French literature

Last updated
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 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

French-language authors

Chronological list

French writers

Short story writers




Science fictionComics


Nouveau roman
Theatre of the Absurd

Criticism and awards

Literary theoryCritics
Literary prizes

Most visited




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 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. (However, writers in English—USA, UK, India, Ireland, South Africa, Australia, Canada, Nigeria and Saint Lucia—have won twice as many Nobels as the French.) 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

Paul Verlaine (far left) and Arthur Rimbaud (second to left) in an 1872 painting by Henri Fantin-Latour. Henri Fantin-Latour - By the Table - Google Art Project.jpg
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. Walk Samuel Beckett, Paris (France) - Philippe Binant Archives.JPG
Samuel Beckett Walk, Paris (France). Nobel Prize 1969.
Seminar with Claude Simon, Cerisy (France). Nobel Prize 1985. Jean Ricardou and Claude Simon (Cerisy, France) - Philippe Binant Archives.jpg
Seminar with Claude Simon, Cerisy (France). Nobel Prize 1985.
French contemporary literature workshop with Marc Avelot, Philippe Binant, Bernard Magne, Claudette Oriol-Boyer, Jean Ricardou, Cerisy (France), 1980. Litterature contemporaine, France, 1980 - Philippe Binant Archives.jpg
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

Key texts





Literary criticism


See also

Notes and references

  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

Related Research Articles

Prix Goncourt literary award

The Prix Goncourt is a prize in French literature, given by the académie Goncourt to the author of "the best and most imaginative prose work of the year". Four other prizes are also awarded: prix Goncourt du Premier Roman, prix Goncourt de la Nouvelle, prix Goncourt de la Poésie (poetry) and prix Goncourt de la Biographie (biography). Of the "big six" French literary awards, the Prix Goncourt is the best known and most prestigious. The other major literary prizes are the Grand Prix du roman de l'Académie française, the Prix Femina, the Prix Renaudot, the Prix Interallié and the Prix Médicis.

The Prix Médicis is a French literary award given each year in November. It was founded in 1958 by Gala Barbisan and Jean-Pierre Giraudoux. It is awarded to an author whose "fame does not yet match his talent."

The Prix des Deux Magots is a major French literary prize. It is presented to new works, and is generally awarded to works that are more off-beat and less conventional than those that receive the more mainstream Prix Goncourt.

<i>Fantastique</i> genre of speculative fiction

Fantastique is a French term for a literary and cinematic genre that overlaps with science fiction, horror, and fantasy.

J. M. G. Le Clézio French writer and Nobel Prize winner

Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio, usually identified as J. M. G. Le Clézio, of French and Mauritian nationality, is a writer and professor. The author of over forty works, he was awarded the 1963 Prix Renaudot for his novel Le Procès-Verbal and the 2008 Nobel Prize in Literature for his life's work, as an "author of new departures, poetic adventure and sensual ecstasy, explorer of a humanity beyond and below the reigning civilization".

Lycée Henri-IV Public school in Paris, France

The Lycée Henri-IV is a public secondary school located in Paris. Along with Louis-le-Grand, it is widely regarded as the most prestigious and demanding sixth-form colleges (lycées) in France.

20th-century French literature is literature written in French from 1900 to 1999. For literature made after 1999, see the article Contemporary French literature. Many of the developments in French literature in this period parallel changes in the visual arts. For more on this, see French art of the 20th century.

The Prix Saint-Michel is a series of comic awards presented by the city of Brussels, with a focus on Franco-Belgian comics. They were first awarded in 1971, and although often said to be the oldest European comics awards, they are actually the second oldest comics award in Europe still presented, behind the Adamson Awards. Their history is quite erratic though, with a long pause between 1986 and 2002.

The Grand prix Jean Giono is a French literary prize. It was established in 1990 at the initiative of Michel Albert, to honour the writer Jean Giono. Since 1992 it consists of two categories: the Jean Giono Grand Prize and the Jury Prize.

<i>Brasserie Lipp</i> brasserie located at 151 Boulevard Saint-Germain in the 6th arrondissement of Paris

Lipp is a brasserie located at 151 Boulevard Saint-Germain in the 6th arrondissement of Paris. It sponsors an annual literary prize, the Prix Cazes, named for a previous owner.

Un siècle d'écrivains was a French series of television documentary films aired on France 3 between 1995 and 2001. A total of 257 documentaries were made, each focusing on a writer active during the 20th century. The series was initiated by France 3's program director Jean-Pierre Cottet in the spring of 1994. Each episode was independently produced by different production companies and directors, restricted to a running time of 52 minutes. The episodes were presented by Bernard Rapp. The series ended with a special episode about Antoine Chuquet, an imaginary writer made up by the producers.

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

The prix Broquette-Gonin was a former prize awarded by the Académie française.

The prix Erckmann-Chatrian is a literary award from Lorraine, awarded every year since 1925 in memory of the literary duo Erckmann-Chatrian. It rewards a written prose work by someone form Lorraine or about Lorraine. It is often nicknamed the "Goncourt lorrain". The jury consists of literary figures of the four Lorraine departments.

The grand prix catholique de littérature is a French literary prize awarded by the Association des écrivains catholiques de langue française.

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.

Jean-Jacques Brochier, the son of a physician, was a French journalist, and chief editor of Le Magazine Littéraire from 1968 to 2004.