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The Cambridge Introduction to French Literature


  • Page extent: 318 pages
  • Size: 228 x 152 mm
  • Weight: 0.46 kg
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 (ISBN-13: 9780521715096)

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$31.99 (P)

In this highly accessible introduction, Brian Nelson provides an overview of French literature - its themes and forms, traditions and transformations - from the Middle Ages to the present. Major writers, including Francophone authors writing from areas other than France, are discussed chronologically in the context of their times, to provide a sense of the development of the French literary tradition and the strengths of some of the most influential writers within it. Nelson offers close readings of exemplary passages from key works, presented in English translation and with the original French. The exploration of the work of important writers, including Villon, Racine, Molière, Voltaire, Balzac, Flaubert, Zola, Proust, Sartre and Beckett, highlights the richness and diversity of French literature.


Preface; Acknowledgements; Chronology; 1. Villon: a dying man; 2. Rabelais: the uses of laughter; 3. Montaigne: self-portrait; 4. Corneille: heroes and kings; 5. Racine: in the labyrinth; 6. Molière: new forms of comedy; 7. La Fontaine: the power of fables/fables of power; 8. Madame de Lafayette: the birth of the modern novel; 9. Voltaire: the case for tolerance; 10. Rousseau: man of feeling; 11. Diderot: the enlightened sceptic; 12. Laclos: dangerous liaisons; 13. Stendhal: the pursuit of happiness; 14. Balzac: 'All is true'; 15. Hugo: the divine stenographer; 16. Baudelaire: the streets of Paris; 17. Flaubert: the narrator vanishes; 18. Zola: the poetry of the real; 19. Huysmans: against nature; 20. Mallarmé: the magic of words; 21. Rimbaud: somebody else; 22. Proust: the self, time and art; 23. Jarry: the art of provocation; 24. Apollinaire: impresario of the new; 25. Breton and company: surrealism; 26. Céline: night journey; 27. Sartre: writing in the world; 28. Camus: a moral voice; 29. Beckett: filling the silence; 30. French literature into the twenty-first century; Notes; Further reading.


"… an important contribution and a rewarding read … [Nelson's] scholarship … is all the more impressive for being deftly deployed … He has successfully made his own the motto of the French classical period - plaire et instruire (to impart pleasure and knowledge)."
Colin Nettelbeck, Australian Book Review

"This is a book for everyone interested in French literature, whether erudite or ignorant; it is immensely informative with no jargon and no posturing."
Valerie Minogue, Bulletin of the Emile Zola Society

"Nelson has produced a concise, easily comprehensible overview of French literature."
F. E. Nicholson, Choice

"To say that this book is readable would be a serious understatement … inspired and often inspiring …"
T. Chapman Wing, H-France

'… rich and eminently readable …' John Flower, French Studies

'Divided into thirty short chapters, each of which is devoted to a ‘major’ author, this introduction is at once easy to read and solidly grounded in recent scholarship. … A succinct chronology of historical events is provided, as are suggestions for further reading.' Edward Ousselin, The French Review

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