You are on page 1of 3

French Literature since 1950

In the decades after 1950, disillusion, cynicism, and experimentalism remained the dominant characteristics of French literature. The expression of these characteristics varied, however. Samuel Beckett, born in Ireland but French by choice, is considered one of the masters of the literature of the absurd, a literature that deliberately distorts the structure of the novel or play to show how grimly ridiculous human lives may be. In his works Beckett used farce to paint a pessimistic allegory of the human condition. (See also Beckett, Samuel.) Eugne Ionesco was another dramatist who contributed to the theater of the absurd. His early plays, such as The Bald Soprano', were grotesque comic farces. Later, in Rhinoceros', his symbolism became more explicit. (See also Ionesco.) Jean Genet probed more deeply into the questions of good and evil in a hypocritical society and the illusions people live by. His own bitterness and disillusion were projected in his nightmare-like plays The Maids', The Balcony', Deathwatch', and The Blacks'. The degrading experiences of growing up in the French underworld were described in the novels Miracle of the Rose' and Our Lady of the Flowers' and his autobiographical Thief's Journal'. When she was only 19, Franoise Sagan became an international celebrity with the publication of Bonjour Tristesse' (Hello Sadness). A phenomenal best-seller, it was translated into 20 languages. Sagan's characters, who were victims of their own boredom and cultivated cynicism, portray the aimlessness and frustration of French youth. American movies were made of her first novel, as well as A Certain Smile' and Aimez-vous Brahms?' (as Goodbye Again'). Another expression of the literary rebellion against society was the anti-novel, or new novel, which attacked traditional form and style, plot, and characterization, played leapfrog with time and space, and left interpretation of thought and feeling to the reader. Thus Alain Robbe-Grillet, one of the leading writers in the movement, left out necessary facts in his novels The Voyeur' and Jealousy'. In Second Thought' and in Degrees', Michel Butor dealt symbolically with psychological, not objective, time and memory. Claude Mauriac dealt with the imperceptible flow of time in The Dinner Party'. Since the late 1970s, younger French writers have turned away from the new novel. Some, like Didier Martin, used fantasy to comment on the modern world. In Un Garon en l'air', Martin wrote of a man who had the gift of flight but whose gift brought him only loneliness. Other writers turned to historical fiction. La Mort viennoise' by Christiane Singer was more than escape fiction; it was a moving and profound novel about a time of plague in 17th-century Vienna. There was one striking, progressive note. The new role of women and their liberation was explored in such novels as Un Arbre voyageur' by Claire Etcherelli and L'Indiscrtion faite Charlotte' by Alain Jouffroy. Historiography made a bold splash on the literary scene, and Fernand Braudel is universally recognized as one of the greatest influences on contemporary historians. In his monumental twovolume The Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II', he vividly demonstrated that geography, climate, and culture are the underlying realities that influence the politics of a region.

Literature in French: The first substantial publication devoted to French Canadian literature was James Huston's Rpertoire national(1848-50; repr 1982), a 4-volume annotated anthology of writings culled from early Qubec newspapers. During the period of increased literary activity known as the Mouvement littraire de 1860, Laurent-Olivier David, Henri-Raymond CASGRAIN and Hector Fabre all published inspirational essays on the national literature, and Henry James Morgan's Bibliotheca canadensis (1867) included about 100 French-speaking authors. Early anthologies of poems and songs were compiled by Joseph Lenoir (1858), Antonin Nantel (1869) and Louis-Hippolyte Tach (1881). During the 1870s, Casgrain, David, Adolphe-Basile Routhier and Louis-Michel Darveau composed bibliographical or satirical portraits of prominent contemporaries, many of whom were authors, and Edmond Lareau issued the first history, or catalogue, of Canadian literature in both English and French (1874). The death of OctaveCRMAZIE in France in January 1879 prompted several articles on his work, and during the following decade Benjamin Sulte and Pierre-Joseph-Olivier CHAUVEAU published short historical accounts of the beginnings of French Canadian poetry. In general, however, 19th-century writing on Qubec literature consisted of either anecdotal chronicles or moralizing comment, the latter typified by Casgrain's eulogistic essay on the novelANGLINE DE MONTBRUN (1884) by Laure Conan (Flicit ANGERS). Early 20th Century In the early 20th century the study of Qubec literature became more scholarly. Bibliophiles Philas Gagnon and Narcisse-Eutrope Dionne compiled extensive bibliographies of Qubec publications. Charles ab der Halden, a French academic, wrote articles and gave lectures in Paris on French Canadian authors; these he published astudes de littrature canadienne-franaise (1904) and Nouvelles tudes ... (1907). Monseigneur Camille ROY, Qubec's first literary historian to have studied the new discipline in Paris, began in 1902 to publish remarkably well-informed articles on contemporary Qubec writers and on the early history of the literature. These were later incorporated into his numerous collections of essays, his classic study Nos origines littraires (1909) and the successive printings of his influential Manuel d'histoire de la littrature canadienne-franaise (1907-62). Another literary historian, Monseigneur mile Chartier, attempted to synthesize the INTELLECTUAL HISTORY of his province in articles collected in La Vie de l'esprit au Canada franais, 1760-1825 (1941). Genuine aesthetic criticism was rare except in the writings of Louis Dantin and Marcel Dugas. Up-to-date anthologies were compiled by Jules Fournier and Olivar Asselin (1920), Camille Roy (1934) and Guy SYLVESTRE (1942), and secondary-school manuals for the study of French Canadian literature were published by the Sisters of St Anne (1928) and the Brothers of the Christian Schools (1928). Between the World Wars Between the World Wars, several theses on French Canadian literature were submitted to French universities: those of Antoine Roy ("Les Lettres, les sciences et les arts au Canada sous le rgime franais," Paris, 1930) and Laurence A. Bisson ("Le Romantisme littraire au Canada franais," Bordeaux, 1932) are still consulted, as is Louis Le Jeune's Dictionnaire gnral ... (1931). Most studies of Qubec literature published in the 1930s were impressionistic, but the group gathered around the magazine LA RELVE took an intellectual and universalist position. Serious histories of POETRY (1933) and the NOVEL (1937) were written by Albert Dandurand; an American, Ian Forbes Fraser, compiled the first systematic bibliography of French Canadian poetry (1935), and Jane Mason Turnbull published the best study in English, Essential Traits of French-Canadian Poetry (1938). Annual surveys of Qubec writing began to appear: the Bulletin bibliographique of the Socit des crivains canadiens (1937-59)

