Favourite Works/Authors?

TalkFrench literature, 19th & 20th century

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Favourite Works/Authors?

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1NicholasOakley First Message
Jan 8, 2007, 5:58pm

Have just finished a few classic French works; Cousin Bette by Balzac, Strait is the Gate by Gide and The Hunchback of Notre-Dame by Victor Hugo, thoroughly enjoyed them all, particularly the Balzac.

I'm still working on some more of the 'classics' of French literature, just wondered if anyone had any real favourites they might point me towards?

(Couldn't stand Flaubert, love Zola and Dumas, if that's any help...?)

2SJaneDoe
Jan 9, 2007, 7:57am

If you haven't already, try Les Miserables. It'd long, but so worth it.

3john257hopper
Jan 9, 2007, 8:04am

Germinal by Zola is worth a read. Les Miserables is on my TBR list and on my shelf still unread. Dumas is lighter, but worth a read.

If you like SF at all, do try Jules Verne.

4SJaneDoe
Jan 9, 2007, 8:52am

I'd try Jules Verne even if you don't like SF. :) Around the World in 80 Days is great!

5NicholasOakley
Edited: Jan 9, 2007, 10:41am

Thanks for the responses... Only I've read most of the suggestions except Around the World in 80 Days; I've read Journey to the Centre of the Earth though...!
Thought Les Miserables was great, far better than Hunchback of Notre-Dame, which I read just a few days ago.

Can anyone think of any obscurer authors/ works that are otherwise 'essential' reading?

6NicholasOakley
Jan 9, 2007, 10:38am

I suppose I should just have a browse through some of the 6,266 books on this group, really...

7triciab
Jan 18, 2007, 12:38pm

Zola is my favorite "french classics" author: my favorite novels by him are Thérèse Raquin and La Bête humaine. Also wonderful is l'Etranger by Camus - it's short but fascinating.

8NicholasOakley
Jan 19, 2007, 2:26pm

Also great by Camus is The Plague, superb book.

9Hera
Jan 19, 2007, 2:51pm

Many years ago I wrote a dissertation on Gide and Flaubert, which more or less killed my enthusiasm for either! I recently tried reading The Rebel by Camus but due to Christmas it was too much brain work: definitely one to explore with a clear head. I love Camus' prose much more than Sartre's but it's been a while since I read any French writers properly, except Baudelaire, whom I adore. Zola is probably my favourite French novelist due to plot-driven epics and his genuine insight into what it is to be human. Maupassant is my favourite short story writer in any language. He's witty, too.

10thymian First Message
Edited: Apr 7, 2007, 3:35pm

I personally highly reccommend Marguerite Duras, especially Moderato Cantabile, although I'm not sure if she's considered a "classic" yet.

If you want to read some classic French poetry, you should check out Rimbaud (especially the poem "Le Bateau Ivre") and Verlaine.

11krisedwards First Message
Apr 7, 2007, 9:35pm

Mans Hope
Andre Malraux

or
if you are feeling dirty

The story of the eye
Georges Bataille

12Agavar
May 6, 2007, 2:35am

I agree that Les Miserables is a great read. I read it after becoming a fan of the musical Les Miz and was struck with how well the musical followed the story. Yet it was interesting seeing so much more detail in the novel.

I haven't read too many more French authors, but will look over the list for suggestions.

13tros
Aug 17, 2007, 11:29am

Baudelaire is my all time favorite. I'd also include Zola. Camus once mentioned he was
influenced by Simenon. The Stranger is very much a Simenon-like novel. Very similar to
"The Man Who Watched the Trains Go By".

