French writer Nathalie Sarraute, whose work is cited below. Photo by MICHELE BANCILHON — AFP.

Every so often a person on Twitter asks to the masses what are some books they hate that they were assigned to read in their high school English classes. Harold Boom would cry if he saw the results of these polls: people appear to really, really hate canonical texts. People will mention anything from earlier texts like Beowulf and any of Shakespeare’s beloved plays to modern classics like Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, just to name a few. A few reasons are cited when justifying why people didn’t enjoy…


Perec’s now classic novel brilliantly shows the basic structure of late stage capitalist society remains unchanged today

Photo: Jean-Claude Deutsch/Paris Match

French writer Georges Perec once declared during an interview that his famous novel Things: A Story of the Sixties (French: Les Choses: Une histoire des années soixantes) should not simply be understood as a critique of consumerism. Going beyond that essential notion while reading the novel, however, is a difficult task simply on account of its straight-forward plot. A closer look at the now canonical Perec text reveals that our struggle sadly does not end with a refusal to participate in late stage capitalism. Is that even an option? Was it in the 1960s, when the book was written? Is…


Gide’s first published piece of fiction asks deep queries about life

At first glance, André Gide’s The Immoralist (1902; Fr: L’Immoraliste) is not a remarkable French novel: plenty of French novels revolve around brooding solitary Frenchmen struggling to find the meaning of life (these category includes novels as diverse as Chateaubriand’s René, Huysman’s Against the Grain, Camus’ The Stranger and Sartre’s Nausea). Even within Gide’s bibliography The Immoralist inevitably appears as unimpressive, as it has none of the grandiosity and literary experimentation of The Counterfeiters nor the polemics of his various autobiographical texts. Nonetheless, for a relatively accessible book with a straightforward narration Gide’s brief novel is invested in a great…


Published almost 40 years ago, Duras’ novel might strike the modern reader as too blunt, even if it simultaneously also resembles the dreamiest poetry.

Something many French-speaking literary giants have in common is the attraction towards confessional autobiographical writing. Ever since Jean-Jacques Rousseau released his Confessions in the 18th century, many notable authors have followed suit by revealing to their audience how they came of age and became the celebrities they are now. However, in spite of the popularity of the genre, autobiographical texts in French are often easily forgotten because of the sheer number of them released every year. In order for them to stand the test of time, the author must offer a perspective that is unique. In the 20th century notable…


A Camusian morning conversation

I recently finished reading one of Camus’ signature works, The Plague (La Peste in French). I loved it and promised myself to write about it, but the comparison between the resurgence of the bubonic plague in colonial Oran Camus describes and the current Covid-19 pandemic appeared to me — although quite relevant and interesting — would inevitably be a rehash of what plenty of others had written about the last few months (for instance: here, or here, or here for more academically-inclined readers). I still highly encourage everybody to read the haunting parallels between the enclosed city of Oran in…


Nowhere is Camus’ philosophy of the absurd more evident than in his last full novel, but a tinge of hope might be hidden in its pages.

The Scream (1893) by Edvard Munch.

Albert Camus published his last novel, The Fall (French: La Chute), in 1956, a few years before his death. This late stage of his career had been marked by increasing controversy: while his reputation and popularity as a writer grew to the point of being awarded the literature Nobel Prize, colleagues and friends of his such as Jean-Paul Sartre condemned his passivity and pacifism as Algeria (the French colony where Camus grew up) was undergoing a bloody war of independence. His friend Romain Gary would share later that Camus went through a period of depression and suicidal thoughts as these…


A posthumous release, Esquisse pour une auto-analyse finds the prolific French intellectual summarizing his career for those who want to understand how Bourdieu became Bourdieu

French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu’s influence on the social sciences, and particularly on his main discipline of sociology, is indisputable. Those who have read his contributions to the field will recognize, for example, Bourdieu’s handling of the concept of the habitus and his work on social class and aesthetic taste in Distinction (1974). A less likely but just as important contribution Bourdieu made was the presence of his ideas on French literature, inspiring literary giant Annie Ernaux and contemporary authors such as Édouard Louis and Nicolas Mathieu. Bourdieu’s research questions inspired these people to interrogate their own lives (or those of…


Nicolas Mathieu’s second novel And Their Children After Them (Fr: Leurs enfants après eux) earned him the Prix Goncourt in 2018. It unforgivingly explores the bleakness of a lower middle-class existence in contemporary France.

Contemporary French literature scholar Étienne Achille has noticed that contemporary fiction in France is lately more and more focusing in the stories of “average folks” in France — by “average” we mean the masses of large, ethnic French people living outside the major cities — than ever before. One can trace this trend to two twentieth century figures. The first, Pierre Bourdieu, was a sociologist who explored the link between social class and aesthetics with the goal of advocating for the poor, among other things. He also more discreetly could have aided invent autotheory when he wrote a “self-analysis” with…


Didier Eribon’s memoir-essay challenges current political discourses that undermine the class struggle.

Didier Eribon, the famous French sociologist and biographer of Foucault, had a personal epiphany when his father passed away and he had to come back to his hometown — Reims, a city not too far from Paris but much smaller — to console his mother. Eribon’s main object of study had until then been primarily sexuality and gender expression; this had always made sense for him as a gay man who fled a provincial city for the freedom offered by one of the largest cities in continental Europe. However, as he remembered his childhood and youth in Reims, Eribon could…


One of the playwright’s most famous plays questions the desirability of being accepted by the aristocracy

Reading plays from centuries ago is always inevitably a culture shock: from vocabulary that sounds archaic to our contemporary ears to descriptions of societies that do not resemble ours in the slightest, interacting with such works is always an exercise in social translation. One of Molière’s most famous and lauded plays, Le Bourgeois gentilhomme (English: The Would-Be Gentleman) is no exception to any of this; the tale of a bourgeois man obsessed with becoming an aristocrat is still hilarious, but one cannot avoid wondering how people were so invested in titles back then. Yes, royalty and some form of the…

French Literature For All

Blog dedicated to French and Francophone literature. Written and managed by a Ph.D. candidate in French literature. Contact: salvadorlopz@gmail.com

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