French Literature

Beginning in the 11th century, literature written in medieval French was one of the oldest vernacular (non-Latin) literatures in western Europe and it became a key source of literary themes in the Middle Ages across the continent. Although the European prominence of French literature was eclipsed in part by vernacular literature in Italy in the 14th century, literature in France in the 16th century underwent a major creative evolution, and through the political and artistic programs of the Ancien Régime, French literature came to dominate European letters in the 17th century. In the 18th century, French became the literary lingua franca and diplomatic language of western Europe (and, to a certain degree, in America), and French letters have had a profound impact on all European and American literary traditions while at the same time being heavily influenced by these other national traditions (for example: British and German Romanticism in the nineteenth century). French literary developments of the 19th and 20th centuries have had a particularly strong effect on modern world literature, including: symbolism, naturalism, the "roman-fleuves" of Balzac, Zola and Proust, surrealism, existentialism, and the "Theatre of the Absurd".

Principal works

(from Landmarks in French Literature, by Lytton Strachey)

I. Middle Ages

Chansons de Geste, eleventh to thirteenth centuries.

  • Chanson de Roland, circa 1080.

Romans Bretons, twelfth and thirteenth centuries.

Chrétien de Troyes, 12th cent

Fabliaux, twelfth and thirteenth centuries.

  • Roman de Renard, thirteenth century.
  • Aucassin et Nicolete, circa thirteenth century.

Villehardouin, d. 1213.

  • Conquête de Constantinople, 1205–13.

Guillaume de Lorris (?).

  • La Roman de la Rose (first part), circa 1237.

Jean de Meung, d. 1305.

  • La Roman de la Rose (second part), 1277.

Joinville, 1224–1319.

  • Vie de Saint Louis, 1309.

Froissart, 1337-circa 1410.

  • Chroniques, 1373–1400.

Villon, 1431-(?).

  • Grand Testament, 1461.

Commynes, 1445–1509.

  • Mémoires, 1488–98.

II. Renaissance

Marot, 1496–1544.

Rabelais, Francois, 1494?–1553?

Ronsard, 1524–85.

Du Bellay, 1522–60.

  • Défense et Illustration de la Langue Française, 1549.

Jodelle, 1532–73.

  • Cléopâtre, 1552.

Montaigne, Michel de, 1533–1592

  • Essays, 1580–88.

III. Age of Transition

Malherbe, 1555–1628.

  • Odes, 1607–28.

Hardy, 1570–1631 (circa).

  • Tragedies, 1593–1630.

Academy, founded 1629.

Corneille, 1606–84.

  • Le Cid, 1636.
  • Les Horaces, 1640.
  • Cinna, 1640.
  • Polyeucte, 1643.

Pascal, Blaise, 1623–1662

  • Lettres Provinciales, 1656–57.
  • Pensées, first edition 1670, first complete edition 1844.

IV. Age of Louis XIV

Molière, 1622–1673

  • Les Précieuses Ridicules, 1659.
  • L’École des Femmes, 1662.
  • Tartufe, 1664. Le Misanthrope, 1666.
  • Le Malade Imaginaire, 1673.

La Rochefoucauld, 1613–80.

  • Maximes, 1665.

Boileau, 1636–1711.

  • Satires, 1666.
  • Art Poétique, 1674.

Racine, 1639–99.

  • Andromaque, 1667.
  • Phèdre, 1677.
  • Athalie, 1691.

La Fontaine, Jean de, 1621-1695

  • Fables, 1668–92.

Bossuet, 1627–1704.

  • Oraisons Funèbres, 1669–87.
  • Histoire Universelle, 1681.

Madame de Sévigné, 1626–96.

  • Letters, 1671–96.

Madame de Lafayette, 1634–93.

  • La Princesse de Clèves, 1678.

La Bruyère, 1645–96.

  • Les Caractères, 1688–94.

V. Eighteenth Century

Fontenelle, 1657–1757.

  • Histoire des Oracles, 1687.

Bayle, 1647–1706.

