poetic debut, the first four books of his Odes (1550), mixed politics and the pastoral, celebrating in Pindaric (Pindar) mode the great men and women of Henry II's court—both politicians and poets—and turning to Horace and Anacreon for models to evoke the natural beauties of the landscape of a peaceful and idyllic France. Du Bellay's sonnet collection, Les Regrets (1558), combines satire and pastoral to depict the corruption of society in Rome, to which diplomatic duties had exiled him, and to express his yearning for the beauty and peace of his native Anjou. A “scientific” and philosophical poetry appeared, taking many forms—not least the hymn, reinvented by Ronsard (Les Hymnes, 1555–56). In drama, Étienne Jodelle (Jodelle, Étienne) revived the themes and forms of Classical tragedy. Whatever form inspiration took—love, nature, knowledge—Art dominated them all. Refining the forms elaborated by fellow-craftsmen from the high ages of human art, the poet demonstrated his ability to match the creative powers that move the cosmos.

      When the civil wars broke out in 1562, the Pléiade was on the side of the great Catholic families who occupied the throne. Ronsard eloquently defended the cause of Catholic reform against the Protestant Reformers and their aristocratic allies in his Discours (1562–63). Not all the members of the Pléiade, however, were as absolute against the Protestant enemy, especially as the century advanced and the atrocities increased. In the massacre that began on St. Bartholomew's Day (August 24/25, 1572), some 3,000 Huguenots in Paris alone were murdered by Catholics on the rampage. The plays of Robert Garnier (Garnier, Robert) frequently took subjects of biblical as well as humanist inspiration that reflected the pain of all those caught in the violence of the times (Les Juifves, 1583).

      The warrior-poet of Protestantism, Théodore-Agrippa d'Aubigné (Aubigné, Théodore-Agrippa d'), represented the perfect synthesis of humanism and Calvinism. He studied to perfection the three traditional languages, Latin, Greek, and Hebrew; and he was familiar with modern languages, especially Italian. In his youth, between 1571 and 1573, he wrote love poetry modeled on Petrarch. His master poem, Les Tragiques, composed for the most part at the end of the century but not published until 1616, is a visionary, apocalyptic account of the civil conflict from the perspective of the Protestant Reformers.

      The production of poetry in the 16th century did not outdo the other genres in quantity. Readers turned above all to works in prose, for accounts of voyages, lives of saints, and collections of diverse leçons or lectures (readings). Prose was slow in freeing itself from the heavy yoke thrown over it by the medieval humanists. But with Jean Lemaire de Belges prose became eloquent, and with François Rabelais (Rabelais, François) it became a prodigious domain of experimentation.

      Rabelais's writing found some of its most appreciative readers and critics in the 20th century, not least the great Russian critic Mikhail Bakhtin (Bakhtin, Mikhail), who celebrated the revolutionary power of Rabelais's “carnivalesque” discourse. Humanism rightfully claims Pantagruel (1532; Eng. trans. Pantagruel) and Gargantua (1534; Eng. trans. Gargantua), with their celebrated giants, feasting, drinking, and discovering and proclaiming the new and better ways of learning, of the conduct of war and peace, and of the true religion, which, for Rabelais resided in individual prayer, charity, and the virtuous life. He called Erasmus (Erasmus, Desiderius) his spiritual father and befriended numerous Protestants. But uniquely, this voice of Evangelical humanism speaks through the thundering roll of a laughter that spares no one and nothing, keeping its best aim for the worst, most benighted, and most grotesque exponents of the medieval theology, scholarship, medicine, and law that sought to stifle the emerging individual. Rabelais's last three books, published long after the first two, continue the search for the good life: Le Tiers Livre (“The Third Book”) in 1546, Le Quart Livre (“The Fourth Book”) in 1552, and Le Cinquième Livre (“The Fifth Book”) in 1564 (of questionable authenticity); these can be found in English translation in The Works of François Rabelais (1970). The terror of cuckoldry experienced by Pantagruel's all-too-human companion, Panurge, and the churchmen's theological nitpicking over doctrinal irrelevancies and absurdities—these are so many examples of what Rabelais considered the absurd but tragic way men wasted in idle discourse time that could be spent in the search for sound religion, good companionship, and the intoxicating wine of the new life.

      Rabelais dedicated his Tiers Livre to Marguerite de Navarre (Margaret Of Angoulême), patron of Evangelical humanist reform and author of religious poetry. She is best known in the modern era, however, for her Heptaméron (published posthumously, 1558–59; The Heptameron), modeled on Boccaccio's Decameron. Marguerite's collection of tales held together in a narrative frame is one of the major landmarks in the creation of the modern French realist novel. The games of courtly love are here played in the context of court life while more ribald games are played by serving men, maids, and monks, and the players' motives and behaviour are commented on by the courtiers, men and women, who form the audience for the tales. Marguerite's language is more discreet than that of Rabelais, but there is the same mixture of styles and tones, seriousness and bawdy, and the same awareness of the resources of both spirit and body. With her fellow novelist Hélisenne de Crenne (Les Angoysses Douloureuses qui procèdent d'amours [1538; The Torments of Love]), Marguerite is one of the few writers to mark the making of the new culture with a distinctive female sensibility and voice.

      In the closing years of the century, Michel de Montaigne (Montaigne, Michel de) continued his predecessors' exploration of the newly discovered realms of body and mind and of the delights of humanist learning and language, but he employed a very different tone and form. Engaged in his youth in politics, war, and diplomacy alongside his peers, Montaigne largely withdrew from public life in 1570 and thereafter spent much of his time in his library, writing the works that established him as the founder of the tradition of self-exploration and self-writing as well as an emblem of modern liberal individualism. The first two volumes of his Essais (Essays) were published in 1580. A third was added in 1588, along with an enlarged edition of the first two. When he died in 1592, he left his own copy of the Essays, with numerous revisions written in his own hand. This revised text was published in 1595. The earliest essais were to a large degree developments, increasingly elaborate, on the themes suggested by his extensive readings in ancient authors, particularly Plutarch's Lives. But as he wrote, Montaigne became more and more his own subject, exploring through introspection his own experience—not just as his own but also as the mirror of the universal human condition, a life subject to death and defined by the relative circumstance of historical place, moment, and society in which it is situated. Remembering, analyzing, imagining, considering the operations of his intellectual faculties and his bodily functions, observing himself sick, well, aging, Montaigne is especially concerned with the concept of change. He is the writer who perhaps best represents the 16th century's achievement in placing the individual, body and soul, in the flow of history. The form he conceived to carry the results of his meditations is perfectly adapted to this purpose. Free in form, the sentences and paragraphs of the essai follow seamlessly the movement of ideas, linked by their author's own associations and changing moods. The language is clear, simple, and measured, giving a calculated but effortless appearance of spontaneity, engaging readers in a conversation that takes them gently into the paths of self-discovery.

      The legacy to posterity of this most moderate and self-moderating of thinkers is a double one. Montaigne's invention and celebration of the individual subject also contributes to the antiauthoritarian direction of Western thought. In the 17th century he was anathematized by Blaise Pascal (Pascal, Blaise) for his “foolish” project to paint himself, which the Jansenist saw as a challenge to the religious values of self-abnegation and submission. In the 18th century Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Rousseau, Jean-Jacques) acknowledged the influence of Montaigne on his Les Rêveries du promeneur solitaire (1782; The Reveries of the Solitary Walker), celebrating radical individualism. No Western proponent of absolute authority or order would be immune to the challenge posed by the humanist's discovery of the central place of change in the affairs of men or by his unswerving advocacy of Pyrrhonism (Pyrrhon Of Elis), the skeptical mind-set opposed to all dogmas and dismissive of all claims by the human mind to possess absolute truth. Corrosive and cleansing, Montaigne's skepticism cleared the way for the scientific rationalism of René Descartes (Descartes, René) and the Enlightenment.

Daniel Ménager Jennifer Birkett

The 17th century

Literature and society
Refinement of the French language
      At the beginning of the 17th century the full flowering of the Classical manner was still remote, but various signs of a tendency toward order, stability, and refinement can be seen. A widespread desire for cultural self-improvement, which is also a sign of the pressures to conformity in a society constructing itself around the king and his court, is reflected in the numerous manuals of politesse, or formal politeness, that appeared through the first half of the century; while at the celebrated salon of Mme de Rambouillet (Rambouillet, Catherine de Vivonne, marquise de) men of letters, mostly of bourgeois origin, and the nobility and leaders of fashionable society mixed in an easy relationship to enjoy the pleasures of the mind. Such gatherings did much to refine the literary language and also helped to prepare a cultured public that could engage in the serious analysis of moral and psychological problems.

      The formation of the Académie Française (French Academy), an early move to place cultural activity under the patronage of the state, dates from 1634. Its usual functions concerned the standardization of the French language. This effort bore fruit in the Académie's own Dictionnaire of 1694, though by then rival works had appeared in the dictionaries of César-Pierre Richelet (1680) and Antoine Furetière (Furetière, Antoine) (1690). A similar desire for systematic analysis inspired Claude Favre, sieur de Vaugelas (Vaugelas, Claude Favre, seigneur de, Baron De Pérouges), also an Academician, whose Remarques sur la langue françoise (1647) records polite usage of the time. In the field of literary theory the same rational approach produced the Poétique (1639; “Treatise on Poetry”) of Hippolyte-Jules Pilet de La Mesnardière and the Abbé d'Aubignac (Aubignac, François Hédelin, abbé d')'s Pratique du théâtre (1657; “The Practice of Theatre”), both treatises instigated by Cardinal de Richelieu (Richelieu, Armand-Jean du Plessis, cardinal et duc de)'s personal patronage, which strongly influenced the development of Classical doctrine.

      The earliest imaginative literature to reflect the new taste for moral analysis and refinement was written in imitation of the pastoral literature of Italy and Spain; the masterpiece of the genre was L'Astrée (1607–27; Astrea) by Honoré d'Urfé (Urfé, Honoré d'). Manners are stylized, settings are conventional, and the plot is highly contrived; but the sentiments of the characters are highly refined, and the psychology of their relationships is sharply analyzed.

      Refinement of the language of poetry was the self-imposed task of François de Malherbe (Malherbe, François de). Resolutely opposed to the Pléiade's exalted conception of the poet as inspired favourite of the Muses, he owes his place in literary history not to his undistinguished creative writing but to the critical doctrine he imposed on fellow poets. Malherbe called for a simple, harmonious metre and a sober, almost prosaic vocabulary, pruned of poetic fancy. His influence helped to make French lyric verse, for nearly two centuries, elegant and refined but lacking imaginative inspiration. Malherbe's alexandrine, however—clear, measured, and energetic—was a metre marvelously suited to be a vehicle for Pierre Corneille (Corneille, Pierre)'s dramatic verse.

      Not all poets of the 1620s accepted Malherbe's lead. The most distinguished of the independents was Théophile de Viau (Viau, Théophile de), who not only was the antithesis of Malherbe in style and technique but also expressed the free thought inherited from Renaissance Italy. Théophile's verse, with its engaging flavour of spontaneity and sincerity, shows a sensual delight in the natural world. He was the leader of a freethinking bohemia of young noblemen and men of letters, practising and preaching social and intellectual unorthodoxy. His persecution, imprisonment, and early death ended all this: libertinage went underground, and repressive orthodoxy was entrenched for a century or more. The poetry of Théophile and other independents is a last example of that exuberant and extravagant manner developed in the late 16th century to which modern criticism has given the name Baroque (Baroque period).

The development of drama (dramatic literature)
      Unlike the humanist playwrights of previous generations, Alexandre Hardy (Hardy, Alexandre) was first and foremost a man of the theatre. Poète à gages (in-house writer) to the Comédiens du Roi, the company established at the Hôtel de Bourgogne in Paris, he wrote hundreds of plays, of which 34 were published (1623–28). In addition to writing tragedies, he developed the tragicomedy and the pastoral play, which became the most popular genres between 1600 and 1630. In the theatre as elsewhere, the pastoral was a refining influence, providing a vehicle for the subtle analysis of feeling. Although the finest play of the 1620s is a tragedy, Théophile de Viau (Viau, Théophile de)'s Pyrame et Thisbé (1623; “Pyramus and Thisbe”), which shares the fresh, lyrical charm of the pastorals, tragicomedy is without a doubt the Baroque form at its best. Here the favourite theme of false appearances, the episodic structure, and devices such as the play within the play reflect the essentials of Baroque art. During the 1630s a crucial struggle took place between this irregular type of drama and a simpler and more disciplined alternative. Theoretical discussion focused on the conventional rules (the unities of time, place, and action, mistakenly ascribed to the authority of Aristotle), but the bienséances (conventions regarding subject matter and style) were no less important in determining the form and idiom the mature Classical theatre was to adopt.

      Comedy gained a fresh impetus about 1630. The new style, defined by Corneille (Corneille, Pierre) as “une peinture de la conversation des honnêtes gens” (“a painting of the conversation of the gentry”), simply transposes the pastoral into an urban setting. At the same time, ambitious young playwrights competing for public favour and the support of the two Paris theatre companies, the Hôtel de Bourgogne and the Marais, did not neglect other types of drama; and Corneille, together with Jean Mairet (Mairet, Jean), Tristan (Tristan l'Hermite) (François L'Hermite), and Jean de Rotrou (Rotrou, Jean de), inaugurated “regular” tragedy. But it was some time before Corneille, any more than his rivals, turned exclusively to tragedy. The eclecticism of these years is illustrated by his L'Illusion comique (performed 1636; The Comedy of Illusion), a brilliant exploitation of the interplay between reality and illusion that characterizes Baroque art. The two trends come together in Corneille's theatre in Le Cid (performed 1637; The Cid), which, though often called the first Classical tragedy, was created as a tragicomedy. The emotional range Corneille achieves with his verse in The Cid is something previously unmatched. Contemporary audiences at once recognized the play as a masterpiece, but its form was subjected to an unprecedented critical attack. The querelle du Cid (“quarrel of The Cid”) caused such a stir that it led to the intervention of Cardinal de Richelieu (Richelieu, Armand-Jean du Plessis, cardinal et duc de), who referred the play to the judgment of the newly founded Académie Française.

      The effect of the querelle du Cid on Corneille's evolution is unmistakable: all his experimentation was henceforth to be carried out within the stricter Classical formula. A remarkable spell of creative activity produced in quick succession Horace (1640), Cinna (1641), and Polyeucte (1643), which, with The Cid, represent the playwright's highest achievement. In terms of form, the essence of Classical French tragedy is a single action, seized at crisis point.

      Another of Richelieu's protégés, Jean Chapelain (Chapelain, Jean), began in the 1630s to exert an influence similar to that of Malherbe a generation earlier. Chapelain was a major architect of Classicism in France. More liberal than Malherbe, he made allowance for that intangible element (“le je ne sais quoi”) that rules cannot produce. The Sentiments de l'Académie (1638; “The Opinions of the Academy”), compiled by Chapelain as a judgment on The Cid, reflects prudent compromise, but one can sense beneath the pedantry of certain comments a genuine feeling for the harmony and regularity that Classical tragedy was to achieve.

       tragicomedy lingered on as a popular alternative. Jean de Rotrou's Le Véritable Saint-Genest (1647; “The Real Saint Genest”), for example, provides an interesting contrast with Polyeucte, treating in the Baroque manner similar themes of divine grace and conversion. By the 1640s the mixture of modes was falling out of favour. Writers and their public had become more responsive to various standardizing influences. René Descartes (Descartes, René)'s Discours de la méthode (1637; Discourse on Method), with its opening sentence, “Le bon sens est la chose du monde la mieux partagée…” (“Good sense is of all things in the world the most equally distributed…”), clearly assumes that the mental processes of all men, if properly conducted, will lead to identical conclusions. A similar assumption is implicit, as regards the psychology of the passions, in Descartes's Traité des passions de l'âme (1649; Treatise on Passions).

      The long struggle to produce a literature that could claim to represent the moral and cultural values of a homogeneous society occupied the whole of the first half of the century. The spirit of insurrection that inspired the Fronde (Fronde, the) (a period of civil unrest between 1648 and 1653, in which the high aristocracy allied themselves with the judicial bodies known as parlements in an attempt to reassert their independence of the centralizing monarchy) is clearly marked in the writing of the time, not least in Corneille's tragedies. His self-reliant heroes, meeting every challenge and overcoming every obstacle, are motivated by the self-conscious moral code that animated Cardinal de Retz (Retz, Jean-François-Paul de Gondi, Cardinal de), Mme de Longueville (Longueville, Anne-Geneviève de Bourbon-Condé, Duchess de), and other leaders of the heroic but futile resistance to Cardinal Mazarin (Mazarin, Jules, Cardinal). Neither Corneille's heroes nor Mazarin's opponents show a devotion to cause that is free from self-glorification; in both cases, the approbation of others is as necessary as the desire to leave an example for posterity. Such optimistic, heroic attitudes may seem incompatible with a tragic view of the world; indeed, Corneille provides the key to his originality in substituting for the traditional Aristotelian emotions of pity and fear a new goal of admiration. Corneille asks that his audience admire something larger than life, and the best of his plays are still capable of arousing this response.

The heroic ideal
      The same appetite for heroic subject matter is reflected in the midcentury novels. These resemble L'Astrée in that they are long-winded, multivolume adventure stories with highly complicated plots, but they have moved from the world of the pastoral to that of ancient history. The two best-known examples, Artamène; ou, le grand Cyrus (1649–53; Artamenes; or, The Grand Cyrus) and Clélie (1654–60; Eng. trans. Clelia), both by Madeleine de Scudéry (Scudéry, Madeleine de), are set in Persia and Rome, respectively. Such novels reflect the society of the time. They also show again what influenced the readers and playgoers of the Classical age: the minute analysis of the passions, when divorced from the superficial concerns of these novels, looks forward to the psychological subtlety of Jean Racine (Racine, Jean).

      Other writers of the period make a more individual use of the novel form. Cyrano de Bergerac (Cyrano de Bergerac, Savinien) returned to the Renaissance tradition of fictional travel as a vehicle for social and political satire and may be seen as an early exponent of science fiction. So provocative were the ideas expressed in his Histoire comique des états et empires de la lune (1656; “Comical Tale of the States and Empires of the Moon”) and Histoire comique des états et empires du soleil (1661; “Comical Tale of the States and Empires of the Sun”), collectively published in English translation by Richard Aldington as Cyrano de Bergerac: Voyages to the Moon and the Sun (1923), that neither work was published until after 1655, the year of his death. Paul Scarron (Scarron, Paul), an early practitioner of more realistic writing, was more down-to-earth in purpose and manner: in Le Roman comique (1651–57) he set out to parody the heroic novels.

The honnête homme
      Partly because of the influence of the salons and partly as a result of disillusionment at the failure of the Fronde, the heroic ideal was gradually replaced in the 1650s by the concept of honnêteté. The word does not connote “honesty” in its modern sense but refers rather to an ideal aristocratic moral and social mode of behaviour, a sincere refinement of tastes and manners. Unlike the aspirant after gloire (“glory”), the honnête homme (“gentleman”) cultivated the social graces and valued the pleasures of social intercourse. A cultured amateur, modest and self-effacing, he took as his model the Renaissance uomo universale (Renaissance man) (“universal man”). François de La Rochefoucauld (La Rochefoucauld, François VI, Duke de), an aristocrat who had played a leading part in the Fronde, provides an interesting illustration of the transition between the two ages. The Maximes (1665; Maxims and Moral Reflections), his principal achievement, is a collection of 500 epigrammatic reflections on human behaviour, expressed in the most universal terms: the general tone is bitingly cynical, self-interest being seen as the source of all actions. If a more positive message is to be seen, it is the recognition of honnêteté as a code of behaviour that holds society together. However, even this is touched with cynicism. La Rochefoucauld's view of honnêteté is a pragmatic one, falling as far short of the ideal defined by Antoine Gombaud, chevalier de Méré, in his Discours de la vraie honnêteté (1701; “Discourse on True Honnêteté”), as it does of the example set by Charles de Saint-Denis, sieur de Saint-Évremond (Saint-Évremond, Charles de Marguetel de Saint-Denis, Seigneur de), who, in the opinion of contemporaries, most nearly lived up to such an ideal. Few honnêtes gens had the culture, the taste, and the temperament to practice the art of living in such an exemplary way, but the ideal of tolerant, cultured Epicureanism for a while set the tone of fashionable society in Paris.

      This period also saw the fullest development of the cult of préciosité (preciosity), a style of thought and expression exhibiting delicacy of taste and sentiment. Inasmuch as honnêteté stands for moderation and achieved simplicity and préciosité for the cult of artifice and allusion, the two phenomena may seem to be opposites. The sentiments and manners satirized by Molière in Les Précieuses ridicules (performed 1659; The Pretentious Young Ladies) do not represent the whole picture, however, and, although the performance of some followers of the mode led to ludicrous extremes or, worse, degeneration into meaningless cliché, précieuses such as Madeleine de Scudéry were responsible for introducing a new subtlety into the language, establishing new standards of delicacy in matters of taste, and propagating advanced ideas about the equality of the sexes in marriage. Their aims thus ran parallel to those of the honnêtes gens, and the ideal of the educated, emancipated woman was the female counterpart of the masculine ideal defined above.

      The fullest representation of the honnête homme in imaginative literature is to be found in the theatre of Molière. A bourgeois by birth, a courtier, and an honnête homme, Molière was also an actor-manager and an entertainer. He toured the provinces with his theatre troupe from about 1645 until 1658, when they returned to Paris. Molière soon succeeded in winning audiences to a completely new type of comedy. While his early plays may be divided conventionally into literary comedy and popular farces, from L'École des femmes (performed 1662; The School for Wives) onward he fused these two strains, creating a formula that combined the Classical structure, the linguistic refinement, and the portrayal of manners expected of comedy with the caricatural characterization proper to traditional French farce and the Italian commedia dell'arte. Even in stylized verse plays such as The School for Wives, Le Misanthrope (performed 1666), Le Tartuffe (first version 1664; Tartuffe: The Hypocrite), or Les Femmes savantes (1672; The Learned Ladies), the comedy of manners merely provides a framework for the comic portrait of a central character, in which exaggeration and fantasy play a considerable part. However topical the subject and however prominent the contemporary satiric element in Molière's plays, his characters always possess a common denominator of universal humanity. Most of his plays contain, alongside the comic character, one or more examples of the honnête homme; and the social norm against which his comic characters offend is that of a tolerant, humane honnêteté. In Le Tartuffe, and in Dom Juan (1665), topical references and satiric implications were so provocative in dealing with the delicate subject of religious belief that there were strong reactions from churchmen. However, from the start of his Paris career Molière could count on the active support of the king, Louis XIV. A number of his plays were written for performance at Versailles or other courts; and Molière also wrote several comédies-ballets and collaborated with Jean-Baptiste Lully (Lully, Jean-Baptiste) and others in other divertissements that brought together the arts of poetry, music, and dance.

      The biggest box-office success of the century, judged by length of first run, was the Timocrate (1656) of Pierre Corneille's younger brother Thomas (Corneille, Thomas), a prolific playwright adept at gauging the public taste. Timocrate was exactly contemporary with the précieux novels of Madeleine de Scudéry, and, like Philippe Quinault in his tragédies galantes, the author reproduced the disguises and amorous intrigues so much admired by habitués of the salons. However, the 1660s were to see the rivalry between two acknowledged masters of serious drama. Pierre Corneille (Corneille, Pierre), returning to the theatre in 1659 after a hiatus, wrote several more plays; but, though Sertorius (performed 1662) and his last play, Suréna (performed 1674), bear comparison with earlier masterpieces, heroic idealism had lost conviction. While Corneille retained his partisans among older playgoers, it was Jean Racine who appealed to a new generation.

Racine (Racine, Jean)'s fatalism
      Whether Jean Racine's Jansenist upbringing determined his view of a human nature controlled by perverse and willful passions—or whether his knowledge of Greek tragedy explains the fatalism of his own plays—is a question that cannot be answered. Certainly, both are engaged in the service of a creative imagination that reflects powerfully the frustrating limits placed on individual desire by society's conventions and constraints. The world and the sensibility of his heroes could not be more different from those of Corneille's. Tragedy for Racine is an inexorable series of events leading to a foreseeable and inevitable catastrophe. Plot is of the simplest; the play opens with the action at crisis point, and, once the first step is taken, tension mounts between a small number of characters, locked together by conflicting ambitions and desires, in increasingly straitened and stifling circumstances. Racinian poetic language represents preciosity at its best: the intense and monstrous nature of frustrated passion is thrown into relief by the cool, elegant, and understated formulations that carry it. His work set a standard and a model for the study of the entanglement of the public and the personal that continued into the 20th century. The language of such diverse playwrights as Jean-Paul Sartre and Bernard-Marie Koltès interacts (albeit in different ways) with the luminous clarity of Racinian style. In the 1960s and '70s the director Roger Planchon found in Bérénice and Athalie fresh relevance for contemporary society.