and the Letters in Canada issue of UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY, which began to include French Canadian letters in 1937. WWII to 1950s During WWII publication declined, but Sraphin Marion's Les Lettres canadiennes d'autrefois (9 vols, 1939-58) continued to appear. The Archives de folklore de l'Universit Laval (1944), the Institut d'histoire de l'Amrique franaise (1945) and the Bibliographical Society of Canada (1946) were founded. As the war ended Marcel Trudel's thesis "L'Influence de Voltaire au Canada" (1945) and Jeanne Paul-Crouzet's "Posie au Canada" opened a new period of more rigorous study. The 1950s saw the publication of numerous bibliographical guides by Gustave Lanctot (1951), Marie Tremaine (1952), Grard Martin (1954), Antonio Drolet (1955), Philippe Garigue (1956) and Grard Tougas (1958). The outstanding publications of the decade were Luc Lacourcire's critical edition of the poems of mile NELLIGAN and Auguste Viatte's Histoire littraire de l'Amrique franaise ...(1954), a pioneering comparative study. Since 1960 The tremendous upsurge in Qubec literary production since 1960 has been accompanied by an unprecedented growth of bibliographical, literary-historical and critical activity. The founding of the Centre de recherche en civilisation canadienne-franaise at the University of Ottawa in 1958 was followed by the creation of similar research centres in Qubec universities. Major undertakings such as the DICTIONARY OF CANADIAN BIOGRAPHY (established 1959), Adrien Thrio's annual panorama Livres et Auteurs qubcois (1961-82) and the scholarly series "Archives des lettres canadiennes" (1961- ), directed by Paul Wyczynski, mark the beginnings of contemporary Qubec literary scholarship. The Bibliothque nationale du Qubec (established 1968) implemented a wide-ranging program of bibliographical research and publication. Learned journals such asIncidences (1962-69; Co-Incidences after 1971), PARTI PRIS, (1963-68), tudes franaises (1965- ), tudes littraires (1968- ), Voix et Images (1975- ), Jeu and Lettres qubcoises (1976- ) have published articles, interviews and documents. Since 1960 all forms of literary study have been actively pursued in Qubec. Dozens of anthologies have appeared for individual authors (Arthur BUIES, Albert LABERGE), for particular genres (Laurent Mailhot and Pierre Nepveu, La Posie qubcoise des origines nos jours, 1980), or for the whole literature (GillesMARCOTTE, Anthologie de la littrature qubcoise, 4 vols, 1978-80). Numerous bibliographies have been compiled by John Hare (in several volumes of Archives des lettres canadiennes), by Andr Beaulieu and Jean Hamelin (La Presse qubcoise ..., 10 vols to date), by Pierre Pag and Rene Legris for radio and television scripts, and by the staff of the Bibliothque nationale du Qubec in various fields. Each volume of the Dictionnaire des oeuvres littraires du Qubec (1978- ) contains extensive bibliographies of authors and literary periods. Modern histories of Qubec literature have been published by Grard Tougas (1960), Pierre de Grandpr et al (1967-69) and Laurent Mailhot (1974), and a 5volume history, La Vie littraire au Qubec, 1764-1914, is in preparation at Laval University.