French Literature

French Literature
  • French authors
  • Literature in the Middle Ages
  • Renaissance Literature
  • Classicist Literature
  • Rationalist Literature
  • 19th century Literature
  • 20th century Literature

Rationalist literature in France

With the dawn of the 18th century came a turning point in French literature. The attitude of literary circles took on a more questioning quality, looking forwards into the future, with a slight hint of revolutionary aspects. It was a way of challenging traditional beliefs, of casting aside the existing assumptions and making way for rationalization, for the Age of Reason, otherwise known as the Enlightenment.

Very powerful and influential writings broaching both political and philosophical subjects were produced during this time by the great rationalists of France, namely Voltaire, Rousseau and Montesquieu. During this period, theatre and other fictional writing also evolved. Noted playwrights of the time, of both comedies and tragedies included Antoine Houdar de La Motte, Buyrette de Belloy, Pierre de Marivaux and Pierre de Beaumarchais. The novel gained popularity as the period progressed and by the turn of the century was one of the main literary forms used in France. The memoir also emerged as an important literary genre, with writers such as Mathieu Marais, Edmond Barbier, and Jean François Marmontel excelling at this literary form.

The main representatives of the Enlightenment in France were known as the Philosophes, a special group of writers who would attack the abstract systems of philosophy. To them, ideas were to be judged according to how useful they were to society. The main forms used by the Philosophes to manifest their ideas were the use of treatises, pamphlets and also using fictional forms such as the short story.

In France, the chief representatives of the Enlightenment were the Philosophes, writers who attacked abstract systems of philosophy and judged the worth of ideas by their social utility, dismissing the work of philosophers like Aristotle, Descartes, and (in their own day) Leibniz as harmful fictions, and promoting the empiricists Bacon, Locke, and Newton. The Philosophes expressed their views in two ways: through treatises and pamphlets, and through the fictional forms of the novel and the short story.