French Baroque Literature

Instructor: Ginna Wilkerson

Virginia has a Master's degree in Curriculum and Development and a Ph.D. in English

The Baroque period in French Literature was dominated by writing for the stage, but also included poetry and prose fiction. This lesson will cover the general style of the Baroque as seen in written forms.

What Is Baroque Style?

The Baroque style appears in many areas of art and literature, including architecture, music, painting, and writing for the stage. The style began around 1600 in Rome and Italy before spreading to most of Europe, including France. If you have noticed a style of building that features grand, sweeping lines and ornate decoration, you have seen an example of the Baroque. The seventeenth century is also the time of formal sounding, clearly defined musical compositions. And in fashion, this is the era for large, powdered wigs worn by both men and women.

Example of Baroque Theater
Baroque Stage

In fact, if you look at the plays of the era, you will notice that the costuming reflects the everyday dress of the stylish upper class. Regardless of the plot, comedies of the time featured highly mannered speech and gestures, almost like a ''formula'' for portraying emotions and actions.

Popularity of the Baroque Style

Baroque architecture, music, and drama were particularly long-lasting in success and popularity. One reason for this success is the approval of the Catholic Church, which recommended that the arts speak to the public clearly and effectively. The formulaic quality of the Baroque suited this recommendation. In addition, the aristocracy felt that the grandness and decorative aspect of the style showed off their own wealth and power to the general public and foreign nobility.

A New Genre

This lesson is meant to cover the specific media of literature, in the particular country of France. So let's turn to a genre that arose during this era in France: the fairy tale. Writer Charles Perrault used the basic narratives of traditional folk tales and changed them into the format still popular with children today.

Cinderella Tending the Fire
Cinderella

The most well-known of Perrault's tales are: 'Cinderella,' 'Little Red Riding Hood,' 'Sleeping Beauty,' 'Puss in Boots,' and 'Bluebeard.' In Perrault's versions, the stories were meant to not only entertain, but to teach children a moral lesson. At the end of each tale, the message intended would be explicitly stated. For example, the story of Red Riding Hood is meant as a caution to girls to stay away from strangers. Apparently, this contemporary issue was a social problem in the 17th century as well!

Of course, fairy tales such as these have been adapted and rewritten over and over again to speak to generations of children. You may be most familiar with the famous Disney animated versions. Another type of adaptation is the stories written by modern writer Angela Carter, who tells tales such as 'Bluebeard' as gothic feminist horror tales without the traditional moral.

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