Contemporary French literature

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Medieval French literature is, for the purpose of this article, literature written in Oïl languages during the period from the eleventh century to the end of the fifteenth century.

French Renaissance literature is, for the purpose of this article, literature written in French from the French invasion of Italy in 1494 to 1600, or roughly the period from the reign of Charles VIII of France to the ascension of Henry IV of France to the throne. The reigns of Francis I and his son Henry II are generally considered the apex of the French Renaissance. After Henry II's unfortunate death in a joust, the country was ruled by his widow Catherine de' Medici and her sons Francis II, Charles IX and Henry III, and although the Renaissance continued to flourish, the French Wars of Religion between Huguenots and Catholics ravaged the country.

17th-century French literature

17th-century French literature was written throughout the Grand Singer of France, spanning the reigns of Henry IV of France, the Regency of Marie de Medici, Louis XIII of France, the Regency of Anne of Austria and the reign of Louis XIV of France. The literature of this period is often equated with the Classicism of Louis XIV's long reign, during which France led Europe in political and cultural development; its authors expounded the classical ideals of order, clarity, proportion and good taste. In reality, 17th-century French literature encompasses far more than just the classicist masterpieces of Jean Racine and Madame de La Fayette.


Francophone literature

Francophone literature
Literature of Quebec
Postcolonial literature
Literature of Haiti

Francophone literature

Francophone literature is literature written in the French language. The existence of a plurality of literatures in the French language has been recognised, although the autonomy of these literatures is less defined than the plurality of literatures written in the English language. Writings in the French language from Belgium, Canada and Switzerland were recognised as belonging to distinct traditions long before writings from colonial territories of France. Writing in French by Africans was formerly classified as "colonial literature" and discussed as part of colonial studies for its ethnographical interest, rather than studied for its literary merit. Any texts in French from the colonies and territories that were considered to have merit were subsumed under the classification of French literature. The nature and importance of Francophone literature in various territories of the former French Empire depends on the concentration of French settlers, the length of time spent in colonial status, and how developed indigenous languages were as literary languages. It was only following the Second World War that a distinction started to be made in literary studies and anthologies between French literature and other writing in French. In 1960 Maurice Bémol published Essai sur l'orientation des littératures de langue française au XXe siècle; the plural in the title emphasised the study's new approach of examining the level of autonomy of the languages.

Postcolonial literature is the literature by people from formerly colonized countries. It exists on all continents except Antarctica. Postcolonial literature often addresses the problems and consequences of the decolonization of a country, especially questions relating to the political and cultural independence of formerly subjugated people, and themes such as racialism and colonialism. A range of literary theory has evolved around the subject. It addresses the role of literature in perpetuating and challenging what postcolonial critic Edward Said refers to as cultural imperialism.

Haitian literature has been closely intertwined with the political life of Haiti. Haitian intellectuals turned successively or simultaneously to France, the UK, the United States, and African traditions. At the same time, Haitian history has always been a rich source of inspiration for literature, with its heroes, its upheavals, its cruelties and its rites.

French-language authors

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French writers

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Nouveau roman
Theatre of the Absurd

Naturalism is a literary movement beginning in the late nineteenth century, similar to literary realism in its rejection of Romanticism, but distinct in its embrace of determinism, detachment, scientific objectivism, and social commentary. The movement largely traces to the theories of French author Émile Zola.

Symbolism (arts) art movement

Symbolism was a late nineteenth-century art movement of French, Russian and Belgian origin in poetry and other arts.

Surrealism international cultural movement that began in the early 1920s

Surrealism is a cultural movement that began in the early 1920s, and is best known for its visual artworks and writings. Artists painted unnerving, illogical scenes with photographic precision, created strange creatures from everyday objects, and developed painting techniques that allowed the unconscious to express itself. Its aim was to "resolve the previously contradictory conditions of dream and reality into an absolute reality, a super-reality".

