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French is a beautiful language and the literature is no different… even if it includes a giant killing village people with his piss. You can earn about this story and more with French Literature: A Beginner’s Guide by Carol Clark. Here we get a quick and satisfying look at the history of French literature and the role it played as a part of the different eras, both politically and socially.
Clark starts with a surprisingly reassuring idea – books are meant to be enjoyed first and studied second. This simple idea is often forgotten by scholars so embracing it created a somewhat comforting feeling. Clark referenced this again in the final chapter to create a cheesy and uplifting sentiment.
She continues to discuss how literature first became popular within the French culture and discusses it century by century. While it makes sense, it felt quite disproportionate when you get to the 20th Century – the Age of Transgression. Before then, each chapter was slightly referenced what was going on in the world of literature as well as in society, but the focus would then be on the writers and the work notable during that era. This made the pace quite slow and relaxing. The 20th Century, the Age of Transgression, included multiple sub types of writing so it all felt a little crammed. Maybe if Clark split the chapter into two, the pace would feel more similar to those before it and it will feel more in place.
As it is a beginners guide to French Literature, Clark has made the book easy to read. There are plenty of subsections with bolded words or phrases, making it easy to find anything you’re looking for. It doesn’t use overly complex terms or phrases unless Clark also explains them. For hose that know little about French history, such as myself, it gives a basic description of the complexity of the 18th and 19th century.
Of course, the focus was on the literature. Clark ranged from Chrétien de Troyes to Marie Darrieussecq, treating them all as equal to the importance of French literature. She incorporated different parts of literature and not just novels, which was great because some people seem to think only novels count as literature. Poems, plays, memoirs and chansons de geste (story poems) were all seen as integral to the creation of literature.
While most of the version I read was written in English, Clark also included sections written in French, mainly with the extracts. I loved this because it allows us to practice whatever French we know. However, there were other statements written in French that seemed superfluous. It felt like it was only done so Clark could further prove she knew French.
If you are interested in French Literature, I definitely recommend this book. It’s quick, concise and include a few humorous statements that makes it feel like an easy read. I’m giving it 8.7/10.
Discussion Point: Whom is your favourite French author?