DiscoverFrance! home page

Recommend Us! Guest Book Advertising Web Hosting Site Map Help! E-mail


Culture, history,
language, travel,
and more!

Pull down window to select topic, then click GO!

Vote for this website!
Enter your e-mail address to receive updates about!

visiteur numéro

Search this site

Click above to
search this site
or the Internet.

Music while you browse

Click above for
optional background
music while you browse!

Random quote generator

Click above to see
random quotations!


"A word is a bud attempting to become a twig. How can one not dream while writing? It is the pen which dreams. The blank page gives the right to dream."

Gaston Bachelard (1884-1962), French scientist, philosopher, literary theorist.

French literature, one of the world's most brilliant, has been for centuries an impressive facet of French civilization, an object of national pride, and a principal focus for feelings of national identity. Because the French are a literate people, passionately interested in questions of language and in the exploration of ideas, the influence of French intellectuals on the course of French history during the last three centuries has been great, and remains so today. A high proportion of European literary trends have originated in France. The continuing prestige of literature in France is evidenced today by the innumerable private societies devoted to individual authors and by the large number of literary prizes awarded each year. A knowledge of French literature, in short, is the key to an understanding of the French people.


French literature began when writers started using the dialects that had evolved from the Latin spoken in the parts of the Roman Empire that would become France. booksEventually, the dialect in popular use around Paris gained supremacy over the others and by the 10th century was vying with Latin for prestige. The 11th century witnessed the emergence of a literature in the French language in the form of numerous epic poems, called CHANSONS DE GESTE. These poems told of the heroic deeds of the knights fighting with or against Charlemagne. Of the more than 80 chansons remaining, the masterpiece is the CHANSON DE ROLAND (12th century), which narrates the death of Charlemagne's nephew, Roland, in a rearguard action against the Saracens at Roncesvallés in the Pyrénées. Exhibiting great skill in the differentiation of characters, this poem contributed to the awakening of a French national consciousness.

The chansons were followed in the second half of the 12th century by the "romans courtois", or tales of courtly love, which were written in verse in the Romance tongue and were intended to be read aloud before aristocratic audiences. Celebrating the heroism of knights fighting in honor of their ladies, many of these poems are set at King Arthur's court and are steeped in the Celtic mythology of Brittany, Cornwall, and Wales. Of particular importance was the Tristan and Iseult cycle, which, in its powerful, semimystical evocation of a love as strong as death, inspired poets in every part of Europe. Eventually, it served as the basis for Richard Wagner's great opera Tristan und Isolde (1865). The greatest poet in this tradition was Chrétien de Troyes, author of Erec, Lancelot, and Perceval. The lais were very short romans courtois, a genre to which Marie de France contributed many delightful examples. The single most significant medieval poem was the ROMAN DE LA ROSE, whose first 4,000 lines were written about 1230 by Guillaume de Lorris in the courtly tradition; about 40 years later, Jean de Meung added 18,000 lines in a realistic, satirical vein. The allegorical quest of the Rose (the Lady) was to remain influential until the 17th century.

Outside aristocratic circles a very different type of literature flourished. The FABLIAUX were short narratives in verse, simple, earthy, and bantering in tone, sparing no one, least of all women or clergy. FABLES, allegorical stories in which animals were used to satirize human characteristics or to point to a moral, were equally popular, the most celebrated of this type being REYNARD THE FOX.

The greatest French poet of the late medieval period was François Villon -- thief, murderer, and prison inmate -- whose alternately bitter, amusing, and deeply moving Testament (1461; Eng. trans., 1924) sounds a strangely modern note. In it are many examples of the BALLADE and the Rondeau, forms in which Villon demonstrated his mastery.

The Middle Ages also saw the development of history as a prose genre. Geoffroi de Villehardouin, in his Conquest of Constantinople (c.1207; Eng. trans., 1829), gave an eyewitness account of the sacking of the Byzantine capital in 1204 by western crusaders en route to the Holy Land. Jean Sire de JOINVILLE acted as memorialist of Louis IX's disastrous crusade (1248-52) in Egypt, completing his entertaining Histoire de Saint Louis in 1309 (Eng. trans., 1807). Jean Froissart's Chronicles (Eng. trans., 1523-25) vividly evoke the barbarities of the Hundred Years' War as it was fought between 1325 and 1400. The Memoirs (1489-90, 1497-98; Eng. trans., 1596) of Philippe de Commynes, dealing with the reigns of Louis XI and Charles VIII, reveal a truer historian, one more concerned with the hidden causes of events than with mere chronicling.

Jean Boorsch.
Source: The New Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia, Release #8, ©1996

Introduction to French Literature || The Middle Ages

The French Renaissance || The Triumph of Classicism

The French Enlightenment

19th Century || 20th Century


French Literature Links:

Nostradamus bust

Physician, Astrologer, Prophet

(click here)

Discover France web ring

This ring site owned by


Books & Videos

Revisit the era of the "Lost Generation" in Hemingway's Paris.

Explore the fascinating history of the prophet from Provence, Nostradamus.

Read the reviews of our carefully selected travel guides and recommended reading, then click to save 20-40% on books you purchase, with the convenience of home delivery.

Can't find your favorite French movies at the video store or library? Check out our selection of videotapes and DVDs featuring French movie icons like Depardieu, Deneuve, Montand, and many more. Then click to save 10-30% on your own personal copy delivered to your door!


Host your web page with us! actively encourages topical submissions from students of French language & culture, educators, seasoned travelers, American expatriates, and natives of France.

If you would like to share your experiences, knowledge or research with thousands of our visitors and friends, please send a note to the webmaster!

Are you an individual or business with a web page on any topic related to France -- arts, culture, entertainment, history, language, tourism, etc. -- in English or French? Your site can have an address of "www. discoverfrance. net/your_site" for less than $10 per month! Get more hits by affiliating with other francophile sites.

Tired of the Java commercial advertising windows and banners imposed by the so-called "free" web page hosting services? At, you can customize your page as you wish, without any commercial requirements or programming inserted into your HTML. Our web servers and Internet connections are fast, too.

For more information, please contact our sales staff!

Design and layout © 1997-1999

All Rights Reserved

Comments, suggestions,
broken links?

Made with Macintosh

The Wharton Group
Ian C. Mills


The Y29K - compliant computer
preferred by designers everywhere.

This site



Please notify:

Text copyrights are attributed to their respective sources throughout this site.