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Molière 17th-century French playwright and actor

Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, known by his stage name Molière, was a French playwright, actor and poet, widely regarded as one of the greatest writers in the French language and universal literature. His extant works include comedies, farces, tragicomedies, comédie-ballets and more. His plays have been translated into every major living language and are performed at the Comédie-Française more often than those of any other playwright today. His influence is such that the French language itself is often referred to as the "language of Molière".

Jean Racine French dramatist

Jean Racine, baptismal name Jean-Baptiste Racine, was a French dramatist, one of the three great playwrights of 17th-century France, and an important literary figure in the Western tradition. Racine was primarily a tragedian, producing such "examples of neoclassical perfection" as Phèdre, Andromaque, and Athalie, although he did write one comedy, Les Plaideurs, and a muted tragedy, Esther, for the young.

Honoré de Balzac French writer

Honoré de Balzac was a French novelist and playwright. The novel sequence La Comédie humaine, which presents a panorama of post-Napoleonic French life, is generally viewed as his magnum opus.


FranceFrench language
LiteratureFrancophone literature

This article is about French literature from the year 2000 to the present day.


The economic, political and social crises of contemporary France -terrorism, violence, immigration, unemployment, racism, etc.—and (for some) the notion that France has lost its sense of identity and international prestige—through the rise of American hegemony, the growth of Europe and of global capitalism (French : mondialisation)—have created what some critics (like Nancy Huston) have seen as a new form of detached nihilism, reminiscent of the 50s and 60s (Beckett, Cioran). The best known of these authors is Michel Houellebecq, whose Atomised (French : Les particules élémentaires) was a major international phenomenon. These tendencies have also come under attack. In one of her essays, Nancy Huston criticises Houellebecq for his nihilism; she also makes an acerbic censure of his novels in her work The teachers of despair (French : Professeurs de désespoir).[ citation needed ]

Although the contemporary social and political context can be felt in recent works, overall, French literature written in past decades has been disengaged from explicit political discussion (unlike the authors of the 1930s–1940s or the generation of 1968) and has focused on the intimate and the anecdotal.[ citation needed ] It has tended to no longer see itself as a means of criticism or world transformation, with some notable exceptions (such as Michel Houellebecq or Maurice Dantec).[ citation needed ]

Other contemporary writers during the last decade have consciously used the process of "autofiction" (similar to the notion of "faction") to renew the novel (Christine Angot for example). "Autofiction" is a term invented by Serge Doubrovsky in 1977. It is a new sort of romanticised autobiography that resembles the writing of the romantics of the nineteenth century. A few other authors may be perceived as vaguely belonging to this group: Alice Ferney, Annie Ernaux, Olivia Rosenthal, Anne Wiazemsky, and Vassilis Alexakis. In a related vein, Catherine Millet's 2002 memoir The Sexual Life of Catherine M. gained much press for its frank exploration of the author's sexual experiences.[ citation needed ]

Contemporary French authors include: Jonathan Littell, David Foenkinos, Jean-Michel Espitallier, Christophe Tarkos, Olivier Cadiot, Chloé Delaume, Patrick Bouvet, Charles Pennequin, Nathalie Quintane, Frédéric-Yves Jeannet, Nina Bouraoui, Hubries le Dieu, Arno Bertina, Edouard Levé, Bruno Guiblet, Christophe Fiat, and Tristan Garcia.

Many of the most lauded works in French over the last decades have been written by individuals from former French colonies or overseas possessions. This Francophone literature includes the novels of Ahmadou Kourouma (Côte d'Ivoire), Tahar ben Jelloun (Morocco), Patrick Chamoiseau (Martinique), Amin Maalouf (Lebanon), Mehdi Belhaj Kacem (Tunisia) and Assia Djebar (Algeria).