      Racine's career began in 1664 with the first performance of La Thébaïde (The Fatal Legacy, a Tragedy), a grim account of the mutual hatred of Oedipus's sons; this was followed by Alexandre le Grand (performed 1665), his only attempt at the manner of Quinault. The masterpieces date from the highly successful Andromaque (1667), another subject from Greek legend, after which, for Britannicus (1669) and Bérénice (1670), Racine turned to topics from Roman history. Bajazet (1672) is based on modern Turkish history; Mithridate (1673) has as its hero the famous enemy of Rome; and finally there followed two plays with Greek mythological subjects: Iphigénie en Aulide (1674; “Iphigenia in Aulis”) and Phèdre (1677). His last two plays, Esther (1689) and Athalie (1691), written not for the professional theatre but for the girls' school at Saint-Cyr, at the request of Mme de Maintenon (Maintenon, Françoise d'Aubigné, marquise de), turn to Old Testament subjects; but, in Athalie in particular, the challenge of the individual will to power against the decrees of an authoritarian father-god presents as powerful a conflict as that found in any of his secular plays.

Nondramatic verse
      Nondramatic verse still enjoyed a special prestige, as shown in Nicolas Boileau-Despréaux (Boileau, Nicolas)'s L'Art poétique (1674; The Art of Poetry), in which the genres most highly esteemed are the epic (of which no distinguished example was written during the century), the ode (a medium for official commemorative verse), and the satire. Boileau himself, in his satires (from c. 1658) and epistles (from 1674), as well as in The Art of Poetry, established himself as the foremost critic of his day; but, despite a flair for judging contemporaries, his criteria were limited by current aesthetic doctrines. In Le Lutrin (1674–83; “The Lectern”; Eng. trans. Boileau's Lutrin: A Mock-Heroic Poem), a model for Alexander Pope's The Rape of the Lock, he produced a masterpiece of comic writing in the Classical manner. Jean de La Fontaine (La Fontaine, Jean de)'s Fables (1668; 1678–79; 1694; The Complete Fables of Jean de la Fontaine) succeed in transcending the limitations of the genre; and, although readers formerly concentrated heavily on the moral teaching they offer, it is possible to appreciate beneath their apparent naïveté the mature skills of a highly imaginative writer who displays great originality in adapting to his needs the linguistic and metrical resources of the Classical age.

The Classical (Classicism and Neoclassicism) manner
      Though the novel was still considered to be a secondary genre, it produced one masterpiece that embodied the Classical manner to perfection. In La Princesse de Clèves (1678) by Marie-Madeleine, comtesse de La Fayette (La Fayette, Marie-Madeleine, comtesse de), the narrative forsakes the fanciful settings of its pastoral and heroic predecessors and explores the relationship between the individual and contemporary court society in a sober, realistic context. The language achieves its effects by understatement and subtle nuance rather than by rhetorical flourish. The expressive medium forged in the salons is here used to generate original insights into the inchoate feelings of confusion and disarray that overwhelm the naive, unformed young woman confronted with the experienced seducer. The other great woman writer of her age, Marie de Rabutin-Chantal, marquise de Sévigné (Sévigné, Marie de Rabutin-Chantal, marquise de), produced an intimate, informal style of letter writing that was nevertheless composed with a careful eye to literary effect. Mme de Sévigné not only was an admirable example of the cultured reader for whom the grands classiques wrote but was herself one of the most skillful prose writers of her day.

      The most distinguished prose writer of the age, however, was a man who, if he does reflect the society he lived in, does so in a highly critical light. The Pensées (1669–70; “Thoughts”; Eng. trans. Pensées) of Blaise Pascal (Pascal, Blaise) present an uncompromising reminder of the spiritual values of the Christian faith. The work remains incomplete, so that, in spite of the aphoristic brilliance, or the lyrical power, of many fragments, some of the thinking is enigmatic, incoherent, or even contradictory. Nevertheless, the central theme is clearly and strongly posed. Pascal's view of human nature has much in common with that of La Rochefoucauld or Mme de La Fayette, but Pascal contrasts the misery of godless man with the potential greatness attainable through divine grace. Pascal is the first master of a really modern prose style. Whereas Descartes's prose is full of awkward Latinisms, Pascal uses a short sentence and is sparing with subordinate clauses. The clarity and precision he achieves are equally appropriate to the penetrating analysis of human nature in the Pensées and to the irony and comic force of the Provinciales (1656–57; The Provincial Letters), his masterly satire of Jesuit casuistry.

Religious authors
      A new intellectual climate can be recognized from 1680 onward, as the centralizing authority of absolute monarchy tightened its hold on nation and culture. An increased spiritual awareness resulting from Jansenist teaching, the preaching of Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet (Bossuet, Jacques-Bénigne) and others, and the influence of Mme de Maintenon at court marked French cultural life with a new moral earnestness and devotion. The position of Bossuet is an ambivalent one. In spite of his outspoken criticism of king and court, his view of kingship and of the relationship between church and state made him one of the principal pillars of the regime of the Sun King (Louis XIV), carrying Richelieu's policies to their logical conclusion. His ultraorthodox views are expressed in writings such as the Discours sur l'histoire universelle (1681; Discourse on Universal History); but he also exerted a considerable moral influence in his sermons and funeral orations, which took the art of pulpit oratory to a new high level. François de La Mothe-Fénelon (Fénelon, François de Salignac de La Mothe-) was a much less orthodox churchman, and the influence he wielded was of a more liberal nature. Like Bossuet, he was a tutor in the royal household, and he was also author of a novel, Les Aventures de Télémaque (1699; Telemachus, Son of Ulysses), that combines moral lessons with Classical romance.

      Just as Fénelon chose an ancient model—his novel purports to be the continuation of Book Four of the Odyssey—so Jean de La Bruyère (La Bruyère, Jean de) chose to write his Caractères de Théophraste traduits du grec, avec les caractères ou les moeurs de ce siècle (1688; “The Characters of Theophrastus Translated from the Greek, with the Characters or Manners of This Century”; Eng. trans. The Characters, or the Manners of the Age) in the style of the Greek moralist Theophrastus. However, his work, appended to his translation of Theophrastus, was from the beginning more specific in its reference to his own times; and successive editions, up to 1694, made of it a powerful indictment of the vanity and pretensions of the high-ranking members of a status-conscious society. La Bruyère attacks the extravagance and warmongering of the king himself. He writes as an ironic commentator on the social comedy around him, in a highly personal, visual, fast-moving prose that brings his targets to vivid life.

      An equally satiric picture of the age is left by a number of Molière's successors writing for the comic theatre (which, from the founding of the Théâtre Français in 1680, was organized on a monopoly basis). Comedy, at the hands of such writers as Jean-François Regnard (Regnard, Jean-François), Florent Carton Dancourt (Dancourt, Florent Carton), and Alain-René Lesage (Lesage, Alain-René), continued to be lively and inventive; but the writing of tragedy, by contrast, with the exception of the work of Racine, already had become a much more derivative exercise.

The Ancients and the Moderns (Ancients and Moderns)
      The end of Louis XIV's reign witnessed the critical debate known as the querelle des anciens et des modernes (“Quarrel of the Ancients and the Moderns”), a long-standing controversy that came to a head in the Académie and in various published works (see Ancients and Moderns). Whereas Boileau and others saw imitation of the literature of antiquity as the only possible guarantee of excellence, “moderns” such as Charles Perrault (Perrault, Charles) in his Parallèle des anciens et des modernes (1688–97; “Comparison of the Ancients and Moderns”) and Bernard Le Bovier, sieur de Fontenelle (Fontenelle, Bernard Le Bovier, sieur de), in his Digression sur les anciens et les modernes (1688; “Digression on the Ancients and Moderns”), claimed that the best contemporary works were inevitably superior, because of the greater maturity of the human mind. It was a sterile and inconclusive debate, but the underlying issue was most important, for the moderns both indirectly and explicitly anticipated those 18th-century thinkers whose rejection of a single universal aesthetic in favour of a relativist approach was to hasten the end of the Classical age.

William Driver Howarth Jennifer Birkett

The 18th century to the Revolution of 1789

      The death of Louis XIV on September 1, 1715, closed an epoch, and thus the date of 1715 is a useful starting point for the Enlightenment. The beginnings of critical thought, however, go back much further, to about 1680, where one can begin to discern a new intellectual climate of independent inquiry and the questioning of received ideas and traditions.

      The earlier date permits the inclusion of two important precursors. Pierre Bayle (Bayle, Pierre), a Protestant forced into exile by the repressive policies of Louis XIV against the Huguenots, paved the way for later attacks upon the established church by his own onslaught upon Roman Catholic dogma and, beyond that, upon authoritarian ideologies of all kinds. His skepticism was constructive, underlying a fervent advocacy of toleration based on respect for freedom of conscience. In particular, his Dictionnaire historique et critique (1697; 2nd ed., 1702; An Historical and Critical Dictionary) became an arsenal of knowledge and critical ideas for the 18th century.

      Bayle's contemporary Fontenelle (Fontenelle, Bernard Le Bovier, sieur de) continued in Descartes's wake to make knowledge, especially of science, more accessible to the educated layperson. His Entretiens sur la pluralité des mondes (1686; Conversations on the Plurality of Worlds) explains the Copernican universe in simple terms. The Histoire des oracles (1687; The History of Oracles) complements this popular erudition by a rationalist critique of erroneous legends. Fontenelle helped to lay the basis for empirical observation as the proper approach to scientific truth.

      Both Bayle and Fontenelle promoted the Enlightenment principle that the pursuit of verifiable knowledge was a central human activity. Bayle was concerned with the problem of evil, which seemed to him a mystery understandable by faith alone. But such unknowable matters did not at all invalidate the search for hard fact, as the Dictionnaire abundantly shows. Fontenelle, for his part, saw that the furtherance of truth depended upon the elimination of error, arising as it did from human laziness in unquestioningly accepting received ideas or from human love of mystery.

      The baron de Montesquieu (Montesquieu, Charles-Louis de Secondat, baron de La Brède et de), the first of the great Enlightenment authors, demonstrated a liberal approach to the world fitting in with an innovative pluralist and relativist view of society. His Lettres persanes (1721; Persian Letters) established his reputation. A fictional set of correspondences centred on two Persians making their first visit to Europe, they depict satirically a Paris in transition between the old dogmatic absolutes of monarchy and religion and the freedoms of a new age. At their centre is the condition of women—trapped in the private space of the harem, emancipated in the salons of Paris. The personal experience of the Persians generates debate on a wide range of crucial moral, political, economic, and philosophical issues, all centring on the link between the public good and the regulation of individual desire.

      Montesquieu's interest in social mechanisms and causation is pursued further in the Considérations sur les causes de la grandeur des Romains et de leur décadence (1734; Reflections on the Causes of the Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire). To explain Rome's greatness and decline, he invokes the notion of an esprit général (“general spirit”), a set of secondary causes underlying each society and determining its developments. Herein are the seeds of De l'esprit des lois (1748; The Spirit of the Laws), the preparation of which took 14 years. This great work brought political discussion into the public arena in France by its insistence upon the wide variation of sociopolitical forms throughout the world, its attempt to assess their relative effectiveness, and its assertion of the need, in whatever form of society, to maintain liberty and tolerance as prime objects of concern.

       Voltaire (François-Marie Arouet), on any count, bestrides the Enlightenment. Whether as dramatist, historian, reformer, poet, storyteller, philosopher, or correspondent, for 60 years he remained an intellectual leader in France. A stay in England (1726–28) led to the Lettres philosophiques (1734; Letters on England), which—taking England as a polemical model of philosophical freedom, experimental use of reason, enlightened patronage of arts and science, and respect for the new merchant classes and their contribution to the nation's economic well-being—offered a program for a whole civilization, as well as sharp satire of a despotic, authoritarian, and outdated France. In later years Voltaire's onslaught upon the power of the Roman Catholic church became more direct, as he denounced its doctrines and practices in countless pamphlets and the Dictionnaire philosophique (1764; Philosophical Dictionary), the vade mecum of Voltairean attitudes. He laboured on historical works all his life, producing most notably Le Siècle de Louis XIV (1751; The Age of Louis XIV) and the Essai sur les moeurs (1756; An Essay on Universal History, the Manners and Spirit of Nations from the Reign of Charlemaign to the Age of Lewis XIV), the latter a world history of a half-million words. Above all, it was the growth of civilizations and cultures that particularly commanded his attention and formidable energy. He is best remembered for the tale Candide (1759), a savage denunciation of metaphysical optimism that reveals a world of horrors and folly. Candide at last renounces the search for absolute truths as futile and settles for the simple life of labours within his reach, “cultivating his garden.” The conte (“tale”) called L'Ingénu (1767; “The Naïf”; Eng. trans. in Zadig, and L'Ingenu [1964]) continued this lesson, with a turn from metaphysics to social satire on the corrupt French government (which he prudently set retrospectively in Louis XIV's reign). Reformist appeals to justice were the main focus of Voltaire's writings in his last 20 years, as he protested against such outrages as the executions, motivated by religious prejudice, of Jean Calas (Calas, Jean) and the chevalier de La Barre.

      Another universal genius, Denis Diderot (Diderot, Denis), occupied a somewhat less exalted place in his own times, since most of his greatest works were published only posthumously. But his encylopaedic range is undeniable. He was a theorist of the bourgeois drama, the first great French art critic (the several Salons), a sharp observer of the psychology of repression and its political function in authoritarian society, and author of the greatest French antinovel (New Novel) of the century, which, influenced by Laurence Sterne (Sterne, Laurence)'s Tristram Shandy, anticipates in its form and techniques and in its language both 20th-century realism and the mode of the nouveau roman (Jacques le fataliste et son maître [1796; Jacques the Fatalist and His Master]). Diderot seized on the Spinozist (Spinoza, Benedict de) vision of a world materialistic and godless yet pulsating with energy and the unexpected. Jacques the Fatalist captures the fluidity of a disconcerting universe where nothing is ever clear-cut or under control, where history, in the form of choices already made by others, determines any individual's fate, and yet free will and responsibility are among the highest human values. The admirable servant Jacques, who sees through yet loyally serves and protects his bonehead of a master and who establishes and maintains his own humane values, following his heart as well as his head in a world given over to cruelty and chance, is the model new man of the Enlightenment.

      Diderot's interest in the plasticity of matter (he reasoned that categories such as animal, vegetable, and mineral are not as distinct as conventional thought suggested), combined with an interest in biology and medicine, is nowhere better exemplified than in Le Rêve de d'Alembert (written 1769, published 1830; D'Alembert's Dream). This work is written in the characteristic form of a dialogue, allowing Diderot to range free with speculative questions rather than attempt firm answers. Other dialogues focus on key contemporary events and explore the philosophical questions they posed. The Supplément au voyage de Bougainville (1773; Supplement to Bougainville's Voyage in The Libertine Reader: Eroticism and Enlightenment in Eighteenth-Century France), for example, takes the great explorer's landfall in Tahiti to consider the relativity of sexual mores in different societies and to satirize again politics founded on sexual repression.

      In his own day, Diderot was best known as editor of the Encyclopédie, a vast work in 17 folio volumes of text and 11 of illustrations. He and Jean Le Rond d'Alembert (Alembert, Jean Le Rond d') inaugurated the undertaking, and d'Alembert introduced the first volume in 1751. Diderot edited alone from 1758 until the final volume of plates appeared in 1772. A summation of new scientific and technological knowledge and, by that very fact, a radically polemical enterprise, the Encyclopédie is the epitome of the Enlightenment, disseminating practical information to improve the human lot, reduce theological superstition, and, in Diderot's words from his key article “Encyclopédie,” “change the common way of thinking.”

Tragedy and the survival of Classical form
      Classical tragedy survived into the 18th century, most notably in the theatre of Voltaire, which dominated the Comédie-Française from the premiere of Oedipe (1718) to that of Agathocle (1779). But even in Voltaire a profound change in sensibility is apparent as pathos reigns supreme, to the exclusion of terror. Tragedy, in the view of Fontenelle or the Abbé Dubos (Dubos, René), should teach men virtue and humanity. Voltaire's Zaïre (1732; The Tragedy of Zara) aims to do just that, through the spectacle of Christian intolerance overwhelming the eponymous heroine, torn as she is between the religion of her French Roman Catholic forefathers and the Muslim faith of her future husband, a Turk. No fatality of character destroys her, but simply the failings of Christians unworthy of their creed, allied to gratuitous and avoidable chance. The great tragic emotions are replaced by simple bourgeois sentimentality.

Marivaux and Beaumarchais
      The best of 18th-century drama takes a different course. Pierre Marivaux (Marivaux, Pierre) wrote more than 30 comedies, mostly between 1720 and 1740, for the most part bearing on the psychology of love. Typically, the Marivaudian protagonist is a refined young lady who finds herself, to her bewilderment or even despair, falling in love despite herself, thereby losing her autonomy of judgment and action. La Surprise de l'amour, a title Marivaux used twice (1722, 1727), becomes a regular motif, the interest of each play resting in the precise and delicate changes of attitude and circumstance rung by the dramatist and the sharp, witty discourse in which his characters' exchanges are couched. His sympathy for the generally likable heroes and heroines stops short, however, of indulgence. The action is dramatic essentially because the characters' stubborn pride, central to their being, has to succumb to the demands of their instincts. Vanity, in Marivaux's view, is endemic to human nature. In Le Jeu de l'amour et du hasard (1730; The Game of Love and Chance), the plot of which is based on disguise, with masters and servants exchanging parts, Silvia experiences profound consternation at the quite unacceptable prospect of falling for a valet. When she learns the happy truth, her relief immediately gives way to a determination to force her lover Dorante into surrender while he still thinks her a servant. Many plays deal explicitly with social barriers created by rank or money, such as La Double Inconstance (1723; Changes of Heart) and Les Fausses Confidences (1737; “False Confidences”). As the subtlety of Marivaux's perceptions and the genius of his language have become better understood, he has come to be regarded as the fourth great classic (after Corneille, Racine, and Molière) of the French theatre.

      Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais (Beaumarchais, Pierre-Augustin Caron de) is best remembered for two comic masterpieces, Le Barbier de Séville (1775; The Barber of Seville) and Le Mariage de Figaro (1784; The Marriage of Figaro). Both are dominated by the servant Figaro, a scheming dynamo of wit and generosity. Some commentators during the Revolution detected prerevolutionary sentiments in The Marriage of Figaro, but the evidence is too insubstantial to argue for any intention on the author's part. As much as the sharpness of wit and character, the brilliance of structure wins admiration. All is movement and vicissitude, particularly in The Marriage of Figaro, with its 92 scenes (about three times the average number in a Classical play) and profusion of theatrical “business” rising to the magisterial imbroglio of the final act.

Bourgeois drama (drame bourgeois)
      Beaumarchais himself espoused the drame bourgeois (“bourgeois drama” or “middle-class tragedy”) in his Essai sur le genre dramatique sérieux (1767; “Essay on the Genre of Serious Drama”). He wrote several drames, among them the sequel to The Marriage of Figaro in L'Autre Tartuffe; ou, La Mère coupable (1792; “The Other Tartuffe; or, The Guilty Mother”). The growing importance of sentiment on the stage had proved as inimical to Classical comedy as to Classical tragedy. More popular was a type of comedy both serious and moralistic, such as Le Glorieux (1732; The Conceited Count) by Philippe Néricault Destouches (Destouches, Philippe Néricault) or the comédies larmoyantes (comédie larmoyante) (“tearful comedies”) of Pierre-Claude Nivelle de La Chaussée (La Chaussée, Pierre-Claude Nivelle de), which enjoyed great popularity in the 1730s and '40s. Diderot's Entretiens sur “Le Fils naturel” (1757; “Conversations on ‘The Natural Son'”) gave a theoretical underpinning to the new mood. The author called for middle-class tragedies of private life, realistic and affecting, able to inspire strong emotions and incline audiences to more elevated states of mind. The new genre, reacting against the articulate tirades of Classical tragedy, would draw on pantomime and tableaux or inarticulate speech rather than on eloquent discursiveness. Though Diderot's plays did not live up to his theories, the emphasis upon middle-class virtuousness was to be made dramatically effective in Michel-Jean Sedaine (Sedaine, Michel-Jean)'s Le Philosophe sans le savoir (1765; “The Unwitting Philosopher”; Eng. trans. The Duel). But the success of the drame bourgeois was short-lived, perhaps because it attempted the incompatible aims of being both realistic and didactic.

      The emphasis upon reason, science, and philosophy may explain the absence of great poetry in the 18th century. The best verse is that of Voltaire, whose chief claim to renown during most of his lifetime was as a poet. In epic, mock-epic, philosophical poems, or witty society pieces he was preeminent, but to the modern critic the linguistic intensity that might indicate genius is missing.

The novel
      Despite official opposition and occasional censorship, the genre of the novel developed apace. The first great 18th-century exemplar is now seen to be Robert Challes, whose Illustres françaises (1713; The Illustrious French Lovers), a collection of seven tales intertwined, commands attention for its serious realism and a disabused candour anticipating Stendhal. As the bourgeoisie acquired a more prominent place in society and the focus switched to exploring the textures of everyday life, the roman de moeurs (“ novel of manners”) became important, most notably with the novels of Alain-René Lesage (Lesage, Alain-René): Le Diable boiteux (1707; The Devil upon Two Sticks) and especially L'Histoire de Gil Blas de Santillane (1715–35; The History and Adventures of Gil Blas of Santillane). The latter, a loose-knit picaresque novel, recounts its hero's rise in society and concomitant moral education, set against a comprehensive picture of the surrounding world. Characterization and the representation of the new ethos of sensibility receive greater attention in the novels of the prolific Abbé Prévost (Prévost d'Exiles, Antoine-François, Abbé), author of multivolume romances but best known for the Histoire du chevalier des Grieux et de Manon Lescaut (1731; “Tale of the Chevalier des Grieux and Manon Lescaut”; Eng. trans. Manon Lescaut). In this ambivalent mixture of idealistic passion and shabby criminality, des Grieux, a young scapegrace but also, Prévost urges, a man of the most exquisite sentiments, sacrifices a glittering career to his fantasy of the amoral, delicate, and forever enigmatic Manon. In this tragic tale, love conquers all, but it constantly needs vulgar money to sustain it. Tears and swoonings abound, as do precise notations of financial costs, in a blend of traditional romance and sordid realism.

      By contrast, Marivaux as novelist devoted his main energies to psychological analysis and the moral life of his characters. His two great narratives, La Vie de Marianne (1731–41; The Life of Marianne) and Le Paysan parvenu (1734–35; Up from the Country), follow one single character recounting, as in Manon Lescaut, her or his past experience. But it is the comic note that prevails as Marianne and Jacob make their way upward in society. Reflection upon conduct becomes more important than conduct itself; the narrators, now of mature years, comment and endlessly interpret their actions when young and still in transit socially. The result provides a rich density of feelings, meticulously analyzed or finely suggested, in a precise and witty prose. Both protagonists are morally equivocal, born survivors with an eye for the main chance, representative of a social class making its way from margins to mainstream; yet they are also attractive, both to their peers in the novel and to their readership, in their disarming self-revelations.

      Increasingly, from the middle of the century, studies of women's position in society, salon, or family emerged from the pen of women writers. Françoise de Graffigny (Lettres d'une Péruvienne [1747; Letters of a Peruvian Princess]), Marie-Jeanne Riccoboni, and Isabelle de Charrière (Charrière, Isabelle-Agnès-Élizabeth de) use the popular epistolary form of the novel to allow their heroines to voice the pain and distress of a situation of unremitting dependency. The processes of modernization were beginning to bring their own solutions to women's subordination. The educationalist Madame de Genlis (Stéphanie-Félicité du Crest), much influenced by Rousseau, found a Europe-wide readership for her treatises, plays, and, especially, the novel Adèle et Théodore; ou, lettres sur l'éducation (1782; Adelaide and Theodore; or, Letters on Education), which offered enlightened and advanced educational programs for children and young women of all classes, based on the recognition that men engaged increasingly with duties, responsibilities, and work in the public sphere needed well-educated and skilled wives at home to manage their households and estates. The subordination of women to men was still a given in Genlis's philosophy, and it was a theme emphasized in the highly popular historical and political romances she would later write in exile, during the Revolution, and on her eventual return to Paris to become an ardent spokesperson for all old hierarchies in Napoleon's restored court.

