French literature

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French and
Francophone literature

French literature
By category
French language

French literary history

16th century17th century
18th century19th century
20th centuryContemporary

Francophone literature

Francophone literature
Literature of Quebec
Postcolonial literature
Literature of Haiti
Franco American literature

French-language authors

Chronological list



French literature (French: littérature française) generally speaking, is literature written in the French language, particularly by citizens of France; it may also refer to literature written by people living in France who speak traditional languages of France other than French. Literature written in the French language, by citizens of other nations such as Belgium, Switzerland, Canada, Senegal, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, etc. is referred to as Francophone literature. France itself ranks first on the list of Nobel Prizes in literature by country.

For centuries, French literature has been an object of national pride for French people, and it has been one of the most influential components of the literature of Europe.[1][2]

One of the first known examples of French literature is the Song of Roland, the first major work in a series of poems known as, "chansons de geste".[3]

The French language is a Romance language derived from Latin and heavily influenced principally by Celtic and Frankish. 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. Africa and the far East have brought the French language to non-European cultures that are transforming and adding to the French literary experience today.

Under the aristocratic ideals of the Ancien Régime (the "honnête homme"), the nationalist spirit of post-revolutionary France, and the mass educational ideals of the Third Republic and modern France, the French have come to have a profound cultural attachment to their literary heritage. Today, French schools emphasize the study of novels, theater and poetry (often learnt by heart). The literary arts are heavily sponsored by the state and literary prizes are major news. The Académie française and the Institut de France are important linguistic and artistic institutions in France, and French television features shows on writers and poets (one of the most watched shows on French television was Apostrophes,[4] a weekly talk show on literature and the arts). Literature matters deeply to the people of France and plays an important role in their sense of identity.

As of 2006, French literary people have been awarded more Nobel Prizes in Literature than novelists, poets and essayists of any other country. In 1964 Jean-Paul Sartre was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, but he declined it, stating that "It is not the same thing if I sign Jean-Paul Sartre or if I sign Jean-Paul Sartre, Nobel Prize winner. A writer must refuse to allow himself to be transformed into an institution, even if it takes place in the most honorable form."[5]

French Nobel Prize in Literature winners[edit]

Paul Verlaine (far left) and Arthur Rimbaud (second to left) in an 1872 painting by Henri Fantin-Latour.
Samuel Beckett Walk, Paris (France). Nobel Prize 1969.
Seminar with Claude Simon, Cerisy (France). Nobel Prize 1985.
French contemporary literature workshop with Marc Avelot, Philippe Binant, Bernard Magné, Claudette Oriol-Boyer, Jean Ricardou, Cerisy (France), 1980.

For most of the 20th century, French authors had more Literature Nobel Prizes than those of any other nation.[6] The following French or French language authors have won a Nobel Prize in Literature:

French literary awards[edit]

Key texts[edit]





Literary criticism[edit]


See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ French literature Archived April 19, 2016, at the Wayback Machine Discover France
  2. ^ Romance languages and literatures: why study French ? Archived April 19, 2012, at the Wayback Machine University of Michigan
  3. ^ "Internet History Sourcebooks". Retrieved 2020-03-23.
  4. ^ Roger Cohen, "The Media Business; Books Star on TV, but Only in France" Archived July 25, 2016, at the Wayback Machine, The New York Times, September 10, 1990.
  5. ^ "Saying 'No thanks' to Nobel | News | al Jazeera". Archived from the original on 2016-08-11. Retrieved 2014-07-30.
  6. ^ National Literature Nobel Prize shares 1901–2009 by citizenship at the time of the award Archived August 5, 2014, at the Wayback Machine and by country of birth Archived August 5, 2014, at the Wayback Machine. From J. Schmidhuber (2010), Evolution of National Nobel Prize Shares in the 20th Century Archived March 27, 2014, at the Wayback Machine at arXiv:1009.2634v1 Archived April 15, 2016, at the Wayback Machine

Further reading[edit]

  • Brereton, Geoffrey. A short history of French literature (Penguin Books, 1976)
  • Burgwinkle, William, Nicholas Hammond, and Emma Wilson, eds. The Cambridge history of French literature (Cambridge University Press, 2011)
  • Cobb, Richard, Promenades: a historian's appreciation of modern French literature (Oxford University Press, 1980)
  • Harvey, Paul, and Janet E. Heseltine, eds. The Oxford companion to French literature (Clarendon Press, 1961)
  • Denis Hollier, ed. A New History of French Literature, Harvard University Press, 1989, 1150 pp.
  • France, Peter. The New Oxford Companion to Literature in French, (Oxford University Press, 1995), 926 pp., ISBN 0-19-866125-8
  • Kay, Sarah, Terence Cave, Malcolm Bowie. A Short History of French Literature (Oxford University Press, 2006), 356 pp., ISBN 0-19-929118-7
  • Reid, Joyce M.H. The concise Oxford dictionary of French literature (Oxford UP, 1976)
  • Saintsbury, George (1911). "French Literature" . In Chisholm, Hugh (ed.). Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 11 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 110–154. an alternative point of view.
  • Sapiro, Gisèle. The French Writers’ War 1940-1953 (1999; English edition 2014); highly influential study of intellectuals in the French Resistance online review

External links[edit]