French Novel Writers

Instructor: Summer Stewart

Summer has taught creative writing and sciences at the college level. She holds an MFA in Creative writing and a B.A.S. in English and Nutrition

French literature has a rich history with writers exploring social and political injustice. In this lesson, we will look at Alexander Dumas, Victor Hugo, Gustave Flaubert, and Simone de Beauvoir, four major French authors that made significant contributions to literature.

French Literature

French literature is an important body of work because many French authors explore controversial political and social themes even within their fiction. Some of the most romantic, adventurous, and serious novels came from the minds of French novelists.

Since there are so many great French novelists, we will focus on prominent novelists of the 19th and 20th centuries. In this lesson, we will look at the lives and works of Alexander Dumas, Victor Hugo, Gustave Flaubert, and Simone de Beauvoir.

Alexander Dumas and The Count of Monte Cristo

Alexander Dumas was a French novelist whose writing career spanned the middle of the 19th century. Many of Dumas' novels were historical adventures that were published as series in local periodicals. Some of his most popular novels include The Count of Monte Cristo, The Three Musketeers, The Regent's Daughter, and The Knight of Sainte-Hermine. Dumas made quite a bit of money as a writer in his day, but he wasn't very good with saving it. Biographers describe Dumas as a frivolous spender who spent his income on women and luxury.

The Count of Monte Cristo was published between 1844 and 1845 as a serial adventure novel. The story begins just before Napoleon returned to the throne after exile, a time known as the Hundred Days in France. The story follows a man named Edmond Dantes who accused of treason on his wedding day. He is taken to prison without a trial to the Château d'If.

Edmond befriends Abbé Faria and together they determine that Edmond's crewmate Danglars was responsible for Edmond's imprisonment. Eventually, Edmond escapes prison and is told about a fortune for Faria. Edmond transforms into the Count of Monte Cristo and returns to France to teach those who betrayed him a lesson.

In his journey to get vengeance, he winds up hurting innocent bystanders in the process. The main themes of the novel are loyalty, jealously, justice, mercy, and hope.

Victor Hugo and The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Victor Hugo famously wrote The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Les Miserables during the Romantic movement in France. Hugo is so well regarded in France that he was featured on the French coin (the franc) and was buried in the Pantheon. During his lifetime, he published over a dozen novels and even more pieces of work were published after his death in 1885. Politics, social unrest, and justice are recurring themes in his novels.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame was published in 1831. The novel follows the lives of Esmeralda, a gypsy, and Quasimodo, a hunchback who saves the woman from imprisonment by taking her inside the Notre Dame Cathedral where she is given sanctuary. Eventually, Esmeralda is rescued by Frollo and Gringoire, but Frollo betrays her and turns her into the police. She is hung from the gallows. Quasimodo remains with her corpse and dies of starvation.

Gustave Flaubert and Madame Bovary

Gustave Flaubert was at the height of his writing career during the mid-19th century. As a novelist, he excelled in literary realism and is considered one of the most powerful realist novel writers in the history of France. Madame Bovary was his first novel and it garnered him a great deal of attention. Scholars purport that Flaubert created characters that were as real as is possible; his words were effectively exact and his characterizations were incredibly life-like.

Madame Bovary is a masterpiece in its own right and serves as the perfect example of literary realism. As Flaubert's first novel, it was published in 1856. The plot is about Emma Bovary, a young wife who engages in affairs and lives beyond her means as a way to ignore her boring life.

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