      The preeminent name associated with the sensibility of the age is that of Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Rousseau, Jean-Jacques). His work gave rise to the cult of nature, lakes, mountains, and gardens, in contrast to what he presented as the false glitter of society. He called for a new way of life attentive above all to the innate sense of pity and benevolence he attributed to men, rather than dependent upon what he saw as the meretricious reason prized by his fellow philosophes; he espoused untutored simplicity and declared the true equality of all, based in the capacity for feeling that all men share; and he argued the importance of total sincerity and claimed to practice it in his confessional writings, which are seminal instances of modern autobiography. With these radical new claims for a different mode of feeling, one that would foster a revolutionary new politics, he stands as one of the greatest thinkers of his time, alongside, and generally in opposition to, Voltaire. He established the modern novel of sensibility with the resounding success of his Julie; ou, la nouvelle Héloïse (1761; Julie; or, The New Heloise), a novel about an impossible, doomed love between a young aristocrat and her tutor. He composed a classic work of educational theory with Émile; ou, de l'éducation (1762; Emile; or, On Education), whose hero is brought up away from corrupting society, in keeping with the principles of natural man. Emile learns to prefer feeling and spontaneity to theory and reason, and religious sensibility is an essential element of his makeup. This alone would separate Rousseau from Voltaire and Diderot, not to mention the materialist philosophers Claude-Adrien Helvétius (Helvétius, Claude-Adrien), Paul-Henri d'Holbach (Holbach, Paul-Henri Dietrich, baron d'), and Julien de La Mettrie (La Mettrie, Julien Offroy de), for whom the progress of the Enlightenment was judged by the emancipation of the age from superstition, fanaticism, and the authority of prejudice passing as faith.

      The sharp hostility toward contemporary society already evident in his Discours sur les sciences et les arts (1750; Discourse on the Sciences and Arts) is more profoundly elaborated in the Discours sur l'origine et les fondements de l'inégalité parmi les hommes (1755; “Discourse on the Origin and Foundations of Inequality among Men”; Eng. trans. Discourse on the Origin of Inequality). In the latter work he argues that social inequality has come about because men have allowed their God-given right of freedom to be usurped by the growth of competition, specialization and division of labour, and, most of all, by laws that consolidated the inequitable distribution of property. Further, he states that elegant, civilized society is a sham whose reality is endless posturing, hostility, injustice, enslavement, and alienation. The revolutionary implications of these beliefs are spelled out in the Contrat social (1762; The Social Contract), with its examination of the principle of sovereignty, its critique of the divine right of kings, and its formulation of a right of resistance. True liberty and equality can be established, according to Rousseau, only on the hypothesis of a people who have never yet been divided or corrupted by any form of government, through a social pact of all with all, willingly accepted, in which each individual agrees to submit to and defend the volonté générale (“general will”), which alone has sovereignty. This is the ground on which active citizens, and full humans, can be developed. But such self-denial would already require a moral transmutation requiring the prior existence of the higher reasoning and selflessness that it is meant to help create and foster. To break the vicious circle, Rousseau proposes to introduce into his nascent community a Lawgiver, who may use his authority, or the seductions of religion, to persuade people to accept the laws. At the origin of his newly contracted society of truth, sincerity, and respect for others' rights and freedoms, he must posit an authoritarian and manipulative principle. Commentators have differed widely in their readings of The Social Contract as either a liberal or a totalitarian document. Rousseau saw himself as unambiguously defending freedom from despotism; from 1789 to 1917, revolutionaries throughout the world took him as an icon.

      Rousseau's struggle toward a morality based on transparent honesty and on values authenticated not by any external authority but by his own conscience and feelings, is continued in the Confessions (written 1764–70; Eng. trans. Confessions). Here he suggests that self-knowledge is to be achieved by a growing familiarity with the unconscious, a recognition of the importance of childhood in shaping the adult, and an acceptance of the role of sexuality—an anticipation of modern psychoanalysis. This original exploration of the self, in its dreams, desires, fantasies, obsessions, and, ultimately, delusions, is developed further in the Rêveries du promeneur solitaire (written 1776–78; The Reveries of the Solitary Walker), which has been seen as foreshadowing even more strongly the Romantic Movement and the literature of introspection of the next century.

Laclos and others
      The later 18th-century novel, preoccupied with the understanding of the tensions and dangers of a society about to wake up to the Revolution of 1789 (French Revolution)—the Great Revolution to which the modern French state traces its origins—is dominated by the masterpiece of Pierre Choderlos de Laclos (Laclos, Pierre Choderlos de), Les Liaisons dangereuses (1782; Dangerous Acquaintances), and its stylish account of erotic psychology and its manipulations. The libertine Valmont and his accomplice and rival, Mme de Merteuil, plot the downfall of their victims in a Parisian society that illustrates Rousseau's strictures: natural human values have no place in a world of conformist expediency, cynicism, and vicious exploitation. Laclos's novel is, he claims, didactic, a moral satire of a dangerous, heartless world; yet he also admires the cold, vengeful intelligence that invents and directs that world's viciousness, which the highly crafted epistolary construction of the work, as well as its elegant, sharp-witted, and subtle language, brilliantly exemplify.

      By contrast, Jacques-Henri Bernardin de Saint-Pierre (Bernardin de Saint-Pierre, Jacques-Henri)'s utopian Paul et Virginie (1788; Paul and Virginia), a rich evocation of exotic nature in the tropical setting of Mauritius, often seems overly sentimental to modern tastes. Another, very different, follower of Rousseauist ideals, the verbose and prolific Nicolas-Edme Restif de la Bretonne (Restif, Nicolas-Edme), became the self-proclaimed chronicler and analyst of Parisian society, a representative young man of the generation that had gone from country to city in search of fresh fortune. In his philosophical treatises, novels, and short-story collections, he evoked vividly the manners and morals of men and especially women, in all their social ranks, from the bourgeois mistress of the house to the prostitutes in the street. Along with the work of Louis-Sébastien Mercier (Mercier, Louis-Sébastien), author of Le Tableau de Paris (1781–89; Panorama of Paris [selections]), his evocations of the life and movement of the burgeoning metropolis prepare the ground for Honoré de Balzac (Balzac, Honoré de)'s analyses of its human, social, and political dramas. A very different response to this time of radical change came from Donatien-Alphonse-François, comte de Sade, generally known as the Marquis de Sade (Sade, Marquis de), whose fascination with the connections of power, pain, and pleasure, between individuals and in society's larger structures, gave rise to the word sadism. In Sade's philosophy, where the essential operation of Nature is not procreation but destruction, murder is natural and morally acceptable. The true libertine must replace soft sentiment by an energy aspiring to the total freedom of individual desire. The language and thematics of Sade's fantasies owe much to the Enlightenment, of which his antisocial egoism is, however, only a perverted expression. But in works such as Justine; ou, les malheurs de la vertu (1791; Justine; or, The Misfortunes of Virtue) or the tale of Justine's sister, Juliette (1797; Eng. trans. Juliette), he made the reader aware as never before that the search for fulfillment in the enjoyment of cruelty forms part of the human psyche. The text he wrote in the Bastille, never published in his lifetime, Les 120 Journées de Sodome (written 1784–85, published 1904; The 120 Days of Sodom, and Other Writings), has, since the studies of the Surrealists (Surrealism) and Georges Bataille (Bataille, Georges), become a classic sourcebook for the study of the imaginative forms of the modern unconscious.

Haydn T. Mason Jennifer Birkett

From 1789 to the mid-19th century

Revolution and empire
      The French Revolution of 1789 provided no clean break with the complex literary culture of the Enlightenment. Many ways of thinking and feeling—whether based on reason, sentiment, or an exacerbated sensibility—and most literary forms persisted with little change from 1789 to 1815. Certainly, the Napoleonic regime encouraged a return to the Classical mode. The insistence on formal qualities, notions of good taste, rules, and appeals to authority implicitly underlined the regime's centralizing, authoritarian, and imperial aims. This classicism, or, strictly speaking, Neoclassicism, represented the etiolated survival of the high style and literary forms that had dominated “serious” literature—and drama in particular—in France for almost two centuries. But Rousseau's emphasis on subjectivity and sentiment still had its heirs, as did the new forms of writing he had helped to evolve. Likewise, while the Gothic violence that had emerged in early Revolutionary drama and novels was curbed, its dynamic remained. The seeds of French Romanticism had been sown in national ground, long before writers began to turn to other nations to kindle their inspiration.

The poetry of Chénier
      André Chénier (Chénier, André de) was executed during the last days of the Terror. His work first appeared in volume in 1819 and is thus associated with the first generation of French Romantic poets, who saw in him a symbol of persecuted genius. Although deeply imbued with the Classical spirit, especially that of Greece, Chénier exploited Classical myths for modern purposes. He began work on what he planned to be a great epic poem, “Hermès,” a history of the universe and human progress. The completed fragments reflect the Enlightenment spirit but also anticipate the episodic epic poems of the later Romantics. Chénier, though a moderate in revolutionary terms, was deeply committed in his politics. This is evident in the scathing fierceness of his lyrical satires, the Ïambes, many of which were written from prison shortly before his execution. His best-known poems, however, are elegies that sing of captivity, death, and dreams of youth and lost happiness.

      The intensity of political debate in Paris during the Revolution, whether in clubs, in the National Assembly, or before tribunals, threw into prominence the arts of oratory. Speaking in the name of reason, virtue, and liberty and using the Roman Republic or the city-states of Greece as a frame of reference, Revolutionary leaders such as Honoré-Gabriel Riqueti, comte de Mirabeau (Mirabeau, Honoré-Gabriel Riqueti, comte de), Jean-Paul Marat (Marat, Jean-Paul), Maximilien Robespierre (Robespierre, Maximilien de), and Louis de Saint-Just (Saint-Just, Louis de) infused the intellectual preoccupations of the Enlightenment with a sense of drama and passion. This renewal of rhetoric is echoed in the enormously expanded political press, including Marat's L'Ami du peuple (“The Friend of the People”), Jacques-René Hébert (Hébert, Jacques-René)'s Le Père Duchesne (“Old Duchesne”), and Gracchus Babeuf (Babeuf, François-Noël)'s Le Tribun du peuple (“The Defender of the People”). To some extent the proclamations and communiqués of Napoleon prolonged this Revolutionary eloquence.

      The French Revolution made an émigré of François-Auguste-René, vicomte de Chateaubriand (Chateaubriand, François-Auguste-René, vicomte de), and his first major work, the Essai sur les révolutions (1797; “Essay on Revolutions”; Eng. trans. An Historical, Political and Moral Essay on Revolutions, Ancient and Modern), is a complex and sometimes confused attempt to understand revolution in general, the French Revolution in particular, and the individual's relationship to these phenomena. Chateaubriand took as his model the stance of the 18th-century philosophe, but his Génie du christianisme (1802; The Genius of Christianity) caught a new mood of return to religious faith based on emotional appeals and proclaimed the aesthetic superiority of Christianity. The impact of this work was enormous, not least in its reinstatement of nature, and natural landscape, as the lodging place of spiritual repose and renewal. Within it were two short narratives, "Atala" (Eng. trans. Atala, also translated in Atala, René), a tale of fatal passion and savage (Indian) nobility, and "René" (Eng. trans. René). A young hero not dissimilar to Goethe's Werther, René, who flees pain and suffering in Europe to look vainly for refuge in the wilds of America, came to represent the mal du siècle (world-weariness, literally “sickness of the century”), the essence of Romantic sensibility; he is insecure, solitary, disorientated, and in flight, searching for a happiness that will always evade him.

      Behind all Chateaubriand's works lies the sense of a break, caused by the French Revolution, in a stable, ordered existence. His Mémoires d'outre-tombe (1848–50; “Memoirs from Beyond the Tomb”; Eng. trans. The Memoirs of Chateaubriand), the masterpiece he worked on most of his adult life and intended for posthumous publication, uses the autobiographical format to meditate on the history of France, the passing of time, and the vanity of human desires. His lyrical and rhythmic prose left a deep impression on many Romantic writers.

Mme de Staël and the debate on literature
      Mme de Staël (Staël, Germaine de) (Anne-Louise-Germaine Necker, baronne de Staël-Holstein) was truly encyclopaedic in her interests. Her contribution to intellectual debate far exceeded any narrow definition of literature. At first liberal and then, after her offer of support was rebuffed, fiercely anti-Napoleon in politics, eclectic in philosophy, mixing rationalism and spiritualism, and determinedly internationalist in her feeling for literature, she moved most easily in a world of ideas, surrounding herself with the salon of intellectuals she founded at Coppet, Switzerland. Her two novels, Delphine (1802; Delphine) and Corinne (1807; Corinne, or Italy), focus on the limits society tries to impose on the independent woman and the woman of genius. The account of Corinne's personal drama is combined with an examination of national identities in postrevolutionary Europe, offering original insights into how new alliances can be forged across old, hostile boundaries and what part artistic form and women's influence could play in making new communities. Her two most influential works, De la littérature (1800; The Influence of Literature upon Society) and De l'Allemagne (1810; Germany), expanded conceptions of literature with the claim that different social forms needed different literary modes: in particular, postrevolutionary society required a new literature. She explored the contrast, as she saw it, between the literature of the south (rational, Classical) and the literature of the north (emotional, Romantic), and she explored the potential interest for French culture of foreign writers such as William Shakespeare (Shakespeare, William), Ossian, and above all the German Romantics.

      Many of these ideas emerged from discussions with August Wilhelm von Schlegel (Schlegel, August Wilhelm von), whose work on the drama was widely translated, and from meetings with and readings of the Germans Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von) and Friedrich Schiller (Schiller, Friedrich von). The Genevan economist and writer Jean-Charles-Léonard Simonde de Sismondi (Sismondi, J.-C.-L. Simonde de) reinforced many of Mme de Staël's points in his De la littérature du midi de l'Europe (1813; Historical View of the Literature of the South of Europe). This cosmopolitan cultural relativism was infuriating to many of Staël's French contemporaries in the prevailing Neoclassical literary climate.

      In general, full-blown Romanticism in France developed later than in Germany or Britain, with a particular flavour that comes from the impact on French writers' sensibilities of revolutionary turmoil and the Napoleonic odyssey. Acutely conscious of being products of a very particular time and place, French writers wrote into their work their obsession with the burden of history and their subjection to time and change. The terms mal du siècle and enfant du siècle (literally “child of the century”) capture their distress. Alfred de Musset (Musset, Alfred de) took the latter phrase for his autobiography, La Confession d'un enfant du siècle (1836; The Confession of a Child of the Century). Most French Romantics, whether they adopted a liberal or conservative attitude or whether they tried to ignore the weight of history and politics, asserted that their century was sick. Romantics often retained the encyclopaedic ambitions of their predecessors, but faith in any simple notion of progress was shaken. Some distinction can be made between the generation of 1820, whose members wrote, often from an aristocratic viewpoint, about exhaustion, emptiness, loss, and ennui, and the generation of 1830, whose members spoke of dynamism—though often in the form of frustrated dynamism.

Foreign influences
      When the émigrés who had fled from the effects of the Revolution trickled back to France, they brought with them some of the cultural colouring acquired abroad (mainly in Britain and Germany), and this partially explains the paradox of aristocratic and politically conservative writers fostering new approaches to literature. Mme de Staël, as a liberal exile under Napoleon, was an exception. Travel had broadened intellectual horizons and had opened up the European cultural hegemony of France to other worlds and other sensibilities. From England the influence of Lord Byron (Byron, George Gordon Byron, 6th Baron)'s poetry and of the Byronic legend was particularly strong. Byron provided a model of poetic sensibility, cynicism, and despair, and his death in the Greek War of Independence reinforced the image of the noble and generous but doomed Romantic hero. Italy and Spain, too, exercised an influence, though, with the exception of Dante, it was not their literature that attracted so much as the models for violent emotion and exotic fantasy that these countries offered: French writing suffered a proliferation of gypsies, bandits, poisonings, and revenge tales.

Colin Smethurst Jennifer Birkett

The poetry of the Romantics
      The new climate was especially evident in poetry. The salon of Charles Nodier (Nodier, Charles) became one of the first of the literary groups known as the cénacles (cénacle) (“clubs”); later groups were to centre on Charles-Augustin de Sainte-Beuve (Sainte-Beuve, Charles-Augustin), who is remembered chiefly as a literary critic. The outstanding poets of the period were surrounded by a host of minor talents, and the way was opened for a variety of new voices, from the melancholic lyricism of Marceline Desbordes-Valmore (Desbordes-Valmore, Marceline), giving frustrated desire a distinctive feminine expression (and bringing politics into poetry, writing ardent socialist polemic), to the frenetic extravagance of Petrus Borel (Borel, Petrus). For a time, about 1830, there was a marked possibility that French Romantic poetry might veer toward radical politics and the socialism of utopian writers such as Henri de Saint-Simon (Saint-Simon, Henri de) rather than in the direction of l'art pour l'art, or art for art's sake. The popularity of the songs of Pierre-Jean de Béranger (Béranger, Pierre-Jean de) is a reminder of the existence of another strand, political and satiric, that is entwined with the intimate lyricism and aesthetic preoccupations of Romantic verse.

Robin Caron Buss Jennifer Birkett

      Alphonse de Lamartine (Lamartine, Alphonse de) made an enormous impact as a poet with his Méditations poétiques (1820; Poetical Meditations). Using a restricted Neoclassical vocabulary and remaining unadventurous in versification, he nevertheless succeeded in creating through the musicality of his verse and his vaporous landscapes a sense of great longings unfulfilled. This soft-centred elegiac tone is tempered by occasional deep despair and Byronic revolt. The Harmonies poétiques et religieuses (1830; “Poetic and Religious Harmonies”; Eng. trans. in A Biographical Sketch), with their religious emotion, reinforce the quest for serenity, which remains threatened by unease and disquiet. Jocelyn (1836; Eng. trans. Jocelyn) and La Chute d'un ange (1838; “The Fall of an Angel”) are intermittently successful attempts at epic. An undercurrent in Lamartine's poetry is the preoccupation with politics; during the 1848 revolution he took a leading role in the provisional government.

The early poetry of Hugo
      It was also in the 1820s that the powerful and versatile genius of Victor Hugo (Hugo, Victor) emerged. In his first poems he was a supporter of the monarchy and the church. Conservative Roman Catholic legitimism is a common strand in the poetic generation of 1820, and the debt to Chateaubriand's The Genius of Christianity is evident. These early poems lack the mellifluous quality of Lamartine's Poetical Meditations, but by the time of the Odes et ballades (1826) there are already hints of the Hugoesque mixture: intimate poetry, speaking of family relationships and problems of the ego, a prophetic and visionary tone, and an eagerness to explore a wide range of poetic techniques. Hugo called his Les Orientales (1829; “Eastern Poems”) a useless book of pure poetry. It can be linked with Théophile Gautier (Gautier, Théophile)'s l'art pour l'art movement, concentrating on the exotic and the visual, combined with verbal and formal inventiveness. Hugo published four further important collections in the 1830s, in which poetry of nature, love, and family life is interwoven with a solitary, hesitant, but never quite despairing exploration of poetic consciousness. The poetry moves from the personal to the visionary and the prophetic, prefiguring in the lyric mode the epic sweep of much of his later work.

      In contrast to Hugo's scope, the poetry of Alfred-Victor, comte de Vigny (Vigny, Alfred-Victor, comte de), was more limited and controlled. In common with Hugo and many other Romantic poets, however, he proposed the poet as prophet and seer. For Vigny the poet is essentially a dignified, moralizing philosopher, using the symbol less as a vehicle for emotion than as an intense expression of his thought. Broadly pessimistic in tone, emphasizing suffering and noble stoicism, his work focuses on figures of victimhood and sacrifice, with the poet-philosopher as quintessential victim. His Les Destinées (1864; “The Fates”), composed between 1838 and his death in 1863, exemplifies the high spiritual aspiration that represents one aspect of the Romantic ideal. The control and concentration of expression is in contrast to the verbal flood of much Romantic writing.

      The young, brilliantly gifted Alfred de Musset (Musset, Alfred de) quickly established his reputation with his Contes d'Espagne et d'Italie (1830; “Tales of Spain and Italy”). His exuberant sense of humour led him to use extravagant Romantic effects and at the same time treat them ironically. Later, a trajectory from dandyism through debauchery to a sense of emptiness and futility, sustained only intermittently by the linking of suffering with love, resulted in a radical dislocation of the sense of self. The Nuits (“Nights”) poems ( "La Nuit de mai," "La Nuit de décembre," "La Nuit d'août," "La Nuit d'octobre," 1835–37) express the purifying power of suffering in verse of sustained sincerity, purged of all the early showiness.

      For a long while Gérard de Nerval (Nerval, Gérard de) was seen as the translator of German literature (notably Goethe's Faust) and as a charming minor Romantic. Later critics have seen as his real contribution to poetry the 12 sonnets of Les Chimères (The Chimeras), composed between about 1844 and 1854, and the prose poems added to the spiritual odyssey Aurélia (1853–54; Eng. trans. Aurelia). The dense symbolic allusiveness of these latter works is the poetic transcription of an anguished, mystical quest that draws on the most diverse religious myths and all manner of literary, historical, occult, and esoteric knowledge. They represent one of the peaks of achievement of that side of the Romantic Movement that sought in the mystical a key to the spiritual reintegration of the divided postrevolutionary self. His formal experiments with the prose poem and his use of symbol link up with the poetry of Charles Baudelaire (Baudelaire, Charles) and Stéphane Mallarmé (Mallarmé, Stéphane).

Romantic theatre
      Some critics have been tempted to call Romantic theatre in France a failure. Few plays from that time remain in the active repertory, though the theatre was perceived throughout the period to be the dominant literary form. Quarrels about the theatre, often physically engaging audiences, provided some of the most celebrated battles of Romanticism against Classicism.

      The first performance of Victor Hugo's Hernani (1830; Eng. trans. Hernani) was one such battle, and Romanticism won an important symbolic victory. Hernani followed Stendhal's call in the pamphlets Racine et Shakespeare (1823, 1825) for theatre that would appeal to a contemporary public and Hugo's own major theoretical statement, in the preface to his play Cromwell (1827; Eng. trans. Cromwell). In the preface, Hugo called for a drama of action—which he saw as appropriate to modern man, the battleground of matter and spirit—that could transcend Classical categories and mix the sublime and the grotesque. Hernani also benefited from the production in Paris of several Shakespearean and historical dramas—in particular, a sustained and triumphal season in 1827 by an English troupe playing Shakespeare.

      Hernani drew on popular melodrama for its effects, exploited the historical and geographic local colour of an imagined 16th-century Spain, and had a tragic hero with whom young Romantics eagerly identified. These elements are fused in Hugo's lyric poetry to produce a dramatic spectacle close to that of Romantic opera. Ruy Blas (1838; Eng. trans. Ruy Blas), in a similar vein, mixes poetry, comedy, and tragedy with strong antithetical effects to provide the mingling of dramatic genres that the preface to Cromwell had declared the essence of Romantic drama. The failure of Hugo's Les Burgraves (1843; “The Commanders”), an overinflated epic melodrama, is commonly seen as the beginning of the end of Romantic theatre.

      Whereas Hugo's verse dramas tended to the lyrical and the spectacular, Vigny's most famous play, Chatterton (1835; Eng. trans. Chatterton), in its concentrated simplicity, has many analogies with Classical theatre. It is, however, a bourgeois drama of the sort called for by Diderot, focusing on the suicide of the young poet Thomas Chatterton (Chatterton, Thomas) as a symbolic figure of poetic idealism misunderstood and rejected by a materialistic society—a typical Romantic estrangement.

      Alfred de Musset did not have public performance primarily in mind when writing most of his plays, and yet, ironically, he is the one playwright of this period whose works have continued to be regularly performed. In the 1830s he wrote a series of short comedies and proverbes—almost charades—in which lighthearted fantasy and the delicate hesitations of young love, rather in the manner of Marivaux (Marivaux, Pierre), are contrasted with ironic pieces expressing underlying disillusionment. The larger-scale Lorenzaccio (1834; Eng. trans. Lorenzaccio) is the one indisputable masterpiece of Romantic theatre. A drama set in Renaissance Florence but with clear links to the disillusionment of post-1830 France is combined with a brilliant psychological study of a once pure but now debauched hero almost paralyzed by doubt. The world of wasted youth and lost illusions and the powerlessness of men to overthrow corruption are evoked in a prose that at times resembles lyric poetry. The showy historical colour and the bluster typical of Romantic melodrama are replaced here by a real feeling for the movement of individuals and crowds of which real history is made and a deep sense of tragic poetry that stand comparison with Shakespeare.

The novel from Constant to Balzac
      The novel was the most rapidly developing literary form in postrevolutionary France, its enormous range allowing authors great flexibility in examining the changing relationships of the individual to society. The Romantic undergrowth encouraged the flourishing of such subspecies as the Gothic novel and the terrifying or the fantastic tale—the latter influenced in many cases by the translation from German of the works of E.T.A. Hoffmann (Hoffmann, E.T.A.)—works that, when they are not simply ridiculous, seem to be straining to provide a fictional equivalent for the subconscious or an intuition of the mystical.

