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A New History of French Literature

A New History of French Literature

Edited by Denis Hollier

ISBN 9780674615663

Publication date: 08/19/1998

Designed for the general reader, this splendid introduction to French literature from 842 A.D.—the date of the earliest surviving document in any Romance language—to the present decade is the most compact and imaginative single-volume guide available in English to the French literary tradition. In fact, no comparable work exists in either language. It is not the customary inventory of authors and titles but rather a collection of wide-angled views of historical and cultural phenomena. It sets before us writers, public figures, criminals, saints, and monarchs, as well as religious, cultural, and social revolutions. It gives us books, paintings, public monuments, even TV shows.

Written by 164 American and European specialists, the essays are introduced by date and arranged in chronological order, but here ends the book’s resemblance to the usual history of literature. Each date is followed by a headline evoking an event that indicates the chronological point of departure. Usually the event is literary—the publication of an original work, a journal, a translation, the first performance of a play, the death of an author—but some events are literary only in terms of their repercussions and resonances. Essays devoted to a genre exist alongside essays devoted to one book, institutions are presented side by side with literary movements, and large surveys appear next to detailed discussions of specific landmarks.

No article is limited to the “life and works” of a single author. Proust, for example, appears through various lenses: fleetingly, in 1701, apropos of Antoine Galland’s translation of The Thousand and One Nights; in 1898, in connection with the Dreyfus Affair; in 1905, on the occasion of the law on the separation of church and state; in 1911, in relation to Gide and their different treatments of homosexuality; and at his death in 1922.

Without attempting to cover every author, work, and cultural development since the Serments de Strasbourg in 842, this history succeeds in being both informative and critical about the more than 1,000 years it describes. The contributors offer us a chance to appreciate not only French culture but also the major critical positions in literary studies today. A New History of French Literature will be essential reading for all engaged in the study of French culture and for all who are interested in it. It is an authoritative, lively, and readable volume.


  • An impressive volume… It is not to be thought of as an exhaustive reference book, nor is it designed to be read right through as a single text. Its mode d’emploi is that of the browser. And as such it is indeed—as the blurbs repeat to us—a triumph… All the articles are pegged to an event—as often as not the publication of a book—but they move in quite different directions: to detailed consideration of an author or a work, to the discussion of a problem in cultural history or literary theory, to an evocation of the social context surrounding the event, or to a survey of a literary movement or the development of a genre… Generally, this history impresses by its grasp of the complex cultural field within which ‘literature’ is produced… Plunge in, almost at random, and you will come up with pearls like Leo Bersani on Proust, Dejean on the salons or the editor on May 1968, discourse and power. I shall come back to it often.

    —Peter France, Times Literary Supplement


  • Denis Hollier is Chairman of the Department of French at Yale University. He is the author of many books, including works on Sartre and Bataille.

Book Details

  • 1200 pages
  • 6-1/2 x 10 inches
  • Harvard University Press