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!


France logo


France's political position as the most powerful nation in Europe during the reign of Louis XIV was reflected in the preeminence French literature attained in the 17th century. This Golden Age literature still forms the foundation of French liberal education. The period showed a continuing trend toward the reinforcement of royal authority and, except at the end, of Catholic influence. In 1635, Cardinal Richelieu created the Académie Française with the aim of regulating language and literary expression. The conflict between two literary tendencies--one toward greater creative freedom, which modern critics call baroque, and the other toward an acceptance of literary rules--had been virtually resolved in favor of CLASSICISM by 1660. The components of this creed would be codified by Nicolas Boileau-Despreaux, the founder of French literary criticism, in his Art of Poetry (1674; Eng. trans., 1683), in which reason, proportion, and harmony were defined as the outstanding literary values.

France's greatest dramatists emerged during this period. Pierre Corneille, whose tragic masterpiece The Cid (1637), dramatizing the conflict between duty and passion, remains unequaled in the grandeur of its conception, wrote over 30 plays, most of them, after 1634, in accordance with the Aristotelian unities of time, place, and action. He was surpassed in popularity and critical esteem only by Jean Racine, whose simpler style and more realistic characters and plot structures, as in Andromache (1667; Eng. trans., 1675) and Phaedra (1677; Eng. trans., 1776), reveal a world of ferocious passions beneath a veneer of elegant poetry. In the comic arena, Molière, ranging from the farcical to the sharpest explorations of social, psychological, and metaphysical questions, created a body of plays that seem as fresh and pointed today as they were when first produced. His masterpieces were Tartuffe (1664; Eng. trans., 1670) and The Misanthrope (1666; Eng. trans., 1709).

The French novel, which in the first part of the 17th century was long, diffuse, and full of improbable adventures (L'Astree, 1607-28, for instance), also came of age. In The Princess of Clèves (1678; Eng. trans., 1925), a concise psychological analysis of a moral problem in married life, the Comtesse de la Fayette fashioned a perfect model of the novel of character as the genre would develop in France.

Minor literary forms were ennobled by such brilliant practitioners as Madame de Sevigne, who in her correspondence created definitive models of letter writing; the Duc de la Rochefoucauld, whose Maxims (1665; Eng. trans., 1694) wittily analyzed human motives in terms of self-interest; and Jean de la Bruyère, whose wide-ranging and insightful study of social conditions and types in his Characters (1688; Eng. trans., 1699) anticipated the liberal, scientifically oriented tendencies of the 18th century. The poet Jean de la Fontaine achieved lasting fame with his successive volumes of Fables (1668, 1678, 1694; Eng. trans., 1734), a genre he made indelibly his own by combining sophisticated "morals" with a deliberately archaic and deceptively simple style. The art of memoir writing assumed a new power and subtlety when composed by such participants in historical events as the Duc de Saint-Simon, La Rochefoucauld, and Cardinal de Retz.

The enormously influential DISCOURSE ON METHOD (1637) not only established its author, René Descartes, as the first modern philosopher but set the precedent for that clarity, precision, and rationalism with which French thinking and writing would subsequently be associated. Another philosopher admired as much for the perfection of his prose as for the character of his thought was Blaise Pascal. His Lettres provinciales (1656-57; Eng. trans., 1816) demonstrated the devastating effectiveness of a simplicity informed by intelligence and wit, whereas the Pensées (1670; Eng. trans., 1688) directed the reader to faith in the Christian God through an eloquent combination of reason, passion, and insight into the human condition. More grandiloquent, and certainly better representative of 17th-century religious orthodoxy, were the sermons and funeral orations of the great preacher and theological polemicist Jacques BOSSUET. His Quietist opponent, François Fenelon, combined the interests of a classicist with the critical spirit of the 18th century in his didactic novel Telemaque (1699; Eng. trans., 1743).

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.