      Benjamin Constant (Constant, Benjamin)'s Adolphe (1816; Eng. trans. Adolphe), presented as a fictional autobiography, belongs to an important strand in the tradition of the French novel—namely, the novel of concentrated psychological analysis of an individual—which runs from the 17th century to the present day. In that tradition, Adolphe has about it a Classical intensity and simplicity of line. However, in its moral ambiguity, the hesitations of the hero and his confessions of weakness, lies its modernity, responding to the contemporary sense of moral sickness. In spite of the difference of style, there is a clear link with the themes of Chateaubriand's René and Étienne Pivert de Senancour (Senancour, Étienne Pivert de)'s Oberman (1804; Eng. trans. Obermann).

      The acute consciousness of a changed world after the Revolution and hence of difference between historical periods led novelists to a new interest in re-creating the specificity of the past or, more accurately, reconstituting it in the light of their own present preoccupations, with a distinct preference for the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Until about 1820 the Middle Ages had generally been regarded as a period of barbarism between Classical antiquity and the neoclassical 17th and 18th centuries. Chateaubriand's lyrical evocation of Gothic ruins—the relics of the age of religious faith—and young royalist writers' attraction to a certain vision of feudalism provided a different evaluation of the period. The vogue for historical novels was at its strongest in the 1820s and was given impetus by the immense influence of the French translations of Sir Walter Scott (Scott, Sir Walter, 1st Baronet) (though Madame de Genlis claimed strenuously that her own historical novels had established the vogue long before). The best example of the picturesque historical novel is Hugo's Notre-Dame de Paris (1831; The Hunchback of Notre Dame). In it Hugo re-created an atmosphere of vivid, colourful, and intense 15th-century life, associating with it a plea for the preservation of Gothic architecture as the bearer, before the coming of the book, of the cultural heritage and sensibilities of the nation.

      A deeper reading of Scott's novels is implicit in some of Honoré de Balzac (Balzac, Honoré de)'s works. Balzac's writing not only evoked the surface or the atmosphere of a precise period but also examined the processes of historical, social, and political transformation. Scott's studies of the aftereffects of the Jacobite rising can be paralleled by Balzac's analysis of the Breton counterrevolution in Les Chouans (1829; “The Screech Owls,” a name given to any of a number of bands of peasants [see Chouan]). The historical novel ultimately became the staple of the popular novel, as in Les Trois Mousquetaires (1844; The Three Musketeers) by Alexandre Dumas (Dumas, Alexandre, père) père.

      The works of Stendhal (Henri Beyle), deeply concerned with the nature of individuality, the claims of the self, and the search for happiness, represent an effort to define an aesthetic for prose fiction and to establish a distinctive, personal voice. His autobiographical sketches, such as his Vie de Henri Brulard (The Life of Henry Brulard) and Souvenirs d'égotisme (published posthumously in 1890 and 1892, respectively; Memoirs of Egotism), give a fascinating insight into a highly critical intelligence trying to organize his experience into a rational philosophy while remaining aware that the claims of emotion will often undermine whatever system he creates. In many ways Stendhal is an 18th-century rationalist with a 19th-century sensibility.

      He came to the novel form relatively late in life. Le Rouge et le noir (1830; The Red and the Black) and La Chartreuse de Parme (1839; The Charterhouse of Parma) are his finest works. Both present a young would-be Napoleonic hero grappling with the decidedly nonheroic social and political environment inherited by the post-Napoleonic generation. The Red and the Black, a masterpiece of ironic realism both in its characterization and its language, focuses on France in the late 1820s. The Charterhouse of Parma, both love story and political satire, situated in Stendhal's beloved Italy (where he lived for much of his adult life), often reflects a vision of the Italy of the Renaissance as much as that of the 19th century. His work had a quicksilver style, capable of embracing in rapid succession different emotions, ideas, and points of view and creating a sense of immediacy and spontaneity. He had a genius for precise and witty understatement, combined with an ironic vision that was simultaneously cynical and tender. All these qualities, along with his capacity for placing his floundering, aspiring heroes, with a few brushstrokes, in a multilayered evocation of the world in which they must struggle to survive, make of him one of the most individual, humane, and perpetually contemporary of novelists.

      George Sand (Sand, George) (Amandine-Aurore-Lucile Dudevant) was a dominant figure in the literary life of the 19th century, and her work, much-published and much-serialized throughout Europe, was of major importance in the spread of feminist consciousness. For a long while after her death, her literary reputation rested on works such as La Mare au diable (1846; The Enchanted Lake) and La Petite Fadette (1849; Little Fadette), sentimental stories of country life tinged with realistic elements, of little artistic value. More interesting are the works modeling the subordinate position of women in the 19th-century family, such as Indiana (1832; Eng. trans. Indiana), in which a wife struggles for independence, or novels creating new images of heroic femininity, such as Lélia (1833 and 1839; Eng. trans. Lelia), whose heroine, beautiful, powerful, and tormented, founds a community to educate a new generation of independent women. Sand's novel Mauprat (1837; Eng. trans. Mauprat) is immensely readable, with its lyrical alliance of woman, peasant, and reformed aristocracy effecting a bloodless transformation of the world by love. From the later 1830s, influenced by the socialists Félicité de Lamennais, the former abbé, and Pierre Leroux, she developed an interest in humanitarian socialism, an idealism tinged with mysticism, reflected in works such as Spiridion (1839), Le Compagnon du tour de France (1840; The Journeyman Joiner; or, The Companion of the Tour of France), and Consuelo (1842; Eng. trans. Consuelo). She is an excellent example of the sentimental socialists involved in the Revolution of 1848—her record rather marred by her reluctance to associate herself closely with the rising groups of women engaged in their own struggle for civil and political rights. A different perspective on contemporary feminism emerges in the vigorous and outspoken travel writings and journal of the socialist and feminist activist Flora Tristan, notable for Promenades dans Londres (1840; The London Journal of Flora Tristan) and Le Tour de France: journal inédit (written 1844, published 1973; “The Tour of France: Unpublished Journal”).

Nodier, Mérimée, and the conte
      Charles Nodier (Nodier, Charles) and Prosper Mérimée (Mérimée, Prosper) both exploited the short story and the novella. Nodier specialized in the conte fantastique (“fantastic tale”) to explore dream worlds or various forms of madness, as in La Fée aux miettes (1832; “The Crumb Fairy”), suggesting the importance of the role of the unconscious in human beliefs and conduct. Mérimée also used inexplicable phenomena, as in La Vénus d'Ille (1837; “The Venus of Ille”), to hint at repressed aspects of the psyche or the irrational power of passion. More commonly, combining a Classical analytic style with Romantic themes, he directed a cool, ironic look at violent emotions. Short stories such as Mateo Falcone (1829) and Carmen (1845; Eng. trans. Carmen) are peaks of this art.

      Honoré de Balzac (Balzac, Honoré de) is best known for his Comédie humaine (“The Human Comedy”), the general title of a vast series of more than 90 novels and short stories published between 1829 and 1847. In these works he concentrated mainly on an examination of French society from the Revolution of 1789 to the eve of the Revolution of 1848, organically linking realistic observation and visionary intuition while at the same time seeking to analyze the underlying principles of this new world. He ranged back and forth, often within the same novel, from the philosophical to the social, the economic, and the legal; from Paris to the provinces; and from the summit of society to the petite bourgeoisie, studying the destructive power of what he called thought or passion or vital energy. By using techniques such as the recurrence of characters in several novels, Balzac gave a temporal density and dynamism to his works. The frustrated ambitions of his young heroes (Rastignac in Le Père Goriot [1835; Old Goriot]; Lucien de Rubempré, failed writer turned journalist, in Illusions perdues [1837–43; Lost Illusions]) and the subjection of women, particularly in marriage, are used as eloquent markers of the moral impasse into which bourgeois liberalism led the French Revolution. Most presciently, he emphasized the paradox of money—its dissolving power and its dynamic force—and of the every-man-for-himself individualism unleashed by the Revolution, at once condemning and celebrating the raw energies of a nascent capitalism. Vautrin, the master-criminal whose disguises carry him across the frontiers of Europe, and Madame de Beauséant, the doyenne of old aristocracy, are the two faces of the powers that dominate this world, gatekeepers of the two futures offered to its young inheritors.

19th-century thought
literary criticism and journalism
      The passionate, even virulent, political journalism of the Revolutionary period soon slowed to a trickle under Napoleon. Literary debate interwoven with political considerations was renewed after 1815, and a shifting spectrum of royalist Romantics and Neoclassical liberals moved toward a liberal-Romantic consensus about 1830. The young critic Charles-Augustin Sainte-Beuve (Sainte-Beuve, Charles-Augustin), himself the author of poems, was an advocate of Romanticism about 1830, but he progressively detached himself from it as he elaborated his biographical critical method. Criticism in the major literary reviews tended to be from a modified Neoclassical viewpoint throughout the 1830s and even the 1840s, the Romantics replying in inflammatory prefaces attached to their own works. The surge in newspaper circulation after 1836 tended to create a more “popular” market for serialized novels with strong melodramatic effects, as in Eugène Sue (Sue, Eugène)'s Mystères de Paris (1842–43; The Mysteries of Paris).

Historical writing
      Early 19th-century historians were committed to historical erudition, but their works often seem closer to the world of literature. Augustin Thierry (Thierry, Augustin)'s narratives present the histories of England and France in terms of ethnicity (Normans against Saxons and Franks against Gallo-Romans). This is essentially a poetic concept close to that of Sir Walter Scott (Scott, Sir Walter, 1st Baronet)'s Ivanhoe. Similarly, the early volumes of Jules Michelet (Michelet, Jules)'s great history of France (1833–44) are constructed in terms of a poetic idea of intuitive sympathy with the subject, one that would make it possible to resurrect the essence of a past period as encapsulated in the symbolic figures of the historian's imagination. Alexis de Tocqueville (Tocqueville, Alexis de) represents a turning away from Romantic historiography in his great analytic studies of social principles in De la démocratie en Amérique (1835–40; Democracy in America) and L'Ancien Régime et la Révolution (1856; The Old Regime and the Revolution).

The intellectual climate before 1848
      The counterrevolutionary era of the early 19th century saw a renewal of interest in religion, ranging from the sentimental religiosity of Chateaubriand to the traditionalist and antidemocratic theology of Louis-Gabriel-Ambroise, vicomte de Bonald (Bonald, Louis-Gabriel-Ambroise, vicomte de), and Joseph de Maistre (Maistre, Joseph de), but 18th-century sensualism continued and was developed by the Idéologues (Ideology). Claude-Henri de Rouvroy, comte de Saint-Simon (Saint-Simon, Henri de), and his followers tried to evolve a synthesis, which proved unstable, between socialistic scientific analysis, particularly of economics, and Christian belief. Félicité de Lamennais (Lamennais, Félicité), a Roman Catholic priest, moved toward a Christian socialism that ultimately estranged him from the church. The whole first half of the century is marked by attempts to reconcile religious faith, and the hierarchies it supported, with the legacy of the Enlightenment that increasingly governed society and its structures: rationalist thought and the principles of democracy.

      After the failure of what was seen as the vague idealism of the 1848 revolution (1848, Revolutions of), a consciously scientific spirit, directed toward observed fact, came to dominate the study of social and intellectual life. Auguste Comte (Comte, Auguste)'s Cours de philosophie positive (1830–42; The Positive Philosophy of Auguste Comte) fathered this new school of thought, called Positivism, which became almost a new religion. Ernest Renan (Renan, Ernest) adapted this scientific approach to the study of religion itself, most notably in his Vie de Jésus (1863; Life of Jesus), which placed Jesus in historical, not theological, perspective. Hippolyte Taine (Taine, Hippolyte)'s continuation of positivist analysis, which emphasized the importance of biological science, produced a form of biological determinism to explain human conduct. His explanation of how writers are made, by the triple force of “race,” “milieu,” and “moment,” had a crucial impact on, for example, the Naturalist literary theories of Émile Zola (Zola, Émile).

Colin Smethurst Jennifer Birkett

From 1850 to 1900
      Literature in the second half of the 19th century continued a natural expansion of trends already established in the first half. Intellectuals and artists remained acutely aware of the same essential problems. They continued to use the language of universalism, addressing themselves to the nature of man, his relationship with the universe, the guarantees of morality, the pursuit of beauty, and the duties of the artist. But the insights gained since the middle of the Enlightenment into the importance of historical and social specificity—which was, for the most idealistic of the Romantics, the mark of modernity—continued to restructure underlying attitudes.

      As writers became progressively alienated from the official culture of the Second Empire (1852–70), the forms of their revolt became more and more disparate. While the principles of positivism were easily assimilated to the materialist pragmatism of developing capitalist society, even many rationalist thinkers were drawn to forms of idealism that placed faith in progress through science. The antirationalist and antiutilitarian writers diverged into various types of mysticism and aesthetic formalism. Even before the watershed of the Commune, in 1871, there was writing that acknowledged the situation of the repressed elements of the entrepreneurial world, workers and women, and sought to represent their search for different forms of social organization. By 1891, when the Vatican issued the encyclical Rerum Novarum (“New Things”) on the need for social justice in a modern world, the voice of the masses was already beginning to find literary expression.

New directions in poetry
      The greatest changes occurred in poetry; the second half of the 19th century is often treated as a period of reaction against Romanticism. The important exception to this rule is Victor Hugo (Hugo, Victor), nearly all of whose major poetry was published after 1850. The three collections Les Châtiments (1853; “Chastisements”), Les Contemplations (1856; “Contemplations”), and La Légende des siècles (1859, 1877, 1883; “The Legend of the Centuries”) are linked by their epic quality. Different as they are in content, intention, and tone, each is loosely structured to create an overall unity. Les Châtiments, written from exile in the Channel Islands and published clandestinely, is a hymn of hate against the mediocrity, callousness, and greed of Louis-Napoléon ( Napoleon III) and the society of the Second Empire, a deluge of brilliantly comic and cutting satire, caricature, and irony, interspersed with outbursts of compassion for the poor and oppressed. The poems are arranged so as to emphasize the darkness of the present and the light of the future, as Hugo proclaims his optimistic belief in the eventual triumph of peace, liberty, and social justice. In contrast to this political saga, Les Contemplations embodies Hugo's philosophical attitudes. It presents the poet as prophet and representative of humanity, penetrating the mysteries of creation and recounting the metaphysical truths perceived. La Légende des siècles reveals the same urge to prophesy. The poems are a series of historical and mythological narratives, borrowing some of the scientific spirit that informed Charles-Marie-René Leconte de Lisle (Leconte de Lisle, Charles-Marie-René)'s work but with none of the same attention to preliminary scholarly research. Together they form not only an intensely personal and imaginative account of the origins and development of French culture and society but a key text for students of the representation of the European cultural tradition. After the three epic cycles, Hugo returned to writing short lyrics on personal themes, although he never abandoned his role as didactic poet, as the collections he churned out in the 1880s testify.

Gautier (Gautier, Théophile) and l'art pour l'art (art for art's sake)
      Hugo apart, the movement to new perspectives on poetry—stressing form over social engagement—was incontrovertible. Turning his back on his own earlier attempts to treat grand themes in the grand manner, Théophile Gautier (Gautier, Théophile) sought a new direction for lyric poetry by linking idealism with aesthetics. He thus became an advocate of l'art pour l'art, or “art for art's sake”—a belief that art need serve no extrinsic purpose. From the first edition of Émaux et camées (1852; “Enamels and Cameos”) to the posthumously published Derniers vers (1872; “Last Verse”), he devoted himself to a form of literary miniature painting, attempting to make something aesthetically valid out of subjects for the most part deliberately chosen for their triviality. The fashion for linking poetry with the plastic arts had grown up during the 1840s. Gautier simply developed the implications of this trend to the ultimate, concentrating on the language of shape, colour, and texture and limiting form almost exclusively to the very restrictive octosyllabic quatrain. Even themes that in his prose fiction suggest a genuine spiritual unrest, such as the fluid nature of identity or the destructive power of love, become the occasion for virtuoso ornamental elaboration. The best of these poems are transpositions from one art form to another, particularly those based on music.

      Gautier's cult of form is also to be met in the work of Théodore de Banville (Banville, Théodore de). But the reaction against the expression of personal emotion in rambling rhetorical verse was not confined to the formalism of the l'art pour l'art poets. Charles-Marie-René Leconte de Lisle, who came to be labeled the founder of Parnassianism (Parnassian), took a different approach in his Poèmes antiques (1852; “Antique Poems”), Poèmes barbares (1862; “Barbarous Poems”), and Poèmes tragiques (1884; “Tragic Poems”). Although his theoretical pronouncements on the supremacy of beauty suggest affinities with Gautier, Leconte de Lisle was far from believing that the subject matter of poetry was of no significance. He wanted his poetry to transmute knowledge into a higher form of truth, and he believed in the necessity of systematic research before composition. The highly material surface of his poems is used to disguise a profound nihilism. For Leconte de Lisle the history of mankind presents a long, slow decline from the golden age of antiquity, leading inevitably toward the cosmic annihilation that post-Darwinian biologists saw as the natural end of evolution. The stories recounted from European and Eastern mythology and the portraits of exotic animals and landscapes, though superficially scientific in their blending of scholarly documentation and objective narrative manner, all distill the same sense of revolt against a destiny that binds mankind to expiate crimes it is fated to commit. Leconte de Lisle's manner and matter were taken up with enthusiasm by younger contemporaries. But only Les Trophées (The Trophies), the exquisitely miniaturist sonnets of José Maria de Heredia (Heredia, José Maria de), written over a quarter of a century but not published until 1893, are still read.

      Gautier, Hugo, and Leconte de Lisle were the three contemporary French poets for whom Charles Baudelaire (Baudelaire, Charles) felt the greatest admiration, although he had no time for formalism, didacticism, or the cult of antiquity. Antithetical in all things, Baudelaire was torn both by the desire to express an urgent sense of personal and collective anguish (the dedicatory poem opening Les Fleurs du mal [The Flowers of Evil] famously addresses the “hypocrite lecteur—mon semblable—mon frère” [“hypocrite reader—my likeness—my brother”]) and an aesthetic conviction that the effectiveness of art depends on precision and control. It is as misguided to look for consistency in Baudelaire's critical works (such as L'Art romantique and Curiosités esthétiques, both published posthumously in 1868) as it is in his poetry, since his ideas evolved constantly and in some cases radically throughout his most creative period (1845–64). To two basic ideas, however, he remained constant: that it is the responsibility of the artist, the representative of humanity, to create meaning—signifying symbols—out of the raw material of life; and that the material world, like the artist himself, is irredeemably corrupt, possessed by forces of inertia or dissolution. The first of these explains the importance that he assigns to intuition, imagination, synesthesia, and the thrilling necessity for the artist to plunge himself into the world about him. The second led him to a poetics of frustration and revolt: the artist could rise above material corruption only through the creative act, but the creative act could not occur without the stimulus of a reality that would always be recalcitrant. Whether the Catholic images and doctrines—the language of his age and class—in which he formulated his poems are to be taken literally or whether they are best viewed as the discourse he chose to grapple with in formulating the material and historical specificities of modern life, Baudelaire was a poet deeply concerned with the relationship between humanity, morality, and art. He located morality for the artist (pictured, as in Hugo, as the prophet and representative of his generation) in his effort to see and communicate to his contemporaries the truth about themselves. The artist must bring clarity of vision into a world he saw as given over to the fogs and miasmas of hypocrisy, fudging, slothful conformism, and vicious self-seeking. He was genuinely distressed by the official condemnation of the first edition of Les Fleurs du mal (1857) on a charge of obscenity provoked by its supposed erotic realism.

      The tensions within Baudelaire are depicted at their height in the second edition of Les Fleurs du mal (1861). The collection is loosely structured to present a “self” who struggles to transcend the limitations of the material world. The struggle is presented in a series of experiences that start with the poet himself, move out into the ugly—and yet, he finds, thrilling—urban environment of contemporary Paris, and gradually uncover the black depths of deformation and decay within the men and women who inhabit this modern landscape of masses and markets. In the last analysis, at the end of the poetic journey, death stands revealed as the matter and the form of the whole social and poetic endeavour, and the final thrill is the sadomasochistic tearing of the veil on his own and society's bankruptcy. The stylistic antitheses mirror the content. Within individual poems Baudelaire shifts between the rhetorical, the impressionist, the abstract, and the intensely physical, concrete instance. He balances banality and originality, the prosaic and the melodic, to emphasize the interdependence of opposites, the chaos of forms and experience that he sees as the ground of the human condition.

      In the last years of his life, Baudelaire tried to extend the literary means at his disposal by experimenting with prose poetry. The range of themes in the posthumously edited Petits Poèmes en prose (1868; “Short Poems in Prose”) is similar to that of Les Fleurs du mal, though the balance is different: urban landscapes, the ambivalent relationship of artist and crowd, and the degradations of urban poverty are given more space than is love. The relative freedom of the prose form gave scope for the shifts of tone and the innovative turns of syntax that, in Walter Benjamin (Benjamin, Walter)'s insight, enabled Baudelaire to write for himself and his contemporaries their appropriate image, the man of the urban crowd: the juxtaposition of the ironic and the lyrical, the interweaving of anecdote, narrative, and reflection, the imaginative shock of the unexpected vision, the rhythms of pleasure and terror caught in the movement and turn of the phrase (in Benjamin's essay "On Some Motifs in Baudelaire," 1939).

realism in the novel
Diversity among the Realists
      The label Realism came to be applied to literature by way of painting as a result of the controversy surrounding the work of Gustave Courbet (Courbet, Gustave) in the early 1850s. Courbet's realism consisted in the emotionally neutral presentation of a slice of life chosen for its ordinariness rather than for any intrinsic beauty. Literary realism, however, was a much less easily definable concept. Hence the loose use of the term in the late 1850s, when it was applied to works as various as Gustave Flaubert (Flaubert, Gustave)'s Madame Bovary (1857), Baudelaire's Les Fleurs du mal, and the social dramas of Alexandre Dumas (Dumas, Alexandre, fils) fils. Even the members of the so-called Realist school were not entirely in agreement. Edmond Duranty, cofounder of the monthly journal Réalisme (1856), supported the view that novels should be written in a plain style about the ordinary lives of middle- or working-class people, but he insisted that the Realists' main aim should be to serve a social purpose. Jules-François-Félix Husson (known as Champfleury), an art critic and novelist, stressed the need for careful research and documentation and rejected any element of didactic intention. The practice of those labeled Realists was even more diverse than their theory. The writers who most fully realized Champfleury's ideal of a documentary presentation of the day-to-day, Edmond and Jules Goncourt (Goncourt, Edmond and Jules), were also the most concerned with that aesthetic perfection of style that Duranty and Champfleury rejected in practice as well as in principle. In the Goncourts' six jointly written novels that appeared in the 1860s, and in four further novels written by Edmond Goncourt after his brother's death, plot is reduced to a minimum and the interest of the novel is divided equally between stylistic bravura and the minutely documented portrayal of a milieu or a psychological state—the upbringing of a middle-class girl in Renée Mauperin (1864; Eng. trans. Renée Mauperin) or the degenerating lifestyle of a female servant in Germinie Lacerteux (1864; Eng. trans. Germinie Lacerteux).

      It is easy to see why Gustave Flaubert was so firm in dissociating himself from such writers as Champfleury and Duranty, given that his own work undermined all sense of stability in perceptions and values by emphasizing the idea that any version of reality is relative to the person who perceives it. Furthermore, Flaubert rejected the idea that there was any merit in attempting to transpose a “slice of life” onto the page in “everyday language.” For him, only art could give meaning to the raw material provided by the external world; only through its reworking by the artist could language be lifted above the utilitarian emptiness of everyday use and forced to inscribe objectively the perceptions of the author, and characters, that create a world.