France has a number of important literary awards Grand Prix du roman de l'Académie française, Prix Décembre, Prix Femina, Prix Flore, Prix Goncourt, Prix Interallié, Prix Médicis, and Prix Renaudot. [1] In 2011 a new, controversial, award was created called Prix des prix littéraires ("Prize of Literary Prizes") which picks its winner from among the winners of these prizes. [2]

Extrême contemporain

The term extrême contemporain is a French expression used to indicate French literary production published in France in the last 10 years. [3] The extrême contemporain is, then, an ever-shifting concept.

This term was used for the first time by French writer Michel Chaillou in 1989[ citation needed ]. This simple and convenient definition hides a complex and chaotic literary situation, both from the chronological point of view (the temporal boundaries of the extrême contemporain are in continuous shifting) and for the hetereogeneity of present French literary production, which cannot be defined in a clear and homogeneous way. The term extrême contemporain, therefore, is all-inclusive. The literary production of this period is characterized by a transitory quality; because of the manifolded nature of such an immense corpus of texts, the identification of specific tendencies is inevitably partial and precarious.

Therefore, to define the extrême contemporain as a literary movement would be very improper: it is a mere term of convenience used by commentators and not by the authors themselves.

The extrême contemporain can be seen as a "literary constellation" hardly organized in schemes. In some cases, authors of the extrême contemporain follow an "aesthetics of fragments": their narration is broken into pieces or they show, like Pascal Quignard, for instance, a preference for short sentences. The "apportionment" of knowledge can also be carried out by the use of a chaotic verbal stream, the interior monologue, tropisms, repetition and endophasy. The feeling of uncertainty experience by writers leads him to put in question the notion of novel and its very form, preferring the more general notion of récit. Then, a return to reality takes place: in Pierre Bergounioux's works, readers witness the cultural upsetting concerning generations which follow one another; François Bon describes the exclusion from social and industrial reality; many authors of crime stories, like Jean-Patrick Manchette and Didier Daeninckx, describe social and political reality, and so it does Maurice G. Dantec in his works halfway between spy stories and science fiction; on another side, Annie Ernaux's écriture plate ("flat writing") tries to demolish the distance between reality and its narration.

Subjects are shown in a persistent state of crisis. However, a return to everyday life and trivial habits also takes place: the attention is focused to the "outcasts of literature", like, for instance, old people. This use of triviality and everyday life expresses itself in a new sort of "minimalism": from Pierre Michon's Small lives fictional biographies of unknown people, to Philippe Delerm's "small pleasures". The facets of this minimalism manifest themselves in many ways, through the triviality of the subject, through short forms, or through concise and bare phrases. On one hand, heroicized characters try to build up their own individual way against a senseless reality, so that emarginated or marginal people emerge through the building up of their own story; on the other hand, a "negative minimalism" takes place: characters stagnate in social and relational difficulties.

French authors of the extrême contemporain (selection)

See also


  1. Prix des Prix Littéraires,
  2. Laurent Martinet, L'Express, 15, 12, 2011, "A quoi bon un prix des prix littéraires
  3. 2000–2010

Related Research Articles

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 in French language, by citizens of other nations such as Belgium, Switzerland, Canada, Senegal, Algeria, Morocco, etc. is referred to as Francophone literature. France itself ranks first in the list of Nobel Prizes in literature by country.

Michel Houellebecq French writer

Michel Houellebecq is a French author, filmmaker, and poet.

Pascal Quignard French writer

Pascal Quignard is a French writer born in Verneuil-sur-Avre, Eure. In 2002 his novel Les Ombres errantes won the Prix Goncourt, France's top literary prize. Terrasse à Rome, received the French Academy prize in 2000. In 1980 Carus had been awarded the "Prix des Critiques".

The Prix Décembre, originally known as the Prix Novembre, is one of France's premier literary awards. It was founded under the name Prix Novembre in 1989 by Philippe Dennery. In 1998, the founder resigned after he disapproved awarding of the prize to Michel Houellebecq's novel Atomised. The prize then got a new patron – Pierre Bergé – and a new name: Prix Decembre.

