French Culture Collections

French literature of the 19th and 20th centuries is remarkable for its dynamism and diversity. Modern French authors were driven by a multitude of different philosophical, stylistic, and political concerns, and through their efforts new kinds of prose, poetry, and drama were born. Houghton’s holdings in modern French literature reflect the many shifts in literary sensibility that marked this era, and its particularly extensive collection of authors’ notebooks, drafts, and proof-pages provide insight into the creative processes of some of France’s greatest literary figures.

Romanticism dominated French literature in the first half of the 19th century. In poetry, the works of Alphonse de Lamartine, Alfred de Vigny, Alfred de Musset, Gerard de Nerval, and Aloysius Bertrand exemplified the lyricism and sentimentalism characteristic of romanticism. Among the romantic novelists and memoirists, Chateaubriand, Alexandre Dumas père, George Sand, Prosper Mérimée, and Victor Hugo are particularly noteworthy. First editions of works by all of these authors figure in the collection. Many of these works were originally published as feuilleton, a kind of journal supplement introduced at the turn of the 19th century, and in some cases they are preserved in that form in Houghton’s collection. Also included in the collection are two serial publications from Dumas père, le Mois and le Monte Christo, and manuscript drafts penned by Chateaubriand, Lamartine, de Nerval, Dumas père, and Hugo. Houghton holds many manuscript letters and compositions by George Sand, a finding aid for which can be accessed here.

Later in the 19th century, some poets tired of the romantic style. The so-called Parnassians, led by Charles-Marie Leconte de Lisle, sought to restore formal considerations to the fore. Works by Parnassians such as de Lisle, Leon Dierx, Catulle Mendes, René Sully Prudhomme, François Coppée, and Anatole France figure in the collection. Novelists also moved away from romanticism and toward realism or naturalism. Notable realist novelists whose works figure in the collection include Stendhal, Honoré de Balzac, Dumas fils, and Gustave Flaubert; naturalists include Guy de Maupassant, the Goncourt brothers, and Emile Zola. Houghton holds letters penned by Maupassant and Balzac, and multiple notebooks and manuscript drafts from Flaubert. Notes and letters from Zola are included in Houghton’s extensive collection of papers related to the Dreyfus affair, a finding aid found here.

During the fin de siècle period, a renewed interest in the fantastic, the subjective, and the obscure crystallized in the work of the symbolists. Prominent symbolists whose work is collected at Houghton include Joris-Karl Huysmans, Paul Adam, Paul Valéry, Gustave Khan, Jules Laforgue, Alfred Jarry, and the poètes maudits Charles Baudelaire, Arthur Rimbaud, Stéphane Mallarmé, and Paul Verlaine. Proofs, manuscript drafts, and drawings from Huysmans, Adam, Baudelaire, Mallarém, and Verlaine are included in the collection. The symbolists heavily influenced the dadaists, surrealists, and existentialists of the first half of the 20th century. Members of these latter movements whose work is collected at Houghton include Paul Eluard, André Breton, Louis Aragon, Jean Cocteau, Jacques Prévert, Antoine Arnaud, Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, André Malraux, and Simone de Beauvoir. Manuscripts penned by Eluard, Cocteau, Sartre, and Camus are included in the collection. The collection also features manuscripts and other papers from several innovative 20th century writers not easily identified with a particular movement, including Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Pierre Louÿs (finding aid), and Marguerite Yourcenar (finding aid). 

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