Any literature written in French, notably by French citizens, is simply called French literature. The language is derived from Latin with Celtic and Frankish influences which lead to the French language coining the term as a Romance language. That term alone is enough banter for another article for another day.
This post is about highlighting just how powerful French literature is. Especially if we look at the history behind it leading up to how it stands today. To support this, as of 2006, it was reported that French writers have received more Nobel Prizes in Literature compared to novelists and poets from any other country barring English writers. This type of Nobel Prize is thanks to the first winner of a Nobel Prize in Literature in 1901, Sully Prudhomme. He was a French poet and essayist.
French Literature Pre-WW2
The 20th century of French literature was heavily influenced by various movements namely Freudianism, Marxism, existentialism, surrealism, and structuralism.
Freudianism refers to psychoanalytic theories of literature developed by Sigmund Freud. Marxism was the economic and political theories developed by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Surrealism was a movement developed on the focus of producing art and literature in one’s new ideas and expressions.
Sigmund Freud, an Austrian neurologist, wrote Psychopathology of Everyday Life in 1901. It was written to explain the reasons behind his belief in psychoanalytical theories. Furthermore, his investigations of such theories upon literature reveal the unconscious desires of the author.
Karl Marx, a sociologist, and Friedrich Engels, a social scientist, developed Marxism as a means of highlighting the political and economic ideals present in society. An example of Marxism literary criticism would be of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice where the opening line of her work indicated that the ruling class ideology would be of a rich man in want a new wife.
Philosophical existentialism, a movement lead by writer Jean-Paul Sartre, took the French literary world by storm. This movement was about the freedom to choose and believe in one’s beliefs and values expressed through literary works. Jean-Paul Sartre’s belief in the movement was proven in his book, Nausea, published in 1938.
This movement was a powerful one in allowing new expressions of art and literature to be published freely. Guillaume Apollinaire was a perfect example of a surrealist with his first surrealism play, The Breasts of Tiresias.
From the 1950s onwards, more works of structuralism appeared more than others. Examples of this can be seen in the works of Roland Barthes, Writing Degree Zero, published in 1953.
As we have been able to confidently establish, French literature has been pivotal to revolutionizing the written works since the early 20th century. All past literary movements have only unified all writers together to create expressive literary works.
Written works which depict anything from freedom of expression and ideas to upstaging the societal norms in an ever-changing era. Today, French literature continues to stride in its revolutionary form!