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French and
Francophone literature

French literature
By category
French language

French literary history

16th century - 17th century
18th century - 19th century
20th century - Contemporary

Francophone literature

Francophone literature
Literature of Quebec
Postcolonial literature
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French language authors

Chronological list

French Writers

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Science Fiction - Comics
Fantastique - Detective Fiction


Naturalism - Symbolism
Surrealism - Existentialism
Nouveau Roman
Theatre of the Absurd

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Literary theory - Critics
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Molière - Racine - Balzac
Stendhal - Flaubert
Emile Zola - Marcel Proust
Samuel Beckett - Albert Camus

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This article is a general introduction to French literature. For detailed information on French literature in specific historic periods, see the separate historical articles in the template to the right.

French literature is, generally speaking, 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 by citizens of other nations such as Belgium, Switzerland, Canada, Senegal, Algeria, Morocco, etc. is referred to as Francophone literature. As of 2006, French writers have been awarded more Nobel Prizes in Literature than novelists, poets and essayists of any other country except writers in English, who have won twice as many Nobel Prizes for literature as their French counterparts.


French literature

The French language is a romance dialect derived from Vulgar 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 (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".

French imperialism and colonialism in the Americas, 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 (the most watched show in French history 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 2006, French literary people have been awarded more Nobel Prizes in Literature than novelists, poets and essayists of any other country except writers in English, who have won twice as many Nobels as the French.

Literatures of other languages of France

Besides literature written in the French language, the literary culture of France may include literature written in other languages of France. In the medieval period many of the competing standard languages in various territories that later came to make up the territory of modern France each produced literary traditions, such as Anglo-Norman literature and Provençal literature.

Literature in the regional languages continued through to the 18th century, although increasing eclipsed by the rise of the French language and influenced by the prevailing French literary model. Conscious language revival movements in the 19th century, such as Félibrige in Provence, coupled with wider literacy and regional presses, enabled a new flowering of literary production in the Norman language and others.

Frédéric Mistral, a poet in Occitan (1830–1914), was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1904.

Breton literature since the 1920s has been lively, despite the falling number of speakers. In 1925, Roparz Hemon founded the periodical Gwalarn which for 19 years tried to raise the language to the level of other great "international" languages by creating original works covering all genres and by proposing Breton translations of internationally recognized foreign works. In 1946, Al Liamm took up the role of Gwalam. Other reviews came into existence and gave Breton a fairly large body of literature for a minority language. Among writers in Breton are Yann-Ber Kalloc'h, Anjela Duval and Per-Jakez Hélias.

Picard literature maintains a level of literary output, especially in theatrical writing. Walloon literature is bolstered by the more significant literary production in the language in Belgium.

Catalan literature and literature in the Basque language also benefit from the existence of a readership outside the borders of France.

French Nobel Prize in Literature winners

The following French or French language authors have won a Nobel Prize in Literature:

French literary awards






Literary criticism


See also


External links

Simple English

French literature is the literature of France. It also includes literature that is written in French, even if the writer is not from France. There are countries besides France where French is also spoken. These countries include Belgium, Switzerland, Canada, Senegal, Algeria, and Morocco. Works that are written in French but not from France are called Francophone literature.


History of French literature

The French language grew out of Latin. French is a Romance language, related to other languages like Spanish and Italian. French was also influenced by the Celtic and Frankish languages.

French Nobel Prize in Literature winners

The following French or French language authors have won a Nobel Prize in Literature:

  • 1901 - Sully Prudhomme (The first Nobel Prize in literature)
  • 1904 - Frédéric Mistral (wrote in Occitan)
  • 1911 - Maurice Maeterlinck (Belgian)
  • 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
  • 2000 - Gao Xingjian (writes in Chinese)

Selected list of French literary classics


  • 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")
  • 16th century
    • François Rabelais - Pantagruel, Gargantua
  • 17th century
    • Madame de Lafayette - La Princesse de Clèves
  • 18th century
  • 19th century
    • 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 and Eugénie Grandet)
    • Gustave Flaubert - Madame Bovary, Salammbô, L'Éducation sentimentale (Sentimental Education)
    • Edmond and Jules de Goncourt - Germinie Lacerteux
    • Guy de Maupassant - Bel Ami, La Parure (The Necklace), other short stories
    • Émile Zola - Les Rougon-Macquart (a novel cycle which includes L'Assommoir, Nana and Germinal)
  • 20th century
    • André Gide - Les Faux-monnayeurs (The Counterfeiters), The Immoralist
    • Marcel Proust - À la recherche du temps perdu (In Search of Lost Time)
    • André Breton - Nadja
    • Louis-Ferdinand Céline - Voyage au bout de la nuit (Journey to the End of the Night)
    • Colette - Gigi
    • Jean Genet - Notre-Dame-des-Fleurs
    • Albert Camus - L'Étranger (The Stranger)
    • Michel Butor - La Modification
    • Marguerite Yourcenar - Mémoires d'Hadrien
    • Alain Robbe-Grillet - Dans le labyrinthe
    • Georges Perec - La vie mode d'emploi
    • Robert Pinget - Passacaille


  • François Villon - Les Testaments
  • Pierre de Ronsard, Joachim du Bellay and other poets of "La Pléiade" - poems
  • La Fontaine - The Fables
  • Victor Hugo - Les Contemplations
  • Alphonse de Lamartine - Méditations poétiques
  • Charles Baudelaire - Les Fleurs du mal
  • Paul Verlaine - Jadis et naguère
  • Arthur Rimbaud - Une Saison en Enfer
  • Stéphane Mallarmé - Un coup de dés jamais n'abolira le hasard ("A Throw of the Dice Will Never Abolish Chance")
  • Guillaume Apollinaire - Alcools
  • Francis Ponge
  • Raymond Queneau


  • Pierre Corneille - Le Cid
  • Molière - Tartuffe, The Misanthrope, Dom Juan
  • Jean Racine - Phèdre, Andromaque
  • Pierre Carlet de Chamblain de Marivaux
  • Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais
  • Edmond Rostand - Cyrano de Bergerac
  • Jean Giraudoux - The Trojan War Will Not Take Place
  • Jean Anouilh - Becket, Antigone
  • Jean-Paul Sartre - No Exit
  • Samuel Beckett - Waiting for Godot, Endgame
  • Eugène Ionesco - The Bald Soprano, Rhinoceros
  • Jean Genet - The Maids, The Blacks


  • Michel de Montaigne - The Essays
  • Blaise Pascal - Les Pensées
  • François de La Rochefoucauld - The Maxims
  • Jean-Jacques Rousseau - Discourse on the Arts and Sciences, The Social Contract
  • François-René de Chateaubriand - Genius of Christianity
  • Alexis de Tocqueville - Democracy in America
  • Adolphe Theirs - History of the French Revolution, History of the Consulate and Empire
  • Jules Michelet - Histoire de France, La Sorcière
  • Albert Camus - The Myth of Sisyphus
  • Jean-Paul Sartre - Existentialism is a Humanism, Being and Nothingness

Literary criticism

  • Roland Barthes
  • Paul Bénichou
  • Jacques Derrida
  • Julia Kristeva
  • Jacques Lacan
  • Jean-François Lyotard


Other pages

  • French culture
  • French art
  • List of French language authors
  • List of French language poets
  • French science fiction
  • Fantastique

Other websites


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