  • Dictionnaire Historique et Critique, 1697.

Fénelon, 1651–1715.

  • Télémaque, 1699.

Montesquieu, 1689–1755.

  • Lettres Persanes, 1721.
  • L’Esprit des Lois, 1748.

Abbé Prévost - Manon Lescaut

Voltaire, 1694–1778

  • La Henriade, 1723.
  • Zaïre, 1732.
  • Lettres Philosophiques, 1734.
  • Essai sur les Moeurs, 1751–56.
  • Candide, 1759.
  • Dictionnaire Philosophique, 1764.
  • Dialogues, etc., 1755–78.

Le Sage, 1668–1747.

  • Gil Blas, 1715–35.

Marivaux, 1688–1763.

  • Vie de Marianne, 1731–41.
  • Les Jeu de l’Amour et du Hasard, 1734.

Saint-Simon, 1675–1755.

  • Mémoires, begun 1740, first edition 1830.

Diderot, 1713–84.

  • Encyclopédie, 1751–80.
  • La Religieuse, first edition 1796.
  • Le Neveu de Rameau, first edition 1823.

Pierre Choderlos de Laclos - Les Liaisons dangereuses

Rousseau, Jean–Jacques, 1712–1778

  • La Nouvelle Héloïse, 1761.
  • Contrat Social, 1762.
  • Confessions, first edition 1781–88.

Beaumarchais, 1732–99.

  • Le Mariage de Figaro, 1784.

Condorcet, 1743–94.

  • Progrès de l’Esprit Humain, 1794.

Chénier, 1762–94.

  • Poems, 1790–94, first edition 1819.

VI. Nineteenth Century— I

Chateaubriand, 1768–1848.

  • Atala, 1801.
  • Génie du Christianisme, 1802.
  • Mémoires d’Outre–Tombe, published 1849.

Lamartine, 1790–1869.

  • Méditations, 1820.

Hugo, Victor, 1802–1885

  • Hernani, 1830.
  • Les Feuilles d’Automne, 1831.
  • Notre–Dame de Paris, 1831.
  • Les Châtiments, 1852.
  • Les Contemplations, 1856.
  • La Légende des Siècles, 1859.
  • Les Misérables, 1862.

Dumas, Alexandre, père, 1802–1870

Dumas, Alexandre, fils, 1824–1895

Vigny, 1797–1863.

  • Poemes Antiques et Modernes, 1826.
  • Servitude et Grandeur Militaires, 1835.

Alfred de Musset, 1810–57.

  • Caprices de Marianne, 1833.
  • Lorenzaccio, 1834.
  • Les Nuits, 1835–40.

Sand, George, 1804–1876

  • Indiana, 1832.
  • François le Champi, 1850.

Stendhal, 1783–1842

  • Le Rouge et le Noir, 1831.

Balzac, Honore de, 1799–1850

  • La Comédie Humaine, 1829–50.

Michelet, 1798–1874.

  • History, 1833–67.

VII. Nineteenth Century— II

Sainte-Beuve, 1804–69.

  • Lundis, 1850–69.

Souvestre, Émile, 1806–1854

Renan, 1833–92.

  • Vie de Jésus, 1863.

Taine, 1828–93.

Flaubert, Gustave, 1821–1880

  • Madame Bovary, 1857.
  • Salammbô, 1862.

Gautier, 1811–72.

  • Émaux et Camées, 1852.

Baudelaire, Charles, 1821–1867

  • Les Fleurs du Mal, 1857.

Leconte de Lisle, 1818–94.

  • Poems, 1853–84.

Sully Prudhomme, 1839–1907.

  • Poems, 1865–88.

Daudet, Alphonse, 1840–1897

Heredia, 1842–1905.

  • Les Trophées, 1893.

Anatole France, 1844–1924

Georges Ohnet, 1848–1914

Guy de Maupassant, 1850–1893

Verlaine, 1844–96.

VII. Twentieth Century

Alain-Fournier, 1886-1914

  • Le Grand Meaulnes, 1913.
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