By David Coward
This great quantity offers a whole background of the literature of France from its origins to the current day, taking us past conventional definitions of ‘literature' into the area of the best-seller and, past phrases, to picture fiction and cinema
• offers a definitive historical past of the literature of France from its origins to the current day.
• contains assurance of Francophone writing in Europe, Canada, the West Indies and North and Sub-Saharan Africa.
• hyperlinks the advance of literature to the mentalities and social stipulations which produced it.
• Takes us past “literature” to review image fiction, cinema and the bestseller.
• Maps the increase of the highbrow, and in so doing charts a development from literary doctrine to severe theory.
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Extra info for A History of French Literature: From Chanson de geste to Cinema
Wace’s major source was the Historia regum britanniae (1135) by Geoffrey of Monmouth who, after establishing Brut as the ﬁrst king of the Britons, devoted a ﬁfth of his History to Arthur’s resistance to the Saxons in the sixth century. If Geoffroy mentions Uther Pendragon and Merlin, it was Wace who ﬁrst spoke of the Round Table and in so doing provided a mythical counterpart to the matière de France which had centred on Charlemagne, also a ruler of a court and ﬁrst among twelve peers. This new matière de Bretagne was exploited through other traditions.
Yet by 1200 or so, poetic activity was increasingly part of the literary life of the growing towns of northern France which challenged the monopoly 12 THE MIDDLE AGES of the courts and helped diversify the lyric tradition. About half the lyric poetry of the thirteenth century originated from Arras where, from about 1200 onwards, the confréries organized competitions (puys) which attracted poets who were less well-born and continued the courtly vein before adding comic vulgarity and more substantial narratives to the trouvère repertoire.
But it is Lancelot’s illicit love for Guinevere which is central to La Mort le Roi Artu, for it is the reef on which the Christian ethos of the Round Table ﬁnally founders. The ﬁrst branch of the saga, Lancelot del Lac, is courtly in tone, the Queste ascetic and mystic (with Galahad presented as a Christ-ﬁgure) and La Mort Artu dominated by a doomed conﬂict of human loyalties. But the death of Arthur did not end the legend, which continued to proliferate. The Prose Tristan (begun after 1230 and attributed to Hélie de Boron) fused two traditions: Tristan joins Arthur’s court before meeting his inevitable fate with Iseut.