      Flaubert's juvenilia show the writer's struggle to control his own instinctive idealism and to find a way of reconciling his belief in the primacy of facts with his rejection of the pettiness of contemporary materialism. His fascination with escapism and Romantic excess was to reappear in Salammbô (1863; Eng. trans. Salammbo) and La Tentation de Saint-Antoine (1874; The Temptation of Saint Anthony), in which he portrays exotic subjects in a heightened lyrical fashion. However, his major novels—Madame Bovary (1857; Eng. trans. Madame Bovary) and L'Éducation sentimentale (1869; Sentimental Education)—fuse his poetic gifts with discourses closer to everyday experience to evoke the thoughts and feelings of trivial lives frittered away in hopeless attempts to transcend the banality of the modern world. Emma Bovary, trapped in the unrelieved dullness of provincial landscape and domesticity, destroys herself by attempting to base her life on the ideas of passion and happiness she has gathered from popular romance. In her efforts to make the world around her fit her preconceived images, Emma—at best a dreamer, at worst a social climber—is an easy victim for the exploitative men who come her way, and she is inexorably drawn onward to financial ruin and, eventually, suicide. Emma's own mediocrity is part and parcel of the provincial society in which she lives, and her illusory view is paralleled by the various illusions entertained by all the major characters. Most of these, however, being men, have more scope to pursue their dreams, or else they are happy to confine desire within the limits of bourgeois values and convention—as, for example, the apothecary Homais, the master of the idées reçues (“received ideas”) that Flaubert so loathed (and would later satirize in his unfinished novel, Bouvard et Pécuchet [published posthumously in 1881; Eng. trans. Bouvard and Pécuchet]). Sentimental Education extends the study to cover the entire “generation of 1848,” showing how all emotional, artistic, and social ideals are corroded by contact with reality. Its central character, Frédéric Moreau, is a passive version of Emma, and the ruling motif is one of prostitution—the sale of love, talent, and principle.

      The key to both Madame Bovary and Sentimental Education is the brilliance of a style that manages to mold its contours to the personality, ambitions, and limits of each character it evokes. Syntactic rhythms and images are drawn from each character's own experience and point of perception, as well as from the common stock of discourses to which their historical situation gives them access. Over the whole, Flaubert casts his own authorial presence, unobtrusive but visible, drily ironic, and sharply analytic. His Trois contes (1877; Three Tales) is a stylistic tour de force, evoking the possibilities and limits of three lives, each lived at a distinct and significant moment of historical transition, and telling the tale of each life in the language, artistic forms, and perspectives each moment offers.

      The society of the Second Empire, and indeed that of the early decades of the Third Republic, did not like to see itself too accurately portrayed on the stage; yet at the same time, in reaction against the escapism and nonconformity of Romantic drama, its members wanted the stage to reflect contemporary values and preoccupations. Hence the predominance from 1850 to 1890 of social drama on the one hand and light comedy, farce, and operetta on the other. Social drama, denied the use of political issues by censorship, confined itself to the tension between new money and old social position, the morality of financial speculation, and the threat to family life posed by extramarital sexual relationships—all themes touched upon previously in light comedy (in, for example, the plays of Eugène Scribe (Scribe, Eugène)). The settings and character types were related to the audience's milieu; hence the plays were considered to be realistic at the time, although their sentimentality, black-and-white morality, and melodramatic turns of plot make them seem highly artificial in modern terms. The major writers of social drama were Dumas (Dumas, Alexandre, fils) fils and Émile Augier (Augier, Émile). Dumas fils is best remembered for his romanticization of the courtesan in La Dame aux camélias (1848; The Lady with the Camellias), the novel and play on which the libretto of Giuseppe Verdi's La Traviata was based, but the moralizing Les Idées de Mme Aubray (1867), with its plea for the social redemption of repentant fallen women, is more typical of his major works. Augier's morality was more solidly conservative than was Dumas's, as can be seen from one of his best-known plays, Le Mariage d'Olympe (1855; “The Marriage of Olympia”), which proposes that what makes a woman into a prostitute in the first place is an innate propensity to vice. On the other hand, Augier's treatment of the venality of the press and the corruption of financiers in Les Effrontés (1861; “The Shameless Ones”) is as trenchant as comparable portraits in the Naturalist novelists.

      Light comedy and farce similarly relied upon a thin layer of contemporary social relevance, with marriage, the ménage à trois, and the pretensions of the lower middle class as the main subjects. In farce in particular, social criticism passed from being an end to a means, and the return to sanity at the end of the plays confirmed the audience's assumption that the world would ultimately always conform to expected and accepted standards. The classic examples of the genre are the plays of Eugène-Marin Labiche (Labiche, Eugène-Marin), notably Un Chapeau de paille d'Italie (1851; The Italian Straw Hat).

      When their taste ventured into something more literary, Second Empire audiences were obliged to look to the fantastical comedies of Alfred de Musset, written 30 years earlier but not staged until the 1850s and '60s. In light comedy proper and costume drama, the leading figure of the age was George Bernard Shaw (Shaw, George Bernard)'s bugbear, Victorien Sardou (Sardou, Victorien). But the most successful genre of all was undoubtedly operetta, especially the absurd comedies of the collaborators Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy (Halévy, Ludovic), whose work was set to music by Jacques Offenbach (Offenbach, Jacques). La Belle Hélène (1864; Fair Helen), in which a frivolous pastiche of Classical legend is spiced by an acute satire on the manners, morals, and values of the court of Napoleon III, was the nearest thing to political satire that the French stage could boast for 20 years.

      The Franco-German War and the consequent collapse of the empire had little perceptible effect on mainline theatre, though Offenbach lost favour because of his German associations. Attempts by other writers (Flaubert, the Goncourts, Zola) to establish a more genuinely realistic form of theatre failed, partly because public taste and theatrical commercialism made experiment nearly impossible and partly because the plays written were theatrically incompetent. The only effective Naturalist dramatist was Henry-François Becque (Becque, Henry-François).

      That Becque owed his success to André Antoine (Antoine, André), the founder and director of the Théâtre Libre (1887–96), is symptomatic of the way in which literary theatre in the last decades of the century was largely dependent for its revival on small-scale directorial experimentation. Antoine, who aimed at creating a unity between the staging (decor and acting style) of a play and its content, in the interest of total realism, introduced Paris to the drama of Henrik Ibsen (Ibsen, Henrik) and August Strindberg (Strindberg, August). From 1891 Paul Fort (Fort, Paul), founder of the Théâtre d'Art, and his successor, Aurélien Lugné-Poë (Lugné-Poë, Aurélien), who restyled the company as the Théâtre de l'Oeuvre (Oeuvre, Théâtre de l'), applied Antoine's principles to the creation of antinaturalistic theatre. It was these little experimental companies that principally staged Symbolist plays and began to explore the spectacular resources of the stage, including puppet theatre and shadow plays, as well as the theatre's capacity to create a new antirealist drama focused on ideas, fantasy, and dream. Most productions were of minor work (by, for example, Auguste, comte de Villiers de l'Isle-Adam (Villiers de L'Isle-Adam, Auguste, comte de), and Rachilde [Marguerite Eymery]); even the Belgian Maurice Maeterlinck (Maeterlinck, Maurice), whose influence made itself felt throughout Europe, won only small, select audiences for such plays as Pelléas et Mélisande (1892; Eng. trans. Pelleas and Melisande), Monna Vanna (1902; Eng. trans. Monna Vanna), and the celebrated children's play L'Oiseau bleu (1908; The Blue Bird). The significance of such theatrical innovation was felt more widely in the following century. Alfred Jarry (Jarry, Alfred)'s Ubu roi (King Ubu), a vicious lampoon on the violence of despotic rule, has been said to foreshadow Surrealism and the Theatre of the Absurd (Absurd, Theatre of the). The play opened at the Théâtre de l'Oeuvre on December 11, 1896, played to pandemonium and near-riot, and closed the following night.

      The argument for the existence of a distinctive Naturalist school of writing depends on the joint publication, in 1880, of Les Soirées de Médan, a volume of short stories by Émile Zola (Zola, Émile), Guy de Maupassant (Maupassant, Guy de), Joris-Karl Huysmans (Huysmans, Joris-Karl), Henry Céard, Léon Hennique, and Paul Alexis. The Naturalists purported to take a more scientifically analytic approach to the presentation of reality than had their predecessors, treating dissection as a prerequisite for description. Hence Zola's attachment to the term naturalisme, borrowed from Hippolyte Taine (Taine, Hippolyte), the positivist philosopher who claimed for literary criticism the status of a branch of psychology. It is difficult to find a coherent statement of the Naturalist theoretical position. Zola's work notes are fragmentary, and his public statements about the novel are all distorted by their polemical purpose—particularly the essay “Le Roman expérimental” (1880; “The Experimental Novel”), in which he developed a parallel between the methods of the novelist and those of the experimental scientist. An examination of the views held in common by Zola, Maupassant (in, for example, “Le Roman,” the introductory text to his novel Pierre et Jean [1888; Pierre and Jean]), and Huysmans indicates that the basis of Naturalism can best be defined as the analytic study of a given milieu, the demonstration of a deterministic relation between milieu and characters, the application of a (more or less) mechanistic theory of psychology, and the rejection of any sort of idealism. However, like Flaubert, the Naturalists did not see reality as capable of any simple objective transcription. Zola and Maupassant accepted as part of literary truth the transposition of reality through the temperament of the individual writer and the role played by form in the construction of the real.

      Émile Zola's Naturalism depends on the extensive documentation that he undertook before writing each novel. This extensiveness is emphasized by the subtitle of his 20-novel cycle Les Rougon-Macquart: histoire naturelle et sociale d'une famille sous le second Empire (“The Rougon-Macquart: Natural and Social History of a Family Under the Second Empire”). The linking of so many novels through a single family and the emphasis on the deterministic effects of heredity and environment confirm the scientific purpose. Zola's canvas is broader than Flaubert's or even Balzac's: he handles subjects as diverse as a miners' strike in Germinal (1885; Eng. trans. Germinal), working-class alcoholism in L'Assommoir (1877; Eng. trans. The Drunkard or L'Assommoir), the sexual decadence of the upper classes in La Curée (1872; The Kill) and Nana (1880; Eng. trans. Nana), and the ferocious attachment of the peasantry to their land in La Terre (1887; Earth). But there are countless examples of manipulation of facts, particularly in the chronology of the novels, which show that for Zola documentary accuracy was not paramount. Indeed, his work notes reveal that he saw the scientific principles underlying the novels as a literary device to hold them together and thus strengthen the personal vision of reality that they contained. The sense of period and family unity is soon submerged, as Zola becomes both poet and moralist in his portrayal of contemporary values. All the major novels are dominated by symbolically anthropomorphized forces that control and destroy both individual and mass. Thus the mine in Germinal is represented as a voracious beast devouring those who work in it. This tendency to symbolism, which for Zola is a mode of both analysis and commentary, can be seen in an even more extreme form in the reinterpretation of the Genesis story in La Faute de l'abbé Mouret (1875; The Sin of Father Mouret). As the cycle progresses, the sense of a doomed society rushing toward the apocalypse grows, to be confirmed in Zola's penultimate novel, on the Franco-German War, La Débâcle (1892; The Debacle).

      The trilogy Les Trois Villes (1894–98; “The Three Cities”) and the unfinished tetralogy Les Quatres Évangiles (1899–1903; “The Four Gospels”), which followed Les Rougon-Macquart, are unreadably didactic, laying bare the obsessions with scientific progress and socialist humanitarianism, and the hostility toward the philosophy and politics of Roman Catholicism, which had been present in a concealed form in the earlier novels. Zola's contribution to French life after Les Rougon-Macquart lay more in his spirited intervention in the Dreyfus Affair (Dreyfus, Alfred), with his combative open letter, “J'accuse,” of January 13, 1898, taking up the cause of the Jewish army officer unjustly convicted of treason.

      Of the other Naturalists, only Guy de Maupassant, a protégé of Flaubert, is still widely read. His Naturalism, as evidenced in "Le Roman" (1887; "The Novel" ) by his declaration that his intention was to “write the history of the heart, soul and mind in their normal state,” involves the use of significant detail to indicate the neuroses and vicious desires masked by everyday appearances. Many of his short stories, whether set in Normandy or Paris, rely on sharply reductive, satiric techniques directed against his favourite targets—women, the middle classes, the Prussians—and designed to bring out hypocrisy and dishonesty as the central forces in human life (as in "Boule de suif" [1880; "Butterball" in Butterball]). His tales of mystery and imagination (for example, "Le Horla" [1886–87]) bring sharp psychological insight to the evocation of the supernatural. There is a shift in manner and matter from Une Vie (1883; A Woman's Life), with its echoes of Madame Bovary, through the detached but destructive portrait of the worlds of journalism and finance in Bel-Ami (1885; Eng. trans. Bel-Ami), to the powerful evocation of the crippling effects of jealousy in Pierre et Jean (1888; Pierre and Jean).

The reaction against reason
      In the last decades of the century, particularly from 1880 onward, the opposition intensified between those creative writers who grounded their thinking in the material world and those who rejected physical experience as meaningless without reference to some spiritual dimension or intellectual ideal. Whereas Baudelaire and Flaubert incorporated elements of both attitudes into their writings, other poets and novelists who followed them tended to take one or the other line to an extreme. The turn of the century saw the rise of a variety of disparate movements: Naturalism, Decadence, Symbolism, and the Roman Catholic revival.

The Decadents (Decadent)
      The basis of Decadence—bitter regret for the loss of a world of moral and political absolutes, and middle-class fears of supersession in a society where the power of the masses (as workers, voters, purchasers, and consumers) is slowly but inexorably on the increase—is well illustrated both in Joris-Karl Huysmans (Huysmans, Joris-Karl)'s novel À rebours (1884; Against Nature or Against the Grain) and the Culte du moi (“Cult of the Ego”) trilogy (1888–91) by Maurice Barrès (Barrès, Maurice). It derives from the same determinist philosophy as Naturalism and has much in common aesthetically with Impressionism in that it focuses on subjectively perceived moments of physical experience, held to have no significance beyond themselves. It is also a form of late Romanticism, looking for inspiration to the strand of Baudelaire that treats of revolt, neurosis, the cult of cruelty, and extreme sensation, cast into novel and highly wrought forms. Originally associated primarily with poetry (generally of poor quality), it found its best stroke in prose, in the track of Baudelaire's admirer and fellow dandy, Jules Barbey d'Aurevilly (Barbey d'Aurevilly, Jules-Amédée), celebrated for his novels and tales of blasphemy and sadism. Huysmans's Là-bas (1891; “Down There”; Eng. trans. Là-Bas: A Journey into the Self) combined a heavy-footed study of Satanism in modern-day Paris with a documentary investigation of the exploits of the medieval Bluebeard, Gilles de Rais (Rais, Gilles de). As Huysmans changed direction yet again, toward a Roman Catholicism characterized by a mixture of right-wing political prejudice, superstition, and antiquarian interest in symbols and doctrine, other writers emerged who were more subtle and experimental in both content and form. The novels of Octave Mirbeau (Mirbeau, Octave) (Le Jardin des supplices [1899; The Torture Garden]) and Jean Lorrain (Monsieur de Phocas [1901; Eng. trans. Monsieur de Phocas]), with their lyrical evocations of the bizarre contradictions of bourgeois fantasy, evoking formations of homosexual as well as heterosexual desire, have also a sharp satiric edge; they criticize their own posturing, and they highlight the unjust class privilege on which it depends. Though Rachilde is sometimes considered to belong to the Symbolist movement—mostly for her connections with its journal, the Mercure de France, edited by her husband—her novels are best understood as productions of the Decadent ethos: for example, Monsieur Vénus (1884; Eng. trans. Monsieur Venus), reversing gender roles in the power play of sexual exploitation, or La Marquise de Sade (1887), with its vampiric heroine.

      The aristocratic hero of Huysmans's À rebours included on his shelves the poetry of Paul Verlaine (Verlaine, Paul), Jules Laforgue (Laforgue, Jules), the comte de Lautréamont (Lautréamont, comte de) (pseudonym of Isidore Ducasse, whose poem Les Chants de Maldoror [1868–69; Maldoror] influenced the Surrealists), and Stéphane Mallarmé (Mallarmé, Stéphane). Verlaine and Laforgue remain linked in critical memory with the Decadent movement.

      Much of Verlaine's early poetry imitated the work of Baudelaire and the Parnassians in the Fêtes galantes (1869; “Parties of Pleasure”) and in his major collection, Romances sans paroles (1874; “Songs Without Words”). In his famous manifesto poem, "L'Art poétique" ( "The Art of Poetry" ), written in 1874 and collected in Jadis et Naguère (1885; “Yesteryear and Yesterday”) he created the blend of musicality, physical atmospherics, and sense of psychological distortion that constitute his greatest poetic achievement. In so doing, he used lines with an odd number of syllables (vers impair), ambiguous syntax, and unusual collocations of abstract and concrete concepts in a way that radically advanced the technical range of French verse. In his work two impressions predominate: that only the self is important and that the function of poetry is to preserve moments of extreme sensation and unique impression. These features, together with his experiments in dissolving form, were seized on by the younger generation of poets in the 1880s and developed in the review Le Décadent, founded in 1886, whose title adopted a label coined by hostile critics. The poetic movement found its best exponent in Jules Laforgue, who brought together a subjectivism and pessimism fed by his studies in contemporary German philosophy and a genius for harnessing effects of poetic contrast. His first two published collections, Les Complaintes (1885; “Lamentations”) and L'Imitation de Notre-Dame la Lune (1886; “Imitation of Our Lady of the Moon”), are a series of variations on the Decadent themes of the flight from life, woman, and ennui, each explored through a host of recurring images (the wind, Sundays, moonlight, and the tragicomic figure Pierrot [Pedrolino in Italian] from the commedia dell'arte). Laforgue's fluid verse form, shaped by rhythmic patterns and assonance, is the first important example of free verse in French poetry.

The Symbolists (Symbolist movement)
      The distinction between Decadence and Symbolism is slight and, in poetry at least, is frequently as much one of allegiances to different networks as one of differences of thematic content or formal practices. At its simplest and most reductive, the opposition is between the Decadents' perception that the material world, and the galling limits of the present, is all there is and the Symbolists' concept of the meaningful universe of signifying forms and ideal, absolute meanings that it is the artist's task to evoke, or suggest, using the tokens of the material world: images, which can be linked by the poetic imagination into meaningful symbolizations.The narrowness of the distinction is well illustrated by the case of Arthur Rimbaud (Rimbaud, Arthur). Rimbaud wrote all his poetry before the age of 21, beginning in 1869 at the age of 15, out of a deep frustration with an existence of marginalization and repression. His poetic creed is contained in two letters of May 13 and 15, 1871, in which he prescribes for the poet the need to explore his own desires and sensations, break free of conventional perceptions and rationalist categories, and constitute himself as a visionary. The fiercely ironic view of contemporary society that emerges from his early poems reveals in him an element of the political revolutionary; he supported the Commune, the failed workers' insurrection of May 1871. The poem "Le Bateau ivre" ( "The Drunken Boat" ) evokes the poet's fantasy journey from the bounds of conventional subjectivity and common sense through a sequence of increasingly surreal decors, ending in the sea of ecstasy in which all fixed references are gone, the categories of all sense experience blur, and poetry and the poet are caught up together in boundless metamorphosis. The cycle of fragmentary prose poems, Une Saison en enfer (1873; A Season in Hell, published together with Illuminations [1974]), reworks his imprisonment, his cultural bondage, and his frustrating struggles to create a form of poetry that could transform his captivity. The aesthetic revolution is taken still further in Illuminations (written during the period 1871–75 and published posthumously in 1886): snatches of poetry and prose, outbursts of destruction, revolt, elation, liberation, and frustration—glimpses into the tumult of revolt and despair that for him is the only honest expression of the modern unconscious.

      Stéphane Mallarmé (Mallarmé, Stéphane) brought to poetry a very different temperament and intellectual background. An intellectual and spiritual crisis in 1866–68 led to a loss of religious faith and a loss of faith in the absolute relation of words to reality: the poet must acknowledge his inability not only to write a poem that could communicate the truth of its object but also to communicate his own response to the object. In Mallarmé's hands, the writing of poetry progressively became a matter of finding ways to release words from their conventional task of communicating functional meanings and of finding instead syntactic patterns and rhythms that could bring images into new constellations and allow assonance and alliteration to suggest new connections—to model, in short, the creative movement of poetic language.

      As early as L'Après-midi d'un faune (1876; “The Afternoon of a Faun”; Eng. trans. L'Après-midi d'un faune; later interpreted musically by Claude Debussy (Debussy, Claude)), he concentrated on multiplicity of meaning: the poem is simultaneously the dream evocation of the faun's erotic desires and a meditation upon the creative impulse at an abstract level. His later poems are studies in the possibilities of language, in which, as in music, recurrent images and antithetical patterns reverberate together. Un Coup de dés jamais n'abolira le hasard (1897; Dice Thrown Never Will Annul Chance), Mallarmé's formal tour de force, co-opts typography to the presentation of proliferating meanings. The material world may be a desperate chaos of significations, ruled by chance, but human authorship can still be asserted within it, by creating constellations of forms, one of which is the form of chance itself, the constantly changing hazard of inspiration.

      Symbolism derived its name from an article by Jean Moréas (Moréas, Jean), who produced the first manifesto of the movement in 1886. It made its way in Europe through the journal and publishing house of the Mercure de France, cofounded by Alfred Vallette and Remy de Gourmont (Gourmont, Remy de). Gourmont was a critic, essayist, poet, novelist, and short-story writer. Among his works in various genres are Sixtine, roman de la vie cérébrale (1890; Very Woman (Sixtine): A Cerebral Novel), Histoires magiques (1894; “Magical Tales”), and Le Problème du style (1902; “The Problem of Style”). Gourmont had a major influence both on the founding of the Symbolist movement in France and, subsequently, on Anglophone modernism. Symbolism continued to mark the 1880s and '90s, producing charming poems, characterized by musicality, myth, mysticism, and melancholia, but no further major poets. Among those whose works have survived in anthologies are Henri de Régnier (Régnier, Henri de) and Francis Viélé-Griffin (Viélé-Griffin, Francis) and the Belgian poets Georges Rodenbach (Rodenbach, Georges) and Émile Verhaeren (Verhaeren, Émile).

The novel later in the century
      Neither Decadence (with the exception of Huysmans's Against Nature and Mirbeau's The Torture Garden) nor Symbolism generated novels of lasting significance. Within the new vogue for the short story, fostered by the demands of the popular press, there was a recrudescence of the conte fantastique, which found its foremost exponent in Villiers de L'Isle-Adam (Villiers de L'Isle-Adam, Auguste, comte de) (Contes cruels [1883]; Cruel Tales). Rachilde, Jean Lorrain (pseudonym of Paul Duval), and Mirbeau all contributed to this genre. But the major trends in the novel were connected with the revival of Roman Catholicism and the growth of nationalism in the aftermath of the Franco-German War. The religious spirit was sometimes aesthetic, as in Huysmans's La Cathédrale (1898; The Cathedral), sometimes dogmatic and visionary, as in Léon Bloy (Bloy, Léon)'s Le Désespéré (1886; “The Desperate Man”) and La Femme pauvre (1897; The Woman Who Was Poor). But the combination of Roman Catholic doctrine and right-wing politics in the novels of Paul Bourget (Bourget, Paul), beginning with Le Disciple (1889), gives the clearest image of the spirit of the times. The antidemocratic, antirepublican views of Bourget were similar to those found in Maurice Barrès (Barrès, Maurice) and other nationalist writers. Barrès moved from decadent self-absorption to become the advocate for an extreme form of historical determinism, which saw the individual as part of a collective inherited unconscious defined by “race.” His trilogy Le Roman de l'énergie nationale (“The Book of National Energy”), particularly Les Déracinés (1897; “The Rootless” or “Men Without Roots”), is an important document for an understanding of the attitudes of the French right during the Dreyfus Affair and between the world wars.

      The only novelist of note who stood outside all these trends and yet was a typical offspring of the age that produced them, achieving the double distinction of winning the Nobel Prize for Literature for 1921 and being put on the Index (Index Librorum Prohibitorum), was Anatole France (France, Anatole) (pen name of Jacques-Anatole-François Thibault). France made his initial reputation as a literary critic and author of psychological novels, but he rapidly became the personification of the pessimism fashionable after Germany's victory over France in 1870, an attitude typically expressed in the detachedly ironic exposure of human weakness in La Rôtisserie de la Reine Pédauque (1893; At the Sign of the Reine Pédauque). But in Monsieur Bergeret à Paris (1901; Monsieur Bergeret in Paris), France's commitment to the pro-Dreyfus faction in the Dreyfus Affair introduced both a more bitter note to his satire and an express commitment to humanitarian ideals. Like many other Dreyfusards, he was to be disillusioned by the aftermath of the Affair, a response typified by his extended satire of French society through the ages in L'Île des Pingouins (1908; Penguin Island) and his condemnation of fanaticism in his novel on the French Revolution, Les Dieux ont soif (1912; The Gods Are Athirst). For Anglophone readers right up to the end of World War II, he spoke for that Voltairean liberal humanism, reason, and justice of which France became the symbol in a Europe twice overrun by German imperial ambitions.

