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Titles of a some major French novels…

March 15, 2012

The Golden Age of the French Novel is the 19th Century.

One of the most famous French novel all over the world is maybe The Three Musketeers (Les Trois Mousquetaires, 1844) by Alexandre Dumas. This typical “swashbuckler” novel recounts the story of d’Artagnan, a poor young man who travels to Paris to join the royal guard, referred as the Musketeers of the Guard. There, he befriends the “three musketeers”, Athos, Porthos and Aramis whose famous motto is “All for one, one for all !” (“Tous pour un, un pour tous !“).

The 19th Century has seen the emergence of some of the finest novelists and names like Victor Hugo, Gustave Flaubert and Emile Zola have been constantly cited as models by the next generations of writers.

Victor Hugo, beside being a poet and a novelist, was also a political activist and he spent 20 years of his life in exile to protest against Napoléon III’s coup d’Etat which ended the Second Republic in 1851. He was an extremely popular figure among the French people and 2 millions persons joined his funeral procession in Paris when he died aged 83 in 1885. A very famous quote of his, summing up his engagement, is : “Ouvrir un école, c’est fermer un prison.” (“When we open a school, we close a prison”). He is especially known for two major novels :

  • The Hunchback of Notre-Dame (Notre-Dame de Paris, 1831), which tells the story of the hunchback Qasimodo, bell-ringer of the cathedral Notre-Dame and of Esmeralda, a beautiful young gypsy girl.
  • The Miserable (Les Misérables, 1862), which focuses on the struggles of an ex-convict.

Victor Hugo

Gustave Flaubert is known for being the one who wanted to write “a book on nothing” (“ce que je voudrais faire, c’est un livre sur rien”). By this, he meant that the content of a novel did not matter and that the only important thing was the “form”. That’s why he used to read aloud, almost shouting, what he writes, to check if the rhythm and the musicality of  his  sentences were satisfying or not. His first novel and masterpiece is Madame Bovary (1856) which tells the story of Emma Bovary, a doctor’s wife having many adulterous affairs and living beyond her means in order to escape the banalities and emptiness of provincial life. The novel has been made into several films including Claude Chabrol’s Madame Bovary (1991), starring Isabelle Huppert in the role of Emma, and the Hindi adaptation, Maya Memsaab (1993), starring Deepa Sahi, Shah Ruck Khan, Farooq Shaikh and Raj Babbar.

Deepa Sahi in Maya Memsaab

Emile Zola is the main representative of the literary school of “naturalism“. He aimed at a scientific like depiction of his characters and their environment. His novels are mainly set among the rural and urban low classes.

20th Century’s writers have been greatly influenced by the philosophical and literary movement of “existentialism“, in which the abstract concept of a “thinking subject” is replaced by an acting and feeling human individual. In this post-war meaningless and absurd world, the emphasis is on the individual, what he feels and what he does in order to achieve freedom. The main representatives of the movement are Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus, which influence on the Hindi literary school Nai Kahani has been important. Albert Camus‘s masterpiece, The Outsider (L’Etranger, 1942), translated in Hindi under the title Ajnabi, explores the idea of free will and social determination.

The most translated book in French language is the novella The Little Prince (Le petit Prince, 1943) written by the poet and pioneering aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Presenting itself as a children’s book, it has a unique philosophical depth, which essence is contained in the lines uttered by the fox to the little prince: “On ne voit bien qu’avec le cœur. L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux”. (“One sees clearly only with the heart. What is essential is invisible to the eye.”)

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