The Prix de Flore is a French literary prize founded in 1994 by Frédéric Beigbeder. The aim of the prize is to reward youthful authors and is judged by a panel of journalists. It is awarded yearly in November, at the Café de Flore in Paris. The prize only applies to French-language literature, even though the author does not have to be French. Bruce Benderson was the first non-French author to receive the prize, in 2004, for the novel Autobiographie érotique . The laureate of the Prix de Flore wins about 6,000 Euros and is entitled to drink a glass of Pouilly-Fumé, a white wine from the Loire region of France, at the Café de Flore every day for a year. The laureate's name is engraved on the glass.

Richard Millet French writer

Richard Millet is a French author.

Pierre Bergounioux is a French writer. He won the 1986 Prix Alain-Fournier for his second novel, Ce pas et le suivant. And in 2002, he won the SGDL literary grand prize for his body of work.

The Prix Alain-Fournier is a French literary prize, awarded by the town of Saint-Amand-Montrond in honour of Alain-Fournier, author of Le Grand Meaulnes. It is intended to give encouragement to a novelist at the beginning of their career, and it can be awarded for first, second or third novels, provided that the author has not previously received any recognition at a national level.

<i>The Map and the Territory</i> book by Michel Houellebecq

The Map and the Territory is a novel by French author Michel Houellebecq. The narrative revolves around a successful artist, and involves a fictional murder of Houellebecq. It was published on 4 September 2010 by Flammarion and received the Prix Goncourt, the most prestigious French literary prize, in 2010. The title is a direct quote from Jean Baudrillard's text "Simulacra and Simulation", which itself refers to the Jorge Luis Borges short story "On Exactitude in Science".

The Cezam Prix Litteraire Inter CE is a literary prize which was established in France in 1997. Its judging panel of more than 3600 readers who meet in groups to discuss, critique and individually rate the books, makes it one of the largest adjudicated readers' prizes for literature in the world. It is organised by the French national network of comités d'entreprise.

The Grand prix de littérature de l'Académie française is a French literary award, established in 1911 by the Académie française. It goes to an author for his entire oeuvre. Originally an annual prize, it has since 1979 been handed out every second year, alternately with the Grand prix de littérature Paul-Morand.

The Prix de la langue française is chronologically the first grand prix of the literary season in France.

The prix Roger Caillois is an annual literary prize established in 1991 in partnership with the PEN Club in France and the Maison de l'Amérique latine as well as the Society of readers and friends of Roger Caillois, awarded to both a Latin American and a French author. Since 2007, the prix Roger Caillois for essay comes in addition to these two prizes.

Hédi Kaddour French poet and writer

Hédi Kaddour is a French poet and novelist.

The grand prix de littérature de la SGDL is a French literary prize created by the Société des gens de lettres in 1947 in order to reward an author for the whole of his work, and which is given during the spring session of the society.

The Prix France Culture is a former literary award created in 1979 by the radio station France Culture.

Pierre Bourgeade French screenwriter, playwright, journalist, poet and photographer

Pierre Bourgeade was a French man of letters, playwright, poet, writer, director, journalist, literary critic and photographer. A descendant of Jean Racine, he was also the brother-in-law of the writer Paule Constant.

The grand prix de la Critique littéraire was created in 1948 by Robert André. It is awarded each year by the French PEN club to a literary essay. Chaired by Joël Schmidt, its jury is now made up of Jean Blot, Jean-Luc Despax, Jean-Claude Lamy, Daniel Leuwers, Jean Orizet, Laurence Paton, Antoine Spire and Patrick Tudoret. Since its creation, it has rewarded many leading authors and intends to promote a literary criticism of quality and, quite simply, literature.

Philippe Vilain is a French man of letters, writer, essayist, doctor of modern literature of the University of Paris III: Sorbonne Nouvelle.

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