Christopher Robinson Jennifer Birkett

From 1900 to 1940

The legacy of the 19th century
      French writing of the first quarter of the 20th century reveals a dissatisfaction with the pessimism, skepticism, and narrow rationalism of the preceding age and displays a new confidence in human possibilities, although this is undercut by World War I. There is continuity with the poetry of the late 19th century but a rejection of its prose. Mallarmé and Rimbaud were models for Paul Valéry (Valéry, Paul) and Paul Claudel (Claudel, Paul), but members of the new generation, such as Charles-Louis Philippe (Philippe, Charles-Louis), whose Bubu de Montparnasse (1901; Bubu of Montparnasse) followed Zola into the Paris slums, thought the Naturalist novel unduly deterministic and rejected its claims to objectivity.

      In philosophy, the positivism of Taine and Renan, and its confidence in practical reason, gave ground to a resurgence of interest in the spiritual and the mystical, led by the work of Henri Bergson (Bergson, Henri) on intuition and the creative imagination. Among foreign thinkers, Arthur Schopenhauer (Schopenhauer, Arthur), so important to the preceding generation, gave way to Friedrich Nietzsche (Nietzsche, Friedrich), whose books were read less for the superman theme than as a protest against the limitations of the mechanistic world.

      Literature continued to follow the political and social struggles of the Third Republic. To the continuing reverberations of the Dreyfus (Dreyfus, Alfred) Affair must be added other tensions exacerbating the conflict of the Republic and the Roman Catholic church: the separation of church and state and the struggle for the education system, with Jules Ferry (Ferry, Jules)'s law of 1882 making primary education free, compulsory, and secular. This is the context in which the Catholic revival that emerged in the 1880s reaches its literary high point in the work of Paul Claudel and Charles Péguy (Péguy, Charles) and then, in a second generation, François Mauriac (Mauriac, François) and Georges Bernanos (Bernanos, Georges). Meanwhile, anti-German sentiment stemming from the 1870 defeat, revived in the years immediately preceding World War I, helped create the protofascist Action Française, led by Charles Maurras (Maurras, Charles). Seeking to steer French culture toward integral nationalism and to restore the monarchy, the group was in constant conflict with the expanding socialist movement.

      The governments of the Third Republic were weak centrist coalitions that writers, with middle-class privileges to protect, found it difficult either to admire or to attack. The uneasy truce they procured in French society was the basis of a literature that exalted individual experience. Some of the leading writers of the years before 1914 gathered around the Nouvelle Revue Française (Nouvelle Revue française, La), founded by André Gide (Gide, André) in 1908. Jacques Rivière (Rivière, Jacques) took over as its director in 1919. The review, which became France's leading literary magazine while also spawning the Gallimard (Gallimard, Gaston) publishing house, sought a balance between modernity and tradition. Its articles represented a network of dialogues rather than one fixed position and initially tended to emphasize the authenticity of the inner life.

      Valery Larbaud (Larbaud, Valery-Nicolas)'s A.O. Barnabooth: son journal intime (1913; A.O. Barnabooth: His Diary) depicts the slow discovery of the self after an initial liberation. An enormously successful exercise in nostalgia, Le Grand Meaulnes (1913; Le Grand Meaulnes: The Land of Lost Content) by Alain-Fournier (pseudonym of Henri-Alban Fournier) explored the new theme of adolescence; in poetry, Saint-John Perse (pseudonym of Alexis Léger) depicted the triumphant recovery of childhood in Éloges (1911; Éloges, and Other Poems); and Rivière's essays on painting, the Russian ballet, and contemporary writers showed an excellent critical mind seeking to hold together the aspirations and values of a society about to face one of its most serious challenges.

      The house of Gallimard published the four greatest writers of this period: André Gide, Marcel Proust (Proust, Marcel), Claudel, and Valéry, who in their different ways were to carry the tradition of high French culture over the watershed of World War I. Gide's Les Nourritures terrestres (1897; Fruits of the Earth) and L'Immoraliste (1902; The Immoralist) encouraged a generation of French youth to question the values of family and tradition and to be guided by that part of themselves, turned toward the future, that was ignored or repressed by a society with its own gaze fixed on the past. These texts helped open the door to the political radicalism of postwar generations, though Gide's own immediate focus was much less on colonial oppression in Africa than on the space the continent offered for his own sexual liberation. His Les Caves du Vatican (1914; The Vatican Cellars) caught the fancy of intellectuals with an anarchist bent, partly because of its celebration of the acte gratuit, undertaken not for gain or self-interest but as a gesture of authentic self-expression, but also because of its outrageously funny satire on humanity's submission to authoritarian systems of belief.

      His most influential book (both in form and in content) was Les Faux-Monnayeurs (1926; The Counterfeiters). It dealt with questions of self-knowledge, sincerity, and self-interest, discussing (among other themes) the value of Freudian psychoanalysis, which was becoming, thanks partly to Gide, familiar currency among the intelligentsia. The novel addressed homosexuality, child sexuality, and the repressive role of the family, at the same time as it challenged all the conventional devices of novel writing, portraying the problematic nature of the relation between the fictional and the real. Children are the centre of the work, which examines the extent to which any new life is already marked out for corruption by the past—the family and the society—in which it begins.

Proust (Proust, Marcel) and Claudel
      Marcel Proust's À la recherche du temps perdu (1913–27; Remembrance of Things Past) had no time for fresh beginnings. Evoking the vanishing world of fashionable Parisian society of the Third Republic, the novel sequence explored the ways in which memory, imagination, and, most of all, artistic form could be put to work together to counter the corrosive effects of time. If time for Gide is future prospect, for Proust it is past and gone, the mediator of loss and death, history slipping from the grasp of the class that made it. Only art offers the possibility of retaining the essence of lost lives, loves, and sensations. The novel reenacts the operations of imagination and memory, conscious and unconscious, as they join the stimulus of sense impressions to metaphor and image and to the rhythms and associations of syntax.

      The work of the poet and dramatist Paul Claudel (Claudel, Paul) also evokes a dream of the past. Claudel sought to revivify the symbols of traditionalist Catholicism. His poetry proper (Cinq grands odes [1910; Five Great Odes]) is not without its influence, but the real importance of Claudel's poetic gift lies in the lyrical, epic qualities it infuses into his drama, which will be discussed below.

      The life and work of Paul Valéry, the philosopher-poet, extended from the fall of the Second Empire to the end of World War II, and for European intellectuals he became, even more than Anatole France, the archetypal exponent and proponent of the French mind. His poetry is an exploration and celebration of the operations of consciousness, the skills of the trained poet, and the drama of the creative intellect, overseeing the interplay of sensations, memory, imagination, and, most of all, the ordering and analytic faculty of reason. The principles of a creative process that is not only a work of abstraction but also a coproduction of body, landscape, and mind are theorized in “La Soirée avec Monsieur Teste” (1896; “An Evening with Monsieur Teste,” appearing in English translation in Monsieur Teste) and in the dialogues of the early 1920s on architecture and dance. They are turned into poetry in such admirable and well-known works as "La Jeune Parque" (1917; “The Young Fate,” published in French-English edition as La Jeune Parque) and Le Cimetière marin (1920; published in French-English edition as Le Cimetière marin / The Graveyard by the Sea), which looks out for inspiration to the blue horizon of the Mediterranean. The Graveyard by the Sea first appeared in book form in the important collection Charmes (1922; “Charms”). Throughout his career, Valéry also wrote and worked tirelessly to argue for a wider public the importance of the European inheritance, cradled in the Mediterranean and flowering in the Enlightenment. Poetry, philosophy, and the politics of the global market came together in his thinking to produce such essays as "La Crise de l'esprit" (1919; “The Crisis of the Spirit”), bringing together ideas he promulgated not only in his writing but also in active involvement in the cultural committees of the League of Nations (Nations, League of).

The impact of World War I
War novels and poetry
      The liberal confidence displayed in the pages of the Nouvelle Revue Française was bolstered at the start of World War I by nationalist euphoria among a public kept in ignorance by official propaganda. But it found its nemesis in the horrors of modern scientific warfare as ordinary soldiers from the trenches finally found their own voice of protest. Novels about war, such as Le Feu (1916; Under Fire), written by Henri Barbusse (Barbusse, Henri), a leading member of the French Communist Party—whose revolutionary movement and review Clarté, founded in 1919, advocated pacifism and popular power—were relatively few in number, but their success was enormous. Guillaume Apollinaire (Apollinaire, Guillaume)'s war poems, Calligrammes (1918; Calligrammes: Poems of Peace and War), with their unforgettable images of darkness, gas, and blinding rain, provided new forms to represent the dislocation of the European landscape and its human subjects. This was a black counterpart to the other kinds of dislocation Apollinaire had recorded in the context of the modern metropolis and its exciting new energies (as, for instance, in “Zone,” in Alcools [1913; Eng. trans. Alcools]).

The avant-garde
      These dislocations and disruptions were the dynamic that generated a violent and vigorous resurgence of the avant-garde, attacking the bourgeois rationalist certainties they held responsible for Europe's decay. Tristan Tzara (Tzara, Tristan)'s Dada movement, founded in Zürich in 1916, joined forces with the writers clustering round the review Littérature (André Breton (Breton, André), Philippe Soupault, Louis Aragon, Paul Éluard, and, later, René Char) in Paris in 1920. Breton's Manifeste du surréalisme (“Surrealist Manifesto”) appeared in 1924. Literature and revolution were joined in an explosion of nihilistic gesture, black humour, and outrageous erotic transgression, engendering new forms of perception and expression. Like Sigmund Freud (Freud, Sigmund), Surrealists (Surrealism) studied fantasy and desire, attempting to follow in poetic form Freud's insights into dream processes while also invoking (with varying enthusiasm and effect) the revolutionary banner of Karl Marx (Marx, Karl). Breton and Soupault (Soupault, Philippe) together published their écriture automatique (“automatic writing”) and looked to the visual media (film and Cubist (Cubism) painting and photography) as much as to language for contemporary images.

      The early 1920s were a brilliant period, during which the cosmopolitanism of reviews such as Commerce (1924–32), directed by Valéry, Larbaud, and the poet Léon-Paul Fargue (Fargue, Léon-Paul) and including texts from many countries, was a conscious attempt to overcome the rifts created in Europe by the war. Paris again became a pole of attraction for European intellectuals, not least the Anglo-Irish and Anglo-American high priests of modernism: James Joyce (Joyce, James), T.S. Eliot (Eliot, T.S.), and William Carlos Williams (Williams, William Carlos). Joyce's Ulysses, first published in Paris, demonstrates the mutual profitability of Anglo-French exchange. Indebted to the interior monologue form developed by the poet and novelist Édouard Dujardin, it influenced in its turn Larbaud's Amants, heureux amants (1923; “Lovers, Happy Lovers”).

      Not all French writers shared the Surrealist impulse to revolt. The 1920s saw a withdrawal into various forms of escapism: a cult of travel writing, for example, exemplified by Paul Morand (Morand, Paul), and an interest in the regional novel, continuing well into the 1930s, in which a refusal of the stresses of urbanization was expressed as a nostalgic poeticization of the relationship of the peasant with the land (as in the works of André Chamson, Charles-Ferdinand Ramuz (Ramuz, Charles-Ferdinand), and Jean Giono (Giono, Jean)). It was also in the 1920s that Colette, who had already made her name in the first years of the century with her highly popular Claudine novels, began to establish herself as a serious writer, with Chéri (1920; Eng. trans. Chéri) and Le Blé en herbe (1923; Ripening Seed). In the 1930s she produced autobiographical writings, including autobiographical fictions that, almost uniquely, provided a female perspective on feminine experience in a male-centred age. Le Pur et l'impur (1932; The Pure and the Impure), published with little success in 1932 as Ces Plaisirs (“These Pleasures”), is one of the first major women's texts to be centred on lesbian themes.

Political commitment
      From the mid-1920s onward, the pressure of international economic competition and the growing self-awareness and organization of the working class, accompanied by the increasing elaboration and spread of the polarized ideologies of communism and fascism, often polarized writers as well. Julien Benda (Benda, Julien)'s plea for intellectual detachment, La Trahison des clercs (1927; The Great Betrayal), caused a stir but sharpened divisions. Adolf Hitler's accession to power in Germany in 1933 increased the possibility of a fascist Europe, the stability of the Third Republic was undermined by economic depression, and the Stavisky affair (1933–34) led to charges of widespread corruption in the parliamentary regime. By the time the Spanish Civil War broke out in 1936, the battle lines were drawn between the right-wing “patriotic” leagues and the Front Populaire (Popular Front), the left-wing alliance, led by Léon Blum (Blum, Léon), that came to power in 1936 and ended the following year. Many writers joined the fray.

Politics in the novel
Céline and Drieu
      The novels of Louis-Ferdinand Céline (Céline, Louis-Ferdinand), notably Voyage au bout de la nuit (1932; Journey to the End of the Night) and Mort à credit (1936; Death on the Installment Plan), were radically experimental in form and language. They give a dark account of the machinery of repressive authoritarianism and the operations of capitalist ambition in war and peace, and across continents. With hindsight, Céline's novels can be seen as portraying the preparation of the common man of Europe for fascism, and, though not originally designed as such, they were read for a long time in that light—especially as Céline himself published anti-Semitic pamphlets, Bagatelles pour un massacre (1937; “Trifles for a Massacre”) and L'École des cadavres (1938; “School for Corpses”). During World War II he was an active collaborator with the Nazis.

      But it fell to another future collaborator, Pierre-Eugène Drieu La Rochelle (Drieu La Rochelle, Pierre), himself converted to fascism, to write expressly in Gilles (1939) the archetypal itinerary of the young French fascist, from defeat in the trenches of World War I, through failure and despair in the 1920s, to the decision to help overthrow the elected Republican government in Spain. Drieu's example was followed by younger men, such as Robert Brasillach, author of Notre Avant-guerre (1941; “Our Prewar”), and Lucien Rebatet, who, like Brasillach, contributed during the Occupation to the virulently anti-Semitic newspaper Je Suis Partout.

Malraux, Gide, and others
      On the political left, Joseph Stalin (Stalin, Joseph)'s decision to end the policy of hostility toward the Socialist Party and to encourage party activists to work for the formation of popular fronts brought many writers into or close to the Communist Party. Newspapers such as Commune, which advocated that literature should serve the cause of working-class liberation, were influential. André Gide's adherence to and defection from communism, depicted in Retour de l'U.R.S.S. (1936; Back from the U.S.S.R.), were widely discussed.

      The books of Paul Nizan, Jean-Paul Sartre (Sartre, Jean-Paul)'s tutor and mentor, who had joined the Communist Party, explore in the forms of Socialist Realism the tensions and temptations of changing class loyalties; perhaps the best-known example is Antoine Bloyé (1933; Eng. trans. Antoine Bloyé). Louis Aragon (Aragon, Louis), at loggerheads with his Surrealist colleagues for his espousal of Socialist Realism, published his own account of society's move from capitalism to more-emancipated systems (Les Cloches de Bâle [1934; “The Bells of Bâle”]). But most eagerly read were the novels of André Malraux (Malraux, André), vigorous dramatizations of the heroism and glamour of revolutionary fraternity. La Condition humaine (1933; Man's Fate) depicts the communist uprising in Shanghai in 1927, while L'Espoir (1937; Man's Hope) is a lyrical and epic account of the Spanish Civil War, evoking the passionate contemporary debates among revolutionary factions about the best way to fight for the revolutionary ideal.

      A few isolated writers dealt with political struggles outside the European arena. Colonialism had been denounced by Gide in his Voyage au Congo (1927; “Voyage to the Congo”) and Retour du Tchad (1928; “Return to Chad”; trans. jointly as Travels in the Congo) and had been attacked by Nizan in Aden Arabie (1931; Eng. trans. Aden Arabie). Henry de Montherlant (Montherlant, Henry de)'s L'Histoire d'amour de la rose de sable (written in 1932 although not published until 1954; Desert Love) offers another critique, using as its vehicle the figure of a nationalist officer who loses his belief in French rule over Morocco. In the late 1930s Albert Camus (Camus, Albert), still in his native Algeria working in the theatre and as a reporter on Alger-Républicain, was starting to make his voice heard.

Politics subordinate to other concerns: Mauriac, Bernanos, and others
      Few novels were in fact untouched by the political challenge, but many were more concerned with other preoccupations. The Surrealists explored the romance of the modern city. Aragon's Le Paysan de Paris (1926; Paris Peasant), an innovative collage, was followed by Breton's Nadja (1928; Eng. trans. Nadja), a distinctive contribution to the tradition that joins the beckoning enigma of a dream woman as a figure of erotic desire and the fascination of Paris. François Mauriac (Mauriac, François)'s Catholic novels Thérèse Desqueyroux (1927; Eng. trans. Thérèse Desqueyroux) and Noeud de vipères (1932; The Knot of Vipers), blind to the romance and thrill of the modern, deployed the traditional form of the French psychological novel to evoke the banal desolation of characters deprived of God's grace and stranded in a desert of provincial middle-class society. Georges Bernanos (Bernanos, Georges), drawing more explicitly on Catholic dogma and symbolism, addressed the same theme (Journal d'un curé de campagne [1936; The Diary of a Country Priest]), but he was also concerned with issues of class. His pamphlet La Grande Peur des bien-pensants (1931; “The Great Fear of the Conformers”) is a blistering attack on bourgeois complacency; Les Grands Cimetières sous la lune (1938; “The Great Cemeteries in the Moonlight”; Eng. trans. A Diary of My Times) denounces General Francisco Franco (Franco, Francisco)'s Falangists. The tradition of the family novel was continued by Roger Martin du Gard (Martin du Gard, Roger)'s novel cycle Les Thibault (1922–40). A different kind of family, reared in poverty and engaged in trade union action, was described by the Breton writer Louis Guilloux in his autobiographical novel, La Maison du peuple (1927; “The House of the People”). Guilloux's Le Sang noir (1935; Bitter Victory) is an even bleaker depiction of provincial life, as experienced by a schoolmaster. In Les Hommes de bonne volonté (1932–46; Men of Good Will) the Unanimist (Unanimism) Jules Romains (Romains, Jules) delved into the history of the Third Republic to try to show a transcendent, collective dimension connecting isolated individual experience. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (Saint-Exupéry, Antoine de)'s Vol de nuit (1931; Night Flight) was a popular adventure novel.

      Valéry, Claudel, and Fargue continued writing poetry throughout this period, as did Breton, Aragon, and Éluard (Éluard, Paul), the latter two both closely connected with the Communist Party. In such books as Capitale de la douleur (1926; Capital of Pain), Éluard's free verse plays innovatively with traditional ideas of order, focusing at least as much on the rhythms of syntax as on images. The poet's own distinctive blend of poetics and politics is based on the theme of love: a twin allegiance to the beloved woman and the ideals of the larger interrelationships of humanity. Saint-John Perse produced what he himself described as a modern epic of interior journey: Anabase (1924; Anabasis). Henri Michaux (Michaux, Henri)'s prose poems in La Nuit remue (1934; The Night Moves) are a striking example of that difficult genre. René Char (Char, René)'s work exalts the mystical forces that reside in the countryside of southern France, with its bare hills and its twisted vegetation. Jules Supervielle (Supervielle, Jules)'s poetry of the 1920s and '30s conjures up the mysterious spirit animating animals, plants, and objects.

      The great directors and actor-directors of the interwar years, who continued in Jacques Copeau (Copeau, Jacques)'s tradition—Charles Dullin, Louis Jouvet, Georges and Ludmila Pitoëff, and Gaston Baty, known collectively as the Cartel—rebuilt the commercial theatre. They fostered a literary and poetic theatre, developing high standards of acting, production, and stage design; and they tried (less successfully) to reach out beyond the traditional middle-class audience. The plays produced for this theatre—by Jean Cocteau (Cocteau, Jean), Jean Giraudoux (Giraudoux, Jean), Armand Salacrou, and the early Jean Anouilh (Anouilh, Jean)—have aged less well than the innovations in staging. Giraudoux's La Guerre de Troie n'aura pas lieu (1935; adapted in English as Tiger at the Gates) has remained famous for its encapsulation of the prewar debate on national differences and the inevitability of war. Cocteau's best contribution was his merging of theatre with other arts (including music) and spectacle, a mélange more appropriate, as it turned out, to the new medium of cinema than to the stage (Orphée [stage version 1927, film version 1950; Orpheus]).

      The very different kind of theatre launched in 1896 by Alfred Jarry (Jarry, Alfred) found its way back onto the stage through the Surrealists, with, for example, Roger Vitrac's black comedy Victor; ou, les enfants au pouvoir (1928; “Victor; or, Children in Power”). Antonin Artaud (Artaud, Antonin) began to formulate his Theatre of Cruelty, which would use stage resources enriched by Japanese Noh theatre and the Balinese Theatre (in Paris in 1931), replacing words by spectacle, to expose audiences to the realities of repressive power structures from which they were muffled by habit in their everyday lives. But his Le Théâtre et son double (1938; The Theatre and Its Double), now a seminal point of reference for modern drama, began to exert its influence only after republication in 1944.

      Another major figure still awaiting full recognition was Paul Claudel. Former anarchist turned religious convert, the most celebrated poet of the Roman Catholic revival had from the start of the century been turning the traditionalist cult of suffering, and its symbols and myths, into potentially great drama. The lyrical language of Partage de midi (1906; “Break of Noon”) transformed an adulterous love affair into participation in the divine Passion. L'Annonce faite à Marie (1912; “Tidings Brought to Mary”) is a simpler, low-key evocation of the miracle of rebirth. (Partage de midi and L'Annonce faite à Marie appear in English translation in Two Dramas [1960].) Claudel's experiments mixing the inspiration of Wagnerian drama, Japanese Noh theatre, and film produced in the interwar years two major epics proclaiming the absolute presence of divine order in the world. Le Soulier de satin (1929; The Satin Slipper) is an account of the imperializing ambitions of Spain in the 16th century, in which divine grace pursues the characters who try in vain to escape their destiny; Le Livre de Christophe Colomb (1930; The Book of Christopher Columbus) is the story of the explorer whose faith joined the two halves of the globe. Claudel's moment was to come in the 1940s, with the discovery of his work by the great director Jean-Louis Barrault (Barrault, Jean-Louis), who recognized its spectacular potential and the dramatic heights of violence and passion it attained.

The eve of World War II
      By the eve of World War II, new influences were at work on the French cultural scene. From the mid-1930s onward, the novels of the American writers William Faulkner (Faulkner, William) and John Dos Passos (Dos Passos, John), as well as the philosophies of the Germans Edmund Husserl (Husserl, Edmund) and Martin Heidegger (Heidegger, Martin), were finding a following in France. Camus (Camus, Albert) published L'Envers et l'endroit (1937; Betwixt and Between) and Noces (1939; Nuptials), two volumes of essays that revealed his sense of the beauty and the emptiness of life on the edge of the Mediterranean. In La Nausée (1938; Nausea), unraveling the psychological novel and the diary form, and in the five nouvelles collected in Le Mur (1939; The Wall), Jean-Paul Sartre (Sartre, Jean-Paul) was already transferring into creative writing the insights into the problematic nature of perception, the nature of the “real,” the alienated subject, and (as he saw it) the absurdity of the world that he had developed in his meditations on phenomenology and existentialism.

Patrick McCarthy Jennifer Birkett

The mid-20th century

The German Occupation and postwar France
      France's defeat by German troops in 1940 and the resultant division of the country were experienced as a national humiliation, and all French citizens were confronted with an unavoidable choice. Some writers escaped the country to spend the remaining years of the war (World War II) in the safety of exile or with the Free French Forces. Others, faithful to political options made during the previous decade, moved directly into collaboration. Still others, out of pacifist convictions or a belief that art could remain aloof from politics, tried to carry on as individuals and as writers, ignoring the taint of passive collaboration with the occupying forces or the Vichy (Vichy France) government. Jean Cocteau (Cocteau, Jean) and Jean Giono (Giono, Jean) were among this last group and later were criticized for their conduct. Giono, in fact, was briefly imprisoned, as was Louis-Ferdinand Céline (Céline, Louis-Ferdinand), whose reputation was seriously damaged by his anti-Semitism.

      Several writers joined the military, as well as the intellectual, resistance. André Malraux (Malraux, André) served on many fronts and commanded a group of underground Resistance fighters in World War II in France, projecting the image of the writer as a man of action; he was to serve as a minister under Charles de Gaulle (Gaulle, Charles de) in the postwar government and the Fifth Republic.

      The German attack on the Soviet Union in 1941 was decisive for the French Communist Party, which was to gain considerably through its organized opposition to fascism. The events of the 1930s and '40s strengthened the conviction that intellectuals could not remain politically uncommitted. After 1945, Existentialism, depicting humanity alone in a godless universe, provided intellectual scaffolding for this view of individuals as free to determine themselves through such choices.

