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French Literature: A Cultural History

ISBN: 978-0-7456-2840-0
240 pages
July 2010, Polity
French Literature: A Cultural History (0745628400) cover image
This book is the first to offer a cultural history of French literature from its very beginnings, analysing the relationship between French literature and France’s evolving power structures from the Middle Ages through to the present day. It shows the political connections between the elite literature of France and other aspects of its culture, from racism, misogyny, tolerance and liberal reform to song, street performance, advertising and cinema. The nation’s literature contributed to these and was shaped by them.

The book highlights the continuities and the unique fault-lines in the society that, over a millennium, has produced ‘French culture’. It looks at France’s early and continuing struggle for a national identity through both its language and its literature, and it shows that this struggle co-exists with openness to other cultures and a bawdy or subtle rebelliousness against the Church and other forms of authority. En route it takes in cuisine, gardens and the French tradition in mathematics. The survey provides an accessible approach to key issues in the history of French culture as well as a wide context for specialists.
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Acknowledgements.

Introduction.

Chapter 1: From the beginnings to the Renaissance.

Chapter 2: From Sun King to Enlightenment (1630-1789).

Chapter 3: Between revolutions (1789-1830).

Chapter 4: Balzac and the birth of cultural studies (1830-1870).

Chapter 5: Republic, reaction and the murder of taste (1870-1913).

Chapter 6: Despair and optimism (1913-1944).

Chapter 7: Commitment and playfulness (1944-1968).

Chapter 8: After May 1968.

Chapter 9: 'Foreignness' early and modern.

Chapter 10: Francophone literature: recent developments.

Conclusion.

Bibliography.

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Alison Finch, Senior Research Fellow, Churchill College, University of Cambridge
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  • The first book to offer a cultural history of French literature from its very beginnings.
  • Highlights the unique nature of the society that, over a millennium, has produced ‘French culture’.
  • Shows the political connections between the elite literature of France and other aspects of its culture, from racism, misogyny and liberal reform to song, advertising and cinema.
  • The resultant survey provides an accessible approach to French literature and culture through the ages.
  • See More
    "Written in a fresh and vivid style, Finch's cultural history - an admirable feat of compression and unfolding - speak compellingly both to specialists and to newcomers."
    French Studies

    "This is a book to read for pleasure and self-enlightenment, to use as a model of a cultural approach to literary studies, and - most certainly - to recommend to students."
    Modern Language Review

    "Alison Finch's superbly written book brings the cultural dimension of French literature fully into focus. While revealing how the agenda of literary study has changed, she demonstrates that we can engage with the great canonical texts of French literature in new and exciting ways. The book is to be commended for its clarity, its shrewd analyses, and its sheer readability."
    Tim Unwin, Bristol University

    "Written with great panache, this book locates French literature in the wider culture of the Western world. Finch shows how, from Marie de France to MC Solar, literature in France has always intertwined with politics, history, geography, money, sex, language, gender, class and race. Women writers and the new Francophone literatures receive welcome recognition. A remarkable achievement."
    Michael Sheringham, Oxford University

    "The depth and range of this book are astonishing, as it describes the cultural conditions out of which French literature has emerged as a vital component of Western civilisation from the Middle Ages to the present day. Informative and immensely readable, it makes a compelling and humane case for the continued study of literature in a changing world."
    Colin Davis, Royal Holloway, University of London

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