Didier Eribon’s memoir-essay challenges current political discourses that undermine the class struggle.

Didier Eribon, the famous French sociologist and biographer of Foucault, had a personal epiphany when his father passed away and he had to come back to his hometown — Reims, a city not too far from Paris but much smaller — to console his mother. Eribon’s main object of study had until then been primarily sexuality and gender expression; this had always made sense for him as a gay man who fled a provincial city for the freedom offered by one of the largest cities in continental Europe. However, as he remembered his childhood and youth in Reims, Eribon could…


One of the playwright’s most famous plays questions the desirability of being accepted by the aristocracy

Reading plays from centuries ago is always inevitably a culture shock: from vocabulary that sounds archaic to our contemporary ears to descriptions of societies that do not resemble ours in the slightest, interacting with such works is always an exercise in social translation. One of Molière’s most famous and lauded plays, Le Bourgeois gentilhomme (English: The Would-Be Gentleman) is no exception to any of this; the tale of a bourgeois man obsessed with becoming an aristocrat is still hilarious, but one cannot avoid wondering how people were so invested in titles back then. Yes, royalty and some form of the…


A blogger’s essay that praises men-hating blew up overnight — but why, exactly?

Pauline Harmange’s I Hate Men (French: Moi les hommes, je les déteste) became an unexpected success overnight. The short essay (slightly past 70 pages and written in an accessible style, it will take most people at most a couple of hours to read) was published at first through the independent French publishing house Monstograph and was quickly picked up by major publishing house Seuil after it went viral online and demand for more copies exceeded the capacities of its original publisher. Harmange received requests for interviews not just from the French press, but also from international media outlets like The…


An account meant to resemble a suicide note has far more than just generic feel-good statements to say about living with a mental illness.

I had heard of Édouard Levé’s Suicide a few months ago. The title alone