      Meanwhile, the Occupation brought prestige and an attentive audience to writers who upheld the honour of their defeated country. The poetry of resistance reached a wide public, notably in the works of the Communist activists Paul Éluard (Éluard, Paul) and Louis Aragon (Aragon, Louis), whose poems were often transmitted orally through the occupied zone. A flourishing clandestine press included the newspaper Combat and the Editions de Minuit, whose first book was Le Silence de la mer (1941; The Silence of the Sea) by Vercors (Jean-Marcel Bruller). Translated and reprinted in Allied countries, Vercors's short novel, like Aragon's collection of poems Le Crève-Coeur (1941; “Heartbreak”; Eng. trans. Le Crève-Coeur), became an emblem of French resistance and was instrumental in restoring French pride and prestige. Printed at the end of the war, Camus's fable La Peste (1947; The Plague), an allegory of the Occupation, returned to the issues of resistance and collaboration to present both a humane understanding of the pressures and limits set by circumstance and a moral judgment that to fail to recognize and fight evil is to become part of it.

      The war transformed the literary scene, eclipsing some writers and lending prestige—for the time being, at least—to those who had made the right moral and political choices. During the Occupation, Jean-Paul Sartre had continued to explore the questions of freedom and necessity, and the interrelationship of individual and collective responsibility and action, in plays such as Les Mouches (1943; The Flies) and Huis-Clos (1944; No Exit, also published as In Camera) and in the treatise L'Être et le néant (1943; Being and Nothingness). After Liberation, the writer and his ideas set the tone for a postwar generation that congregated in the cafés and cellar clubs of Saint-Germain-des-Prés. The myth of this disillusioned youth, its district of Paris, its innocence, its jazz clubs, and its worship of Sartre were captured in Boris Vian's L'Écume des jours (1947; Froth on the Daydream). Sartre's patronage of Jean Genet (Genet, Jean), Cocteau's discovery, helped confirm the reputation of Genet, whose novels of prison fantasy and homosexual desire added to the radical ferment of the 1940s (among them Notre-Dame-des Fleurs [1943; Our Lady of the Flowers] and Querelle de Brest [1947; Querelle of Brest]) and whose plays would give new direction to drama in the 1950s.

      At this period, Sartre's name was linked with that of Albert Camus, then editor in chief of Combat, whose novel L'Étranger (1942; The Stranger, also published as The Outsider) explored similar issues of the social attribution of identity. The two broke off relations after Sartre's critique of Camus's L'Homme révolté (1951; The Rebel). Sartre moved toward the existentialist Marxism of his Critique de la raison dialectique (1960; Critique of Dialectical Reason) and Camus toward a stoical humanism, his later fiction (La Chute, 1956; The Fall) showing evidence of his isolation, his creative unease, and his distress over France's war with Algeria.

      The conflicts submerged in the euphoria of liberation surfaced during the Cold War and were intensified by the colonial wars of the 1950s. In her novel Les Mandarins (1954; The Mandarins), Simone de Beauvoir (Beauvoir, Simone de) (Sartre's lifelong partner) vividly depicted the moral, political, and personal choices confronting French intellectuals in a world defined by the battle for hegemony between Washington and Moscow. However, her analysis of women's situation, Le Deuxième Sexe (1949; The Second Sex), a succès de scandale on its first appearance, was to be a more influential achievement. The publication in 1958 of her Mémoires d'une jeune fille rangée (Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter) marked the beginning of a sequence of autobiographical works that tracked the different phases of her own life and the exchanges within it between public and private experience. After Sartre's death she gave a moving account of his later years in La Cérémonie des adieux (1981; Adieux, A Farewell to Sartre). The posthumous publication in the 1990s of their letters and diaries from the war years later brought the relationship between the couple, and their relationships with others, into more-complex and sometimes surprising perspectives.

Toward the nouveau roman (New Novel)
      The popular literary event of 1954 was Bonjour tristesse (“Hello, Sadness”; Eng. trans. Bonjour Tristesse). Published when its author, Françoise Sagan (Sagan, Françoise) (pseudonym of Françoise Quoirez), was only 19 years old, this novel of adolescent love was written with “classical” restraint and a tone of cynical disillusionment and showed the persistence of traditional form in the preferred fictions of the novel-reading public. The Naturalist novel survived in the work of Henri Troyat and others, while its assumptions about the role of the author and the nature of fictional “reality” continued to be taken for granted by a host of novelists and their readers.

      These assumptions, challenged in the interwar years in the Joycean novel, had already found opposition in the prose fictions of Samuel Beckett (Beckett, Samuel), Joyce's disciple and fellow Irishman, who published his first major text in French in 1951. Molloy (Eng. trans. Molloy) was the first of a trilogy exploring the constitution of the individual subject in discursive form, setting out the framing limits of identity constituted by language, history, social institutions, family, and the forms of storytelling (the other two volumes in the trilogy are Malone meurt [1951; Malone Dies] and L'Innommable [1953; The Unnameable]). As the century progressed, it became increasingly clear that Beckett's work was seminal in the understanding of the material operations of writing: where writing comes from, how words work, and the extent to which all individuals live in language.

      In the mid-1950s, however, critical attention was focused on the group dubbed the nouveaux romanciers, or new novelists: Alain Robbe-Grillet (Robbe-Grillet, Alain), Claude Simon (Simon, Claude), Nathalie Sarraute (Sarraute, Nathalie), Michel Butor (Butor, Michel), and Robert Pinget. Marguerite Duras (Duras, Marguerite) (Marguerite Donnadieu) is sometimes added to the list, though not with her approval. The label covered a variety of approaches, but, as theorized in Robbe-Grillet's Pour un nouveau roman (1963; Towards a New Novel), it implied generally the systematic rejection of the traditional framework of fiction—chronology, plot, character—and of the omniscient author. In place of these conventions, the writers offer texts that demand more of the reader, who is presented with compressed, repetitive, or only partially explained events from which to read a meaning that will not, in any case, be definitive. In Robbe-Grillet's La Jalousie (1957; Jealousy), for example, the narrator's suspicions of his wife's infidelity are never confirmed or denied, but the interest of the writing is in conveying their obsessive quality, achieved by the replacement of a chronological narrative with the insistent repetition of details or events. Duras's Moderato cantabile (1958; Eng. trans. Moderato Cantabile) favours innovative stylistic structuring over conventional characterization and plot, her purpose not to tell a story but to use the play of form to represent the movements of desire—complex, ambiguous, and disruptive.

      The nouveau roman (French: “ New Novel”) was open to influence from works being written abroad, notably by William Faulkner (Faulkner, William), and from the cinema. Both Robbe-Grillet and Duras contributed to the nouvelle vague, or New Wave, style of filmmaking. The nouveau roman was taken up by the literary theorist Jean Ricardou and promulgated by him through the avant-garde critical journal Tel Quel. (Founded in 1960 by Philippe Sollers and other writers, Tel Quel reflects the transformation and politicization of Parisian and international intellectual modes in that decade.) Its scope narrowed over the years, and texts written in this mode were increasingly concerned with emphasizing their status as language games divorced from the real.

Theatrical experiments
      In the 1940s and early '50s, drama found immediate subject matter in the overt clash of politics, ethics, and philosophies, public and personal, that were the substance of everyday life. Jean Anouilh (Anouilh, Jean)'s many plays (exemplified by Antigone [1944; Eng. trans. Antigone]) are lucid, classical moralities, showing that there is a price to be paid for loyalty to people and beliefs. Henry de Montherlant (Montherlant, Henry de)'s historical dramas explored the heroic inconsistency of human behaviour and the fascination of secular and religious idealism. Sartre's expressed aim for his theatre throughout the 1940s and ʾ50s was to show systems of values in conflict. From Les Mouches (produced 1943; The Flies), written for a France suffering Nazi oppression, to Les Séquestrés d'Altona (1959; The Condemned of Altona, also published as Altona), staged when France had become the oppressor in Algeria, his work gives form to the conflicting imperatives of personal survival and collective responsibility and the impossible choices set for the revolutionary by the competing discourses of family, religion, nation, and class.

      This was an outstanding moment for the French stage. At the same time, government policy to provide state financial aid after the war led to the encouragement of great drama in the provinces (the Avignon Festival, founded by the great director Jean Vilar in 1947 to reach a younger public with more vibrant and modern acting and staging techniques) and the establishment of remarkable and innovative theatre companies in Paris, such as the Théâtre National Populaire and the Compagnie Jean-Louis Barrault–Madeleine Renaud. The work and the theories of Jarry, Cocteau, and Artaud now began to bear their fruit. The plays of Anouilh and, to a lesser extent, those of Sartre still conveyed their intentions effectively from the author's script. Playwrights such as Jean Genet, Eugène Ionesco (Ionesco, Eugène), Arthur Adamov (Adamov, Arthur), and Samuel Beckett (Beckett, Samuel) focused to a great degree on the realization of text in performance. Though Genet's Les Bonnes (The Maids) appeared in 1947 and Ionesco's La Cantatrice chauve (The Bald Soprano) in 1949, public recognition of the new theatre did not come until 1953, with Roger Blin's production of Beckett's En attendant Godot (1952; Waiting for Godot). (Blin is notable for his early presentation of plays by Beckett, Genet, and other important dramatists.) Their antecedents as diverse as the fool of Shakespearean drama and the tramp of silent comedy, Vladimir and Estragon are locked together in lyrical, violent, and trivial exchanges that model the devastating absurdity of latter-day Western humanism in a highly stylized dramatic form that brings together musical composition, high tragedy, pantomime, and knockabout farce. Recognition, when it came, certainly answered fully Artaud's requirement for a theatre that would shock its spectators into awareness of the darkness that shaped their world. Le Balcon (1956; The Balcony), Genet's violently erotic representation of the spectacular fascination of power and its corrupting effect on revolutionary impulses, waited two years before the censor would admit it to the stage. Les Nègres (1958; The Blacks), less visual in its obscenity, was no more careful of the audience's sensibilities, tearing apart the verbal and social discourses that create and sustain racial oppression.

Postwar poetry
      New currents in the novel and the theatre were easier to define than those in poetry, where the lack of a broad readership was, in itself, an encouragement to fragmentation. The works of Jacques Prévert (Prévert, Jacques) and the songs of Georges Brassens and Jacques Brel did achieve the status of popular poetry; but, apart from Saint-John Perse, there was no major figure in the tradition of Claudel and Valéry, and the poetry of the post-Surrealist generation appeared to have no clear formal or ideological direction. In contrast to the tendency to abstract and symbolic language that characterized the poetry of René Char (Char, René) and Pierre Emmanuel (pseudonym of Noël Mathieu), the prose poems of Francis Ponge (Ponge, Francis) developed a materialist discourse that aimed to allow the object to “speak” for itself, foregrounding devices such as wordplay that emphasized the act of poetic perception and the role of writing in the object's construction. This fascination with structures of perceiving, the forms that communicate them, and the relationship of poet and poetry to the lived, material “real” is the great preoccupation of Yves Bonnefoy (Bonnefoy, Yves), arguably the major French poet of the second half of the century. Bonnefoy published his first important collection, Du mouvement et de l'immobilité de Douve (On the Motion and Immobility of Douve), in 1953. A similar focus on the capacity of poetry to engage poet and readers in the joint search for meaning in the external world is to be found in the work of poets such as Philippe Jaccottet, Eugène Guillevic, and Michel Deguy.

      On the whole, the intellectual bourgeoisie that might have provided the larger audience for poetry's investigations into the working of words was at this point more interested in formal experiments in the visual arts, especially the cinema. A younger generation, from the late 1960s, was more open to fantasy and the imagination but impatient of formal discipline. The “do-it-yourself” poetry that appealed to this group's egalitarian instincts was as ephemeral as the little magazines in which it appeared during the 1970s, and the “crisis of verse” that Jacques Roubaud described in his study of French versification, La Vieillesse d'Alexandre (1978; “Alexander in Old Age”), remained unresolved.

      Roubaud's own poetry, including Trente et un au cube (1973; “Thirty-one Cubed”), looked to Japanese literature as the inspiration for work that was structured yet free from the burden of European rhetoric. He was associated with OuLiPo (Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle; “Workshop of Potential Literature”), an experimental group of writers of poetry and prose formed by Raymond Queneau (Queneau, Raymond) and inspired by Alfred Jarry (Jarry, Alfred), who saw the acceptance of rigorous formal constraints—often mathematical—as the best way of liberating artistic potential. Queneau, most widely known as the author of Zazie dans le métro (1959; Zazie in the Metro), had already in 1947 offered the example of his stylistic demonstrations in Exercices de style. In his Cent mille milliards de poèmes (1961; One Hundred Million Million Poems), the reader was invited to rearrange 10 sonnets in all the variations possible, as indicated by the title. OuLiPo's attachment to the serious pleasures of word games, and their engagement in sometimes unbelievably demanding forms, has perhaps its best illustration in the prose works of Georges Perec (Perec, Georges), discussed below. This renewal of interest in the playful aspects of literary composition was consistent with contemporary critical theory—the revision by Ferdinand de Saussure (Saussure, Ferdinand de) and, later, Roland Barthes (Barthes, Roland), of the relation between language-systems and meaning.

The 1960s: before the watershed
      In the early 1960s, free of colonial entanglements, France enjoyed a period of perceived increasing stability and affluence, managing for the time being to avoid facing the consequences of the processes of decolonization, which were already creating the conditions of far more radical sociocultural change. Frantz Fanon (Fanon, Frantz)'s Les Damnés de la terre (1961; The Wretched of the Earth), appearing with a preface by Sartre, made a considerable stir, but there was as yet no effective audience for its sharp analyses of the damage done to European culture and morality by Europe's destructive treatment of the Third World. Because of its focus on French policy in Algeria, Genet's corrosively satiric drama Les Paravents (1961; The Screens) premiered in Berlin and was not performed on the French stage until 1966, four years after the war in Algeria ended. Despite le fast-food, le marketing, and le rock, French culture was confident that it preserved an individual character, and the French enjoyed the defense offered against such transatlantic imports by René Etiemble in his polemic Parlez-vous franglais? (1964; “Do You Speak Frenglish”). The technocratic middle class, which benefited most from the country's prosperity, was open to new ideas in science, and its materialist outlook found expression in Jacques Monod (Monod, Jacques)'s Le Hasard et la nécessité (1970; Chance and Necessity). Monod, who won the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for 1965, rejected earlier ideologies, including religion, and drew on science for a view of the human place in the universe. The new technology seemed to promise endless growth and the erosion of class divisions. Other thinkers and creative writers doubted the value of society's new directions.

      The most significant developments in literature seemed to be outside the field of imaginative literature, though more often than not they drew for their inspiration and power on the radical writings of recent generations, and they themselves quickly engendered literary innovations. In regard to these innovations, the journal Tel Quel was particularly instrumental.

      Learning to live with uncertainty and to take pleasure in the abandonment of absolutes was the determining mode of thought in the 1960s and '70s, and in this French thinkers set the international agenda. structuralism, based on the analytic methods of the linguistic theorist Ferdinand de Saussure (Saussure, Ferdinand de), proposed that phenomena be considered not in themselves but in terms of their working relationship to the organized structures within which they exist. The structural anthropology of Claude Lévi-Strauss (Lévi-Strauss, Claude) resulted in popular texts on social and cultural practices that forced Western cultures to reconsider themselves in the light of the other cultures they had exploited in order to flourish. Among Lévi-Strauss's influential works are Tristes Tropiques (1955; “Sad Tropics”; Eng. trans. Tristes Tropiques) and Le Cru et le cuit (1964; The Raw and the Cooked). The semiology (the science of signs) of Roland Barthes (Barthes, Roland) gave impetus to the study of the political nature of language and the attempt to understand the ways in which a society's discourses speak through and constitute both writers and readers. His works include Le Degré zéro de l'écriture (1953; Writing Degree Zero) and Mythologies (1957; Eng. trans. Mythologies). The latter offers readings of the icons of contemporary culture and has become a basic text in the academic discipline known as cultural studies. Barthes made a crucial distinction between the “writerly” and the “readerly” text, emphasizing the scope a “readerly” text gives to plural, disruptive readings. Le Plaisir du texte (1973; The Pleasure of the Text) pursued the concept of the subversive pleasure of reading. The “death of the author” trumpeted by early Barthes turned out eventually to have been much exaggerated, and his own later interest in autobiography certainly went some way to disproving it; but the issues the provocative concept raised—the autonomy of the individual subject, the nature of creative inspiration—were important ones.

Lacan and Foucault
      The teaching and writing, much of it dating to the 1930s, of the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan (Lacan, Jacques) (Écrits [1966; Ecrits: A Selection]) influenced many major thinkers in the 1960s and '70s. Lacan proved to be a major influence on avant-garde French feminism, and he led Freudian thought in fresh directions through his work on the part played by language and unconscious desire in the formation of a human subject that must always be seen as open, incomplete, and in process. Michel Foucault (Foucault, Michel) has perhaps been even more influential than Lacan, his studies carrying into the context of public and private life his explorations of the relations of power to forms of knowing. In the early 1960s, writing in an accessible fashion on gripping topics such as madness, Foucault showed how the individual subject is formed inside the discourses of society's institutions. Louis Althusser linked Marxism, structuralism, and Lacanian psychoanalysis in his "Freud et Lacan" (1964; reprinted in Writings on Psychoanalysis: Freud and Lacan), which was published in the year that Foucault delivered his lecture "Nietzsche, Freud, Marx."

La Nouvelle Critique (French New Criticism)
      The new and subversive critical tendencies of the 1960s demanded more of the reader, who was to become an active participant in decoding the text, not a passive recipient. The term New Criticism (not to be confused with the Anglo-American New Criticism, developed after World War I, whose proponents were associated with the maintenance of conservative perspectives and structures) covers a wide range of very different practices and practitioners, from Georges Poulet (Poulet, Georges) and Jean-Pierre Richard to the Marxists Lucien Goldmann and Pierre Macherey and, later, Philippe Sollers and Julia Kristeva (Kristeva, Julia). Their new modes of reading, which challenged the conservative traditions embedded in the universities, contributed to the build-up of a wider demand for radical change. The New Critics despised the university establishment and met with opposition from it about the time that Barthes's Sur Racine (1963; On Racine) was published. The confrontation was symptomatic. The educational system was itself rigid and outdated; a liberal university admissions policy was combined with a teaching method based largely on formal lectures, and the vast student body was without any say in the running of a system that seemed to be largely irrelevant to its needs.

Approaching the 21st century

The events of 1968 and their aftermath
      During the student revolt in May 1968, streets, factories, schools, and universities became the stage for a spontaneous performance aimed at subverting bourgeois culture (a show with no content, occluding real life, according to Guy Debord, La Société du spectacle, 1967; The Society of the Spectacle). Posters and graffiti, the instruments of subversion, were elevated to a popular art form. Theatre experimented with audience participation and improvisation, a movement that continued into the 1970s. Rock music and comic books flourished. In the late 1960s television, which had been closely controlled by the government under de Gaulle, began to play an increasing role in cultural life; discussion programs and spin-offs from serials or adaptations increasingly replaced newspapers in guiding taste. The immediate aftermath of the May Events was a closing of conservative ranks, but this was short-lived. May 1968 has become the newest icon in France's revolutionary cultural tradition.

Derrida and other theorists
      The philosopher Jacques Derrida (Derrida, Jacques) (L'Écriture et la différance [1967; Writing and Difference]) contributed to the contemporary cult of uncertainty with his poststructuralist project to “deconstruct (deconstruction)” the binary structures of thinking on which Western culture appeared to be based and to expose the hierarchies of power sustained by such simple oppositions (such as the favouring of speech over writing or masculine over feminine). Derrida challenged the conventional cultural markers of authority, attacking “logocentrism” (the belief in the existence of a foundational absolute word or reality) and “phonocentrism” (lodging authenticity and truth in the voice of the speaker). In their L'Anti-Œdipe: capitalisme et schizophrénie (1972; The Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia), Gilles Deleuze (Deleuze, Gilles) and Félix Guattari (Guattari, Pierre-Félix) gave a radical thrust to the analysis of individual desire, to be considered not in Freudian terms of repression and lack but as the source of transformative, liberating energy. Foucault continued his enquiries into the social forces and institutions that call individual subjectivity into existence, in volumes such as Surveiller et punir: naissance de la prison (1975; Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison) and Histoire de la sexualité (1976–84; The History of Sexuality). Pierre Bourdieu, who founded the sociology of knowledge, published La Reproduction (1970; Reproduction in Education, Society, and Culture), his seminal investigation into the social processes that ensure the transmission of “cultural capital” in ways that reproduce the established order.

Feminist (women's movement) writers
      The Mouvement de Libération des Femmes (MLF; Movement for the Liberation of Women) developed within the radical thinking and action that marked 1968 and produced feminist extensions of the work of Lacan, Derrida, and Deleuze. Combining the disciplines of literary theory and psychology to explore language as an instrument for radical change, Julia Kristeva (Kristeva, Julia) wrote the highly influential La Révolution du langage poétique (1974; Revolution in Poetic Language). Its account of two new areas of discourse, the semiotic and the symbolic, proposed new ideas on the formation of identity, especially the mother-child relationship, which have transformed ideas of women's function and significance. Simone de Beauvoir's work provided inspiration for large sectors of the movement. autobiography or autobiographical fiction were popular modes, combining lively linguistic experiment with innovative analyses of individual experience, focusing especially on hitherto taboo areas, such as female sexuality and the family and its discontents. Among writers in this vein were Violette Leduc in La Bâtarde (1964; “The Bastard”; Eng. trans. La Bâtarde) and Marie Cardinal in Les Mots pour le dire (1975; The Words to Say It). Creative writers in the realist mode addressed a widening popular readership with accounts of the lives of women trapped in slum housing and dead-end jobs. Notable works in this mode include Christiane Rochefort's Les Petits Enfants du siècle (1961; “Children of the Times”; Eng. trans. Josyane and the Welfare) and Claire Etcherelli's Élise; ou, la vraie vie (1967; Elise; or, The Real Life). But an equally significant impact was made by writers looking for ways of transforming masculine language for women-generated versions of feminine subjectivity. The texts of James Joyce and Samuel Beckett lie behind Hélène Cixous (Cixous, Hélène)'s écriture féminine, a kind of writing that emblematizes feminine difference. This writing is driven and styled by a “feminine” logic opting for openness, inclusiveness, digression, and play that Cixous opposes to a “masculine” mode that is utilitarian, authoritarian, elitist, and hierarchical. In the 1970s Cixous expressed the theory of the new style in texts such as La Jeune Née (1975, in dialogue with Cathérine Clément; The Newly Born Woman), and she has continued to practice it in prose fictions of varying value, such as Dedans (1969; Inside), awarded the Prix Médicis, Révolutions pour plus d'un Faust (1975; “Revolutions for More Than One Faust”), and Angst (1977; Eng. trans. Angst). The radical lesbian writer Monique Wittig (Wittig, Monique) made language experiments of a slightly different kind in prose fictions that push the boundaries of genre and model women's struggle for self-designation inside forms of language and social institutions that are the product of masculine priorities and values. The novel L'Opoponax (1964; The Opoponax) is a brilliant account of the making of a feminine subject, from childhood to adolescence. Le Corps lesbien (1973; The Lesbian Body), a violent, sadomasochistic, and lyrical text of prose fiction, is a unique attempt to evoke in its own language the body of female desire.

      In the theatre, feminism also made its own space. Marguerite Duras (Duras, Marguerite)'s India Song (1972; Eng. trans. India Song) found new configurations of space and sound to describe the protean nature of gendered desire. Cixous's Portrait de Dora (1976), initially a radio play, is a psychodrama of the patient's escape from the interpretative webs of Freudian desire. In contrast, her epics in the mid-1980s on the Cambodian and Indian struggles were tailor-made for founding director Ariane Mnouchkine's Théâtre du Soleil, a troupe known for spectacular performances in large-scale venues.