14DavidX
Sep 11, 2007, 1:43pm

Baudelaire is one of my saints. Chateaubriand's novella Atala/Rene is among the most beautiful things ever written. I consider Zola the greatest novelist ever. Huysmans "A Rebours" and "La Bas" and Jean Lorrains "Monsieur de Phocas" are essential reading for anyone interested in the decadent movement. Lautremont's "Maldoror" is a masterpiece of evil. Gerard de Nerval is one of the most intrigueing poets ever. I must mention Balzac's novels and Maupassant's short stories. Theophile Gautier's novels and stories are so charming that I don't want anyone else to read them but me, I want them all to myself. I am also addicted to Alexandre Dumas, especially the Marie Antoinette series.
In the twentieth century the plays of Sartre deserve mention and of course Jean Genet is, as Sartre said, much to the chagrin of Camus, "the greatest writer of the twentieth century" and as per the title of Sartre's biography of him- he is "Saint Genet".

15irene_adler
Oct 17, 2007, 8:33pm

anything by Rimbaud - I like him more than Baudelaire. The only thing more intriguing than his tortured and extremly esoteric poetry was the remainder of his life. I'm also drawn to his early obsession with the occult and alchemy.

Nadja by Breton. I love the surrealists and this is the perfect introduction. Such a strange coupling at the time, but eerily similar to modern relations.

Aurélia / Les filles du feu by Nerval. Hallucinogenic!

La chartreuse de Parme by Stendhal. Find a good version! His dry wit is often lost in translation:( Any adventurous dandy makes for a fun read, too.

L'éducation sentimentale by Flaubert. Many hate this book...I love it much more than Madame Bovary, because he is a character we all can relate to on a less self-conscious level. To admit a likeness to Emma Bovary is difficult and embarrassing, but often undeniable. Frédéric, though, is much more of an "everyman." Of both, I love the Flaubertian action between actions...life in slow-motion, always waiting for something to happen. Felt that way more than a few times in my life.

La bête humaine by Zola. The quintessential film-noir in a novel - I guess that's why it made such a good film, too! I love the imagery of industrialization. The violent thoughts invoke the harsh sound of the locomotive.

La jalousie by Robbe-Grillet. I still don't quite know how this one works...such a mind-screw. I kept reading back over and over to figure out how something happened in front of my eyes as I missed it! The paranoia becomes almost unbearable. His descriptions are manic.

Le village pathétique by Dhôtel. Anyone else been in a relationship that just stopped working without really knowing why? This one is so beautiful you want to cry. Dhôtel's obsession with Rimbaud is also apparent.

Premier amour by Beckett. He is so great!

...to name a few!

16sinaloa237
Edited: Feb 25, 2008, 4:12am

Le rivage des syrtes by Julien Gracq, who passed away a couple of weeks ago. One of the great French writers of the 20th century, he kept away from the schools and fashions like the "Nouveau Roman". A beautiful, classic and pure writing (I must say I am not personnaly fond of Duras, Robbe-Grillet and the like).

I would follow the previous post for Flaubert and go to l'Education sentimentale - life in slow-motion, I love the idea.

Going off the beaten track, you might want to have a look at Cendrars (Bourlinguer for instance) or Jean Giono. Although they are very different, they are two expressions of the aftermath of WWI on the French literature. Cendrars is very eccentric, travelling the world for years but at the same time deeply moved by his experience of war. Even his novels read like short stories. Giono is more classical and contemplative. He wrote a lot about nature and Provence in particular but he also developed much darker works such as Un Roi sans divertissement, without doubt one of my favourite books. An incredible feeling, beautiful scenery and a deep reflexion on mankind and what makes people live.

On a much lighter side, Alexandre Dumas is a must-read as far as epic novel are concerned.

17sbnicar
Feb 27, 2008, 11:55pm

Anything by Balzac or Zola, but that almost goes without saying if you're in this group. Recent readings were La Peau de Chagrin and La Bête Humaine, and I loved them both.

I recently read Le rouge et le noir by Stendahl and was distinctly underwhelmed.

Dumas is not as "heavy" as some of the others, but as far as storytelling goes he can't be beat.

I'm a bit surprised no one's mentioned Proust yet. À la recherche du temps perdu will definitely go down as one of my all-time favorites when I'm done. (I just finished Vol. 4 of the Modern Library version.) Though not every word is pure genius, it's a pretty breathtaking work overall, and there are plenty of sections that are absolutely brilliant. Unexpectedly funny, too.

18VictoriaPL
Feb 28, 2008, 9:28am

I'm most familiar with Dumas but he can be lengthy. I adore The Corsican Brothers. I read it when I'm in the mood for Dumas but don't have the fortitude for one of his longer pieces.

19DavidX
May 13, 2008, 6:22pm

There are some wonderful shorter novels by Dumas.
Georges, La Reine Margot, The Black Tulip, and Captain Pamphile are all delightful reads.

20Ortolan
Aug 8, 2008, 3:21pm

Nice to see another Theophile Gautier fan, and sorry to break your monopoly, DavidX. Mademoiselle de Maupin was the first great work of French literature I read.

I am beginning to read Stendhal through his wonderful letters, and have just started De L'Amour, but the novels are pretty hard-going for me. I'm reading them in French.

I of course love Madame Bovary and L'Education Sentimentale.

In the 20th century, my favorite French writers are Henry de Montherlant and Georges Perec, and I want to read Proust but feel I need to give A La Recherche du Temps Perdu a good two hours in the morning everyday to do it justice. I can't bring it with me on the subway and expect to enjoy it. So it's either going to the gym or reading Proust before work. A real Sophie's choice.

21lriley
Aug 8, 2008, 6:08pm

The highly controversial Louis Ferdinand Celine especially Journey to the end of the night and Raymond Queneau would be my top two 20th century novelists. In the 19th I've read every single book of Emile Zola's Rougon Macquart series. Some of them are not really that good but a number of them are excellent--my favorites The earth and The Debacle. Favorite french noir writer goes to Jean-Patrick Manchette.

Living authors I regard very highly J. M. G. Le Clezio and Jean Echenoz.

22Stbalbach
Jul 27, 2009, 12:21am

> Can anyone think of any obscurer authors/ works that are otherwise 'essential' reading?

Yep.

Alphonse Daudet wrote an autobiography when he was about 25, before he became a famous writer, which I (and others) think is some of his best writing as it captures the essence of childhood. It's called Le Petit Chose - it's in two parts, skip the second part - the first part is magical, it can be read in an evening or two. Also check out his longer novel Fromont and Risler, which is sort of Zola/Dickens like (and what first made him famous), and I really enjoyed Robert Helmont if your into the Franco-Prussian War.

Pierre Loti was at one time the most famous French author and nearly forgotten today. But I can't stop reading his books like chips they just keep drawing me back for more and more. Start with An Iceland Fisherman his most famous work, then try Ramuntcho, my favorite and probably his most modern work. Since almost all his novels are autobiographical it helps to read Pierre Loti: Travels with the Legendary Romantic which is excellent and not too long.

23Cecilturtle
Jul 28, 2009, 5:39pm

I hadn't heard of Loti for so long! I haven't read his books, but visited his house in Rochefort - fascinating! What a character he was!

24lautremont5
Apr 14, 2010, 4:29pm

lautremont,nerval and rimbaud are poets i recommend highly. there are so many great french poets and authors its difficult to list favorites. i do find myself re-reading camus quite often. i also refer to rimbaud and lautremont continuously. have never heard of loti but will make a point of reading him.

25DavidX
Apr 14, 2010, 7:44pm

I certainly agree about Lautremont(Ducasse), Rimbaud, and Nerval(that beautiful soul).

I have been meaning to read An Iceland Fisherman for a while. Thanks for the nudge.

I'm currently reading Flaubert's Salammbo and it's absolutely fantastic.

Also, I've just finished Balcony in the Forest by Julien Gracq. It was almost as wonderful as The Castle of Argol, which I read last fall. I think Gracq may be the greatest writer of descriptive prose in the twentieth century.

26reneeseinfeld
Jun 21, 2010, 7:15pm

I recently finished Germinal by Emile Zola and Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. Quenching quenching books!