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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.
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. France ranks first on the list of Nobel Prizes in literature by country.
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, 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 2022, fifteen French authors have been awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature which is more 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."
French Nobel Prize in Literature winners
- 1901 – Sully Prudhomme (The first Nobel Prize in Literature)
- 1904 – Frédéric Mistral (wrote in Occitan)
- 1915 – Romain Rolland
- 1921 – Anatole France
- 1927 – Henri Bergson
- 1937 – Roger Martin du Gard
- 1947 – André Gide
- 1952 – François Mauriac
- 1957 – Albert Camus
- 1960 – Saint-John Perse
- 1964 – Jean-Paul Sartre (declined the prize)
- 1969 – Samuel Beckett (Irish, wrote in English and French)
- 1985 – Claude Simon
- 2008 – J. M. G. Le Clézio
- 2014 – Patrick Modiano
- 2022 - Annie Ernaux
French literary awards
- Grand Prix de Littérature Policière – created in 1948, for crime and detective fiction.
- Grand Prix du roman de l'Académie française – created 1918.
- Prix Décembre – created in 1989.
- Prix Femina – created 1904, decided each year by an exclusively female jury, although the authors of the winning works do not have to be women.
- Prix Goncourt – created 1903, given to the author of "the best and most imaginative prose work of the year".
- Prix Goncourt des Lycéens – created in 1987.
- Prix Littéraire Valery Larbaud – created in 1957.
- Prix Médicis – created 1958, awarded to an author whose "fame does not yet match their talent."
- Prix Renaudot – created in 1926.
- Prix Tour-Apollo Award – 1972–1990, given to the best science fiction novel published in French during the preceding year.
- Prix des Deux Magots – created in 1933.
- Middle Ages
- anonymous – La Chanson de Roland (The Song of Roland)
- Chrétien de Troyes – Yvain ou le Chevalier au Lion (Yvain, the Knight of the Lion), Lancelot, ou le Chevalier à la charrette (Lancelot, the Knight of the Cart)
- various – Tristan et Iseult (Tristan and Iseult)
- anonymous – Lancelot-Graal (Lancelot-Grail), also known as the prose Lancelot or the Vulgate Cycle
- Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meung – Roman de la Rose ("Romance of the Rose")
- Christine de Pizan – "The Book of the City of Ladies"
- 16th century
- 17th century
- 18th century
- Abbé Prévost – Manon Lescaut
- Voltaire – Candide, Zadig ou la Destinée
- Jean-Jacques Rousseau – Julie, ou la nouvelle Héloïse
- Denis Diderot – Jacques le fataliste (Jacques the Fatalist)
- Montesquieu – Persian Letters
- Pierre Choderlos de Laclos – Les Liaisons dangereuses
- Marquis de Sade – Justine (Sade)
- 19th century
- François-René de Chateaubriand – Atala, René
- Benjamin Constant – Adolphe
- Stendhal – Le Rouge et le Noir (The Red and the Black), La Chartreuse de Parme (The Charterhouse of Parma)
- Honoré de Balzac – La Comédie humaine ("The Human Comedy", a novel cycle which includes Père Goriot, Lost Illusions, and Eugénie Grandet)
- Alexandre Dumas – The Count of Monte Cristo, The Three Musketeers
- Victor Hugo – Notre Dame de Paris (The Hunchback of Notre Dame), Les Misérables
- Théophile Gautier – Mademoiselle de Maupin
- Gustave Flaubert – Madame Bovary, Salammbô, L'Éducation sentimentale (Sentimental Education)
- Jules Verne – Vingt mille lieues sous les mers (Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea), Voyage au centre de la Terre (A Journey to the Center of the Earth), Le tour du monde en quatre-vingts jours (Around the World in Eighty Days)
- Edmond and Jules de Goncourt – Germinie Lacerteux
- George Sand – La Petite Fadette
- Joris-Karl Huysmans - "À rebours"
- Guy de Maupassant – Bel Ami, La Parure (The Necklace), other short stories
- Émile Zola – Thérèse Raquin, Les Rougon-Macquart (a novel cycle which includes L'Assommoir, Nana and Germinal)
- 20th century
- André Gide – Les Faux-monnayeurs (The Counterfeiters), L'Immoraliste (The Immoralist)
- Marcel Proust – À la recherche du temps perdu (In Search of Lost Time)
- Albert Cohen
- François Mauriac
- Louis Aragon
- Blaise Cendrars
- André Breton – Nadja
- Gaston Leroux – Le Fantôme de l'Opéra (The Phantom of the Opera)
- Roger Martin du Gard – Les Thibault (The Thibaults)
- Louis-Ferdinand Céline – Voyage au bout de la nuit (Journey to the End of the Night)
- Colette – Gigi
- Jean Genet – Notre-Dame-des-Fleurs
- Julien Gracq – Le Rivage des Syrtes (The Opposing Shore)
- André Malraux – La Condition Humaine (Man's Fate), L'Espoir (Man's Hope)
- Albert Camus – L'Étranger (The Stranger or The Outsider)
- Michel Butor – La Modification
- Marguerite Yourcenar – Mémoires d'Hadrien
- Alain Robbe-Grillet – Dans le labyrinthe
- Georges Perec – La vie mode d'emploi
- Claude Simon - Les Géorgiques (The Georgics)
- Robert Pinget – Passacaille
- Jean-Paul Sartre – La Nausée (Nausea), L´Âge de Raison (The Age of Reason)
- Françoise Sagan – Bonjour Tristesse (Hello Sadness)
- Antoine de Saint-Exupéry – Le Petit Prince (The Little Prince)
- 21st century
- Middle Ages
- La Pléiade
- Symbolism and Decadence
- Dada and Surrealism
- Pierre Corneille (1606–84)- Le Cid (1636), Horace
- Molière – Tartuffe, Le Misanthrope, Dom Juan, L'Avare (The Miser), Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme, L'École des femmes (The School for Wives), Le Malade imaginaire (The Imaginary Invalid)
- Jean Racine – Phèdre, Andromaque, Bérénice, Athalie
- Marivaux – Jeu de l'amour et du hasard
- Beaumarchais – Le Barbier de Séville (The Barber of Seville), La Folle journée, ou Le Mariage de Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro)
- Alfred Jarry – King Ubu
- Edmond Rostand – Cyrano de Bergerac
- Jean Giraudoux – The Trojan War Will Not Take Place
- Jean Anouilh – Becket, Antigone
- Jean-Paul Sartre – No Exit
- Eugène Ionesco – La Cantatrice chauve' (The Bald Soprano), Les Chaises (The Chairs), La Leçon (The Lesson), Rhinoceros
- Jean Genet – The Maids, The Balcony
- Samuel Beckett – En attendant Godot (Waiting for Godot), Fin de Partie (Endgame) and other works in French
- Michel de Montaigne – The Essays
- Blaise Pascal – Les Pensées
- René Descartes – Meditations on First Philosophy, Discourse on Method
- François de La Rochefoucauld – The Maxims
- Jean de la Bruyère - Les Caractères ou les Mœurs de ce siècle
- Louis de Rouvroy, duc de Saint-Simon - Mémoires
- Jean-Jacques Rousseau – Discourse on the Arts and Sciences, The Social Contract, Les Confessions (Confessions)
- François-René de Chateaubriand – Genius of Christianity, Memoirs from Beyond Grave
- Alexis de Tocqueville – Democracy in America
- Frédéric Bastiat – The Law
- Jules Michelet – Histoire de France, La Sorcière
- Henri Bergson – Creative Evolution
- Albert Camus – The Myth of Sisyphus
- Jean-Paul Sartre – Existentialism is a Humanism, Being and Nothingness
- Simone de Beauvoir – The Second Sex
- Claude Lévi-Strauss – Tristes Tropiques
- Emil Cioran – A Short History of Decay, The Trouble with Being Born and other works in French
- Paul Ricœur – Freedom and Nature. The Voluntary and the Involuntary
- Michel Foucault – Discipline and Punish
- Pierre Bourdieu – La Distinction
- Nicolas Boileau
- Charles-Augustin Sainte-Beuve
- Hippolyte Taine
- Jacques Lacan
- Maurice Blanchot
- Paul Bénichou
- Roland Barthes
- Jean Ricardou
- Paul Ricœur
- Michel Foucault
- Jean-François Lyotard
- Jacques Derrida
- Julia Kristeva
- French culture
- French art
- List of French language authors
- List of French language poets
- French science fiction
- Media of France
Notes and references
- French literature Archived April 19, 2016, at the Wayback Machine Discover France
- Romance languages and literatures: why study French ? Archived April 19, 2012, at the Wayback Machine University of Michigan
- "Internet History Sourcebooks". sourcebooks.fordham.edu. Retrieved 2020-03-23.
- 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.
- "Saying 'No thanks' to Nobel | News | al Jazeera". Archived from the original on 2016-08-11. Retrieved 2014-07-30.
- 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
- French Language & Literature Resources at Yale University
- Littérature francophone virtuelle (ClicNet) online texts
- Athena Textes Français[permanent dead link] online texts
- The Marandet Collection of French Plays
- ABU online texts
- French Literature at Digital Librarian
- Jean-Michel Maulpoix & Co.: Modern and contemporary French literature site maintained by prominent French poet Jean-Michel Maulpoix