Other literature of the 1970s
      After 1968, literature became committed to the search for different themes, perspectives, and voices. The women's movement, with its insistence on seeking out a diversity and proliferation of voices, was highly influential; another important factor, not unconnected with this, was the rise of writing in French from France's former colonies. Other influences must include, in academia, the commitment of critical theory to the business of finding fresh angles and lines of investigation and, on the wider popular front, the exponential expansion of the media and its unprecedented demand for fresh stories, images, and forms. Within this growing commitment to the fashionable, the history of the novel became one of quickly displaced trends and meteoric rises (and disappearances). At the same time, several writers with established reputations continued to demonstrate their merit (Beauvoir, Duras, Beckett—the latter in powerful pieces of increasingly minimalist prose), and they were joined by others. Georges Perec (Perec, Georges), one of the best-known members of OuLiPo, had first made his mark in 1965, with the novel Les Choses: une histoire des années soixante (Things: A Story of the Sixties), a devastatingly comic account of a young couple in thrall to consumerism and the rhetorics of advertising. He followed this with other discourse games, such as La Disparition (1969; A Void), a text composed entirely without using the letter e, and La Vie: mode d'emploi (1978; Life: A User's Manual), his most celebrated work, constructed in the form of a variant on a mathematical puzzle. Michel Tournier (Tournier, Michel) caught the public imagination with work that set up an adult relationship with the heritage of children's stories. Vendredi; ou, les limbes du Pacifique (1967; Friday; or, The Other Island) was followed by Le Roi des Aulnes (1970; The Ogre, also published as The Erl-King), an extraordinary combination of myth and parable. His short stories collected in Le Coq de bruyère (1978; The Fetishist and Other Stories) and the novel Gaspard, Melchior, Balthasar (1980; The Four Wise Men) were subversive rewritings of ancient tales. Other writers provided more direct responses to the political and economic frustrations of the decade: J.M.G. Le Clézio (Le Clézio, Jean-Marie Gustave)'s apocalyptic fictions, for example, evoked the alienation of life in technological, consumerist society.

      In the 1970s writers began to confront the events of the Occupation. Perec's W; ou, le souvenir d'enfance (1975; W; or, The Memory of Childhood) is an autobiography formed of the alternating chapters of two seemingly unconnected texts, which eventually find their resolution in the concentration camp. The novels of Patrick Modiano used a nostalgic fascination with the war years to explore problems of individual and collective identities, responsibilities, and loyalties.

Historical fiction (historical novel)
      The frustrations of the times may have added to the attraction of the historical novel, which remained popular throughout the second half of the century. Marguerite Yourcenar (Yourcenar, Marguerite), who in 1980 became the first woman elected to the Académie Française, had shown that the genre could move beyond escapism. Mémoires d'Hadrien (1951; Memoirs of Hadrian) and L'Oeuvre au noir (1968; The Abyss), evoking the making and unmaking of order in Europe, offered portraits of men who grappled with the limitations of their time. In addition to proffering rich evocations of the past, Yourcenar's accounts had contemporary political resonance. History proved able to accommodate a vast range of fiction, from popular romance and fictionalized biography to the linguistic and narrative experiments of writers such as Pierre Guyotat, whose Éden, Éden, Éden (1970; Eden, Eden, Eden), a novel about war, prostitution, obscenity, and atrocity, set in the Algerian desert, was banned by the censor for 11 years; Florence Delay in her stylish novel L'Insuccès de la fête (1980; “The Failure of the Feast”); and, especially, Nobel Prize-winning author Claude Simon (Simon, Claude), many of whose works, notably La Route des Flandres (1960; The Flanders Road), Histoire (1967; “Tale”; Eng. trans. Histoire), and Les Géorgiques (1981; The Georgics), not only evoke deeply human experiences of loss and longing but also explore forms of memory and remembering and questions of subjectivity and historical truth. Historical fiction was sustained by the prestige of historiography, in the shape of Michel Foucault (Foucault, Michel)'s studies of sexuality and attitudes to death, and the narrative and materialist social history associated with the journal Annales, founded in 1929 by Marc Bloch (Bloch, Marc) and Lucien Febvre (Febvre, Lucien Paul Victor).

biography and related arts
      There was a corresponding interest in biography, autobiography, and memoirs. The novelists Julien Green (Green, Julien), Julien Gracq (pseudonym of Louis Poirier), and Yourcenar (discussed above) were among several figures of an earlier generation who began in the 1970s to publish journals and memoirs rather than fiction, and the film versions of Marcel Pagnol (Pagnol, Marcel Paul)'s 1950s recollections of his Provençal childhood met with great success. The vogue would gather momentum in the last decades of the century, in texts which, increasingly, became technically innovative, such as Roland Barthes par Roland Barthes (1975; Roland Barthes), a contradictory, self-critical portrait; and Nathalie Sarraute (Sarraute, Nathalie)'s Enfance (1983; Childhood). Genre boundaries blurred: in Barthes's Fragments d'un discours amoureux (1977; A Lover's Discourse: Fragments), criticism and self-analysis became fiction and writing became an erotic act.

Detective fiction (detective story)
      Detective fiction, a genre sometimes exploited by the nouveau roman, had an outstanding practitioner in Georges Simenon (Simenon, Georges), the inventor of Inspector Maigret, who during the 1970s also turned to autobiography. The gangster novels of Albert Simonin (Simonin, Albert-Charles), like the parodies of Frédéric Dard (better known as San-Antonio), made imaginative use of Parisian argot, but the chief attraction of the thriller for more “literary” writers was its form, which they, like a number of filmmakers, adopted as a framework for the investigation of questions of identity or moral and political dilemmas. In Patrick Modiano's Rue des boutiques obscures (1978; “The Street of Dark Shops”; Eng. trans. Missing Person), for example, a detective who has lost his memory looks for his identity in the darkness of the wartime past.

The 1980s and '90s
      The closing years of the century were a time of adjustment to political, economic, and social changes. The slow recognition that France was no longer a major player in global politics was accompanied by a reassessment of the leading part the country still played on the cultural stage—not least in Europe, where cultural politics became increasingly important in France's bid for power in the new European Union. Conservative commentators sometimes lamented that French culture at times appeared to be marginal and history to be “happening elsewhere” (as a character remarked in Alain Jouffroy's novel L'Indiscrétion faite à Charlotte [1980; “Charlotte and the Indiscretion”]).

Fiction and nonfiction

Postcolonial literature
      As the century closed, on the far side of the distress caused by the gradual demise of the old regime, it was possible to see new and vital trends emerging. Pierre Nora, writing in 1992 the closing essay to his great project of national cultural commemoration, Les Lieux de mémoire (Realms of Memory), begun in 1984, was struck by the elegiac tone of the finished work and commented that a different tone might have emerged if he had invited his contributors to focus on more marginal groups. Indeed, an important contribution was being made to French cultural life not only by Francophone writers from North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, and the Caribbean but by descendants of immigrants in France itself. Fiction, autobiography, and drama produced by the children of North African immigrants born and brought up in France (known as les beurs, from the word arabe in a form of French slang called verlan) began to find publishers and audiences from the early 1980s. Their insights into the tensions of cross-cultural identity and the patterns of life in the underprivileged working-class suburbs of Paris, Nancy, and Lyon began to enrich the cultural capital of a mainstream readership that was increasingly learning to see itself as formed in the crosscurrents of internationalism and the anti-immigrant, anti-Semitic, far-right National Front (Front National), as delineated in works such as Leïla Houari's Zeida de nulle part (1985; “Zeida from Nowhere”) or her Poème-fleuve pour noyer le temps présent (1995; “Stream-of-Consciousness Poetry to Drown the Present In”). The French also began to come to terms with the Algerian conflict, as evidenced by the success in France of Albert Camus (Camus, Albert)'s posthumously published Le Premier Homme (1994; The First Man), an autobiographical novel based on his father's childhood in Algeria, in a working-class European colonist milieu. Assia Djebar (Djebar, Assia), one of the turn of the century's outstanding novelists, is painfully positioned in terrain that is both European and transatlantic. Having established—in novels such as L'Amour, la fantasia (1985; Fantasia: An Algerian Cavalcade)—her reputation as both ardent defender and critic of her native Algeria, which emerged from colonial oppression with gender repressions still intact, she divided her working life between Europe and the United States, producing fictions that look to the Algerian motherland but are also alert to the hierarchies of power on the frontiers of the new Europe, as in Les Nuits de Strasbourg (1997; “Strasbourg Nights”).

Regional literature
      Funding from the European Union helped keep alive regional traditions. The Occitan (Occitan language) renaissance organized by the poet Frédéric Mistral (Mistral, Frédéric) in the last quarter of the 19th century and relaunched several times, most significantly after World War II, by the Institute of Occitan Studies, is still productive. Fortune de France (1977–85; “The Fortunes of France”), Robert Merle's saga of the Wars of Religion (between the Protestants and Catholics in the 16th and 17th centuries), helped keep the Occitan-speaking region of southern France in the forefront of the popular imagination. Writing in Breton dwindled significantly for many years but has revived, and writing in French focused on the Breton landscape remains significant, especially for poetry. Florence Delay's novel Etxemendi (1990) set its plot in the Basque independence movement.

      Thought and sensibility at the end of the century were in thrall to postmodernism, which has been variously described as a radical attack on all authoritarian discourse and a return to conservatism by the back door. Jean-Franƈois Lyotard (Lyotard, Jean-François)'s La Condition postmoderne (1979; The Postmodern Condition) declared the end of the modes and concepts that had fueled 18th-century scientific rationalism and the industrial and capitalist society to which it gave birth: the “grand narratives” of historical progress and concepts of universal moral value and absolute worth. Societies were to be seen instead as collections of games or performances, played within arbitrary sets of rules. Jean Baudrillard (Baudrillard, Jean)'s critical accounts of the inscription of consumer society and its discourses into private and public lives had a subversive impact at the moment of their first production through such works as Pour une critique de l'économie politique du signe (1972; For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign). But from the 1980s his work was perceived as a product of conservative postmodernism that seemed to assert that history had no more use and that value judgements were at an end. His La Guerre du Golfe n'a pas eu lieu (1991; The Gulf War Did Not Take Place) was an attack on the posturing of all parties to the Gulf War; this posturing, Baudrillard argued, had replaced meaningful political thought and action.

      As postmodernism became less fashionable, traditions concerned with society, history, and morality reemerged. The psycho-political critique of Deleuze and Guattari made its way into the intellectual mainstream. Pierre Bourdieu continued his analytical and empirical studies of cultural institutions, including broadcasting and television (Sur la télévision [1996; On Television]). A society traditionally split between elite and mass culture was given a new positive account of the nature of the ordinary consumer in Michel de Certeau's L'Invention du quotidien (1980; The Practice of Everyday Life), which aimed to provide the tools for people to understand and control the discourses that shaped the ordinary processes of living.

Prose fiction
      In the field of prose fiction, Jean Echenoz's comic pastiches of adventure, detective, and spy stories pleased both critics and the reading public. New themes emerged in the terrain in between modes and disciplines. Photography and writing joined to produce the photo-roman, concerned with exploring the relationship between the image, especially images of the body, and the narrative work that goes into its construction and interpretation. Good examples of the photo-roman are Barthes's La Chambre Claire (1980; Camera Lucida) and Hervé Guibert's Vice (1991). Gay writing, already becoming more political and more polemic, found an important collective focus in the AIDS crisis, most notably in Guibert's best-selling A l'ami qui ne m'a pas sauvé la vie (1990; To the Friend Who Did Not Save My Life). The quality and variety of women's writing was outstanding. Social issues were addressed in the autobiographical fiction of Annie Ernaux, who, in La Place (1983; Positions, also published as A Man's Place) and Une Femme (1988; “A Woman”; A Woman's Story), looked at the stresses between generations created by social change and changes of class allegiance. Ernaux's later writing was more directly personal: L'Événement (2000; Happening) is her account of an abortion she underwent in her early 20s. Christiane Rochefort's novel of child abuse, La Porte au fond (“The Door at the Back of the Room”), appeared in 1988. Hélène Cixous's feminist classic, Le Livre de Prométhéa (1983; The Book of Promethea)—learned, funny, sparkling, and innovative—achieved its writer's ambition to make a distinctive model of the desiring feminine subject, within but not consumed by the inherited forms of writing and culture. Marguerite Duras (Duras, Marguerite)'s autobiographical novels L'Amant (1984; The Lover) and L'Amant de la Chine du Nord (1991; The North China Lover) voiced their author's own version of the feminine erotic. Monique Wittig stylized lesbian sadomasochism in her parodic Virgile, Non (1985; “Virgil, No”; Eng. trans. Across the Acheron). Another generation began publishing in the 1980s. Marie Redonnet's prose fictions sit at the edge of popular culture, in a bizarre blend of realism and fantasy, engaging in confident negotiation with the myths and forms of both maternal and paternal inheritance. Chantal Chawaf's sensually charged prose offers a highly original version of the blood rhythms of the body in Rédemption (1989; Eng. trans. Redemption), a very new kind of vampire novel.

      Writers offered radically different versions of life in the contemporary world. Sylvie Germain's magic realism works on landscapes steeped in history, where the past painfully but also productively encloses the present. Her novel La Pleurante des rues de Prague (1992; The Weeping Woman on the Streets of Prague) is a dreamlike, surreal evocation of a city haunted by its sorrowful history. Tobie des marais (1998; The Book of Tobias) reworks the apocryphal tale in a France that is simultaneously, and pleasingly, medieval and modern. Michel Houellebecq appears less pleased with the burden imposed on his present by the past, especially by the liberal generation of the 1960s, which he holds responsible for everything noxious in the modern world. The narrative personae of his highly successful novels Extension du domaine de la lutte (1994; Whatever) and Les Particules élémentaires (1998; The Elementary Particles, also published as Atomised) are splenetic victims of their own failure of nerve, attacking a society in their own image, narcissistic and world-weary. Marie Darrieussecq's Truismes (1996; Pig Tales: A Novel of Lust and Transformation) is a more dynamic novel; it is an imaginative political and moral satire depicting the blackly comic world of a young working woman with a highly materialistic lifestyle who begins to turn into a pig—and finds her transformation both appropriate and satisfying.

      Christian Prigent asked in his essay of 1996 what poets were good for in the modern world ( "A quoi bon encore les poètes" ). His work and that of such well-established figures as Philippe Jaccottet (La Seconde Semaison [1996; “The Second Sowing”]) were well-recognized at the turn of the century, and Michel Houellebecq published his collected poems (Poésies) in 2000. Martin Sorrell's bilingual anthology, Elles (1995; “They [the women]”), has shown the flourishing state of women's poetry. In it, Marie-Claire Bancquart, Andrée Chedid, and Jeanne Hyvrard offer their own insights into the problematic of gender roles and the challenge of finding a female poetic voice. Hyvrard inscribes a special preoccupation with the political condition of women across the world.

      Most interesting of all, perhaps, was the revival of scripted drama at the end of the 20th century. The directors' theatre that held sway in the 1970s and early 1980s (inspiring spectacular and innovative staging developments in nontraditional venues that took theatre to new audiences in Paris and the provinces and gave great scope to actors for developing their own stagecraft and improvisatory skills) had marginalized new writing. Ministry of Culture subsidies supported the work of Michel Vinaver and Bernard-Marie Koltès, whose plays are concerned with individuals struggling with the institutional discourses—family, law, politics—of which contemporary consumer society and their own identities are woven. The quick exchanges of Vinaver's play L'Émission de télévision (1990; The Television Programme, published in Plays) express the anxieties of a world in which realities are constantly shifting. Koltès's work is especially concerned with the marginalized individuals and groups—immigrants, poor, criminals, or simply disaffected—who carry the weight of the postcolonial world. His Dans la solitude des champs de coton (1986; “In the Solitude of Cotton Fields”), written two years before his death from AIDS and now translated and performed across the world, is a brilliant two-actor play that embodies the central theme of his drama. Modern life, for Koltès, is focused in the deal—in confrontations and negotiations between unequal individuals, client and dealer, in struggles for power, which are also struggles for survival. Dealing is done in language, and what is acted out on the Koltesian stage are the rhetorical performances by which people live—on the edge of darkness, at the frontiers of disorder. Close to the surface of the language of the deal and constantly piercing its skin is the violence that, in Koltès's view, constitutes the postcolonial world.

      It is perhaps in the theatre that the value of current insights into the ludic and performative nature of the human condition can most easily be tested. At the close of the century, the most modern of creative writers in this respect remained Irish-born Samuel Beckett (Beckett, Samuel), standing at the intersection of Irish and French cultural traditions. Although Beckett died in 1989, more than a decade before the close of the 20th century, his importance, influence, and presence had never been greater. Shifting in its latter stages to an increasingly minimalist but always materialist mode, variously exploiting and offsetting the rhythms of language, vision, and movement in order to explore the limits and the potential of form, Beckett's drama enshrines the serious nature of play. In so doing, it brings into focus what have always been the best parts of the French contribution to the Western cultural tradition: the analytic vision that penetrates the patterns and structures of the historical moment, the synthetic imagination that clarifies those patterns for others to see, in all their force and intensity—and the driving desire to see them otherwise.

Robin Caron Buss Jennifer Birkett

Additional Reading

General literary histories
Among the literary histories and reference books available at the turn of the 21st century are Jennifer Birkett and James Kearns, A Guide to French Literature: From Early Modern to Postmodern (1997); Peter France (ed.), The New Oxford Companion to Literature in French (1995); David Hollier (ed.), A New History of French Literature (1989, reissued 1994); and Anthony Levi, Guide to French Literature, 2 vol. (1992–94).

Middle Ages
Useful histories include John Fox, The Middle Ages (1974), vol. 1 in the series A Literary History of France, ed. by P.E. Charvet; Lynette R. Muir, Literature and Society in Medieval France: The Mirror and the Image, 1100–1500 (1985); and Paul Zumthor, Speaking of the Middle Ages (1986), translated by Sarah White, originally published in French, 1980.C.W. Aspland (ed.), A Medieval French Reader (1979); and Brian Woledge (ed.), The Penguin Book of French Verse, vol. 1 (1961), are anthologies.The epic is discussed in Jessie Crosland, The Old French Epic (1951, reprinted 1971); Pierre Le Gentil, The Chanson de Roland (1969; originally published in French, 1955); and Joseph J. Duggan, A Guide to Studies on the Chanson de Roland (1976).Discussions of the romance can be found in Roger Sherman Loomis (ed.), Arthurian Literature in the Middle Ages (1959, reprinted 1979); L.T. Topsfield, Chrétien de Troyes: A Study of the Arthurian Romances (1981); Douglas Kelly, Medieval French Romance (1993); and David J. Shirt, The Old French Tristan Poems (1980).Simon Gaunt and Sarah Kay (eds.), The Toubadours: An Introduction (1999); L.T. Topsfield, Troubadours and Love (1975, reprinted 1978); and Frederick Goldin (comp.), Lyrics of the Troubadours and Trouvères (1973, reprinted 1983) treat the lyric. Janet M. Ferrier, French Prose Writers of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries (1966), covers prose of the period; and Grace Frank, The Medieval French Drama (1954, reprinted 1972), places medieval plays in context.

The 16th century
A general background of the period is provided in Fernand Braudel, The Structures of Everyday Life, vol. 1, The Limits of the Possible (1981, reissued 1992), originally published in French (1967); and Natalie Zemon Davis, Society and Culture in Early Modern France (1975, reissued 1987). A briefer overview is given in A.J. Krailsheimer (ed.), The Continental Renaissance (1971, reissued 1978); and I.D. McFarlane, A Literary History of France, vol. 2: Renaissance France 1470–1589 (1974). Among studies of the Pléiade are Henri Weber, La Création poétique au XVIe siècle en France de Maurice Scève à Agrippa d'Aubigné (1956, reissued 1994); and Grahame Castor, Pléiade Poetics: A Study in Sixteenth-Century Thought and Terminology (1964). The poetry and prose of the time is treated in Terence C. Cave, The Cornucopian Text: Problems of Writing in the French Renaissance (1979, reissued 1985), and Devotional Poetry in France c. 1570–1613 (1969). Jean Céard, La Nature et les prodiges: l'insolite au 16e siècle en France, 2nd ed. rev. (1996), studies the philosophy and cosmology of Ronsard and his contemporaries; as does Guy Demerson, La Mythologie classique dans l'oeuvre lyrique de la “Pléiade” (1972). The subject of drama is covered in Geoffrey Brereton, French Tragic Drama in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries (1973); and Madeleine Lazard, Le Théâtre en France au XVIe siècle (1980), which explores the decline of the medieval styles and the return of Classical tragedy and comedy.

The 17th century
Important works include P.J. Yarrow, “The Seventeenth Century, 1715–1789,” in P.E. Charvet (ed.), A Literary History of France, vol. 2 (1967); John Cruickshank (ed.), The Seventeenth Century (1969), vol. 2 in French Literature and Its Background; John Lough, Paris Theatre Audiences in the 17th & 18th Centuries (1957, reissued 1972); W.D. Howarth, The Seventeenth Century (1965), vol. 1 in Life and Letters of France; and A.J. Krailsheimer (ed.), Studies in Self-Interest: From Descartes to La Bruyère (1962). Among works on the drama are C.J. Gossip, Introduction to French Classical Tragedy (1981); Gordon Pocock, Corneille and Racine: Problems of Tragic Form (1973); and H.T. Barnwell, The Tragic Drama of Corneille and Racine: An Old Parallel Revisited (1982). Odette de Mourgues, Racine; or, the Triumph of Relevance (1967), remains the model for all readings of Racine's poetic texts. Also useful is David Maskell, Racine: A Theatrical Reading (1991).

The 18th century
Standard works on the period are provided by Robert Niklaus, “The Eighteenth Century, 1715–1789,” in P.E. Charvet (ed.), A Literary History of France, vol. 4 (1967); and Jean Ehrard et al. (eds.), Le XVIIIe Siècle, 4 vol. (1974–77), available only in French. Ernst Cassirer, The Philosophy of the Enlightenment (1951, reissued 1966; originally published in German, 1932), provides an introduction to the philosophes; as do the lively essays collected in Robert Darnton, The Great Cat Massacre: And Other Episodes in French Cultural History (1984, reissued 2001). Works on the novel include Peter Brooks, The Novel of Worldliness: Crébillon, Marivaux, Laclos, Stendhal (1969); Joan Hinde Stewart, Gynographs: French Novels by Women of the Late Eighteenth Century (1993); and Vivienne Mylne, The Eighteenth-Century French Novel: Techniques of Illusion, 2nd ed. (1981).

The 19th century
From 1800 to 1850
Excellent studies appear in D.G. Charlton (ed.), The French Romantics, 2 vol. (1984); and W.D. Howarth, Sublime and Grotesque: A Study of French Romantic Drama (1975). Useful works on the exchanges of fiction and history include Ceri Crossley, French Historians and Romanticism (1993); György Lukács, The Historical Novel (1962, reissued 1983; originally published in Hungarian, 1947), and Studies in European Realism (1950, reissued 2002); and Hayden V. White, Metahistory: The Historical Imagination in Nineteenth-Century Europe (1973, reissued 1990).

From 1850 to 1900
Among the better overviews of the literature are Christopher Robinson, French Literature in the Nineteenth Century (1978); and F.W.J. Hemmings, Culture and Society in France, 1848–1898: Dissidents and Philistines (1971). Genres and movements are examined in G.M. Carsaniga and F.W.J. Hemmings (ed.), The Age of Realism (1974, reissued 1978); A.G. Lehmann, The Symbolist Aesthetic in France, 1885–1895, 2nd ed. (1968, reprinted 1977); Anna Balakian, The Symbolist Movement: A Critical Appraisal (1967, reissued 1977); Marvin Carlson, The French Stage in the Nineteenth Century (1972); Jennifer Birkett, The Sins of the Fathers: Decadence in France 1870–1914 (1986); and Richard Griffiths, The Reactionary Revolution: The Catholic Revival in French Literature, 1870–1914 (1966).

The 20th century
An overview of the period from 1920 to 1970 can be found in Germaine Brée, Twentieth-Century French Literature, trans. by Louise Guiney (1983). Works on the novel include Henri Peyre, The Contemporary French Novel (1955, reissued 1959); John Sturrock, The French New Novel: Claude Simon, Michel Butor, Alain Robbe-Grillet (1969); Celia Britton, The Nouveau Roman: Fiction, Theory, Politics (1992); Edmund J. Smyth (ed.), Postmodernism and Contemporary Fiction (1991); Margaret Atack and Phil Powrie (eds.), Contemporary French Fiction by Women: Feminist Perspectives (1990); and Eva Martin Sartori and Dorothy Wynne Zimmerman (eds.), French Women Writers: A Bio-Bibliographical Source Book (1991). Among works on the theatre are Martin Esslin, The Theatre of the Absurd, 3rd ed., rev. and enlarged (1980, reissued 2001); and David Bradby, Modern French Drama, 1940–1990, 2nd ed. (1991). Poetry studies include Marcel Raymond, From Baudelaire to Surrealism (1970; originally published in French, 1933); Peter Broome and Graham Chesters, An Anthology of Modern French Poetry, 1850–1950 (1976); Michael Bishop, The Contemporary Poetry of France: Eight Studies (1985); and Martin Sorrell (ed.), Modern French Poetry: A Bilingual Anthology Covering Seventy Years (1992), and Elles: A Bilingual Anthology of Modern French Poetry by Women (1995). Christopher Robinson, Scandal in the Ink: Male and Female Homosexuality in Twentieth-Century French Literature (1995), is an excellent study.

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