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Classic French Authors

Classic literature is found in all corners of the world. For this feature the classics team have decided to cast a spotlight on the inspiring works of French authors. Writing at a time of revolution, Romanticism and the birth of the modern, the stories possess an awe-inspiring quality and fuels love for literature. Here are just a few that we recommend.

The Phantom Of The Opera, Gaston Leroux 

One of the most popular pieces of French literature that remains highly influential and prevalent in contemporary society is that of The Phantom Of The Opera by Gaston Leroux. Most notably, the musical adaptation of this classic by Andrew Lloyd-Webber is cause for the growing popularity and fantastic retelling. However, nothing beats the original text and the magical qualities this book possesses.

Written in 1909 and later published in English in 1911, The Phantom Of The Opera explores the mystery and rumours surrounding the Palais Garnier, of which the speculation remains and truth yet to be revealed. Leroux had great interest in the Phantom, believing the character to have existed, inspiring his novel. He believed in this so strongly, he enforced the idea in the prologue, presenting evidence to support his claim. The plot is loosely based on real events, including the infamous chandelier crash, underground lake and mysteries never fully explained. The plot is as follows:

Below the opera house lives a masked, disfigured man known as the Phantom or Opera Ghost, who causes plenty of disruptions. Soprano Christine Daae attracts the Phantom. He enchants Christine and kidnaps her to his underground lake, revealing his name and love for her. She unmasks the Phantom, witnessing his ugliness and is forced to remain faithful to him, despite her love for childhood sweetheart Raoul, Vicomte De Chagny. 

The Stranger, Albert Camus

Born in Mondavi, Algeria, Albert Camus was a French author, philosopher and journalist who received the Nobel Prize in Literature at age 44, making him the second-youngest recipient in history to be awarded the Prize in this category. The Committee praised Camus for: 

“his important literary production, which with clear-sighted earnestness illuminates the problems of the human conscience in our times”.

 Indeed, his writings predominately explore the philosophical idea of “the Absurd”; how humans seek to find meaning in their life when, ultimately, life has no meaning.

Camus’ debut novel, The Stranger (L’Etranger) published 1942, is a great introduction to his writing. The story is centred around the narrator Meursault, who lives in Algiers, Algeria in the 1940s and begins with Meursault attending his mother’s funeral. His detachment and lack of visible grief towards his mother’s death sets the tone for this novel, and, avoiding spoilers, the story that unfolds revolves around a murder and its fallout. Camus’ exploration of absurdism and humanity in this novel is engrossing, reflective and will certainly leave you with more questions than answers.

If you enjoy The Stranger and want to dive deeper into Camus’ philosophical musings, we’d also recommend The Myth of Sisyphus (1942), The Plague (1947) and The Fall (1956), all of which offer compelling reflections on the human condition.

The Mandarins, Simone de Beauvoir

Existentialist, feminist and controversial figure — Simone de Beauvoir embodies the iconoclasm of twentieth century French literature. While her analysis of the female condition The Second Sex is ultimately her most famous work, this feature focuses on the not-at-all subtly autobiographical novel, which earned acclaim from her country and scrutiny from her peers. 

In the award winning roman á clef The Mandarins, de Beauvoir lifts the lid on the internal life of the intellectual set in post-World War II France. The ‘mandarins’ in question, fictionalised portrayals of de Beauvoir herself, her partner and fellow philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre and their good friend novelist Albert Camus (whose works we explored earlier in this piece), are trying to find their place in the disjointed political landscape of mid-twentieth-century Europe. De Beauvoir’s male characters experience ongoing existential crises in regards to their involvement in politics, questioning whether politics and literature can remain separate and re-examining their left-wing beliefs when exposed to Soviet atrocities. The female protagonists also experience mental distress, though in perhaps a less progressive than expected way, especially from this author of such influential feminist non-fiction, these tend to centre around the disintegration of their romantic relationships. 

De Beauvoir, in life and in death, is often remembered for her personal life rather than her academic achievements, with her long-term open relationship with fellow philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre and passionate affair with American author Nelson Algren featuring heavily in the discourse surrounding her work. While both relationships are explored in the novel, The Mandarins is more than a semi-autobiographical tell all, it is a seminal interior study and worth its place in the male-dominated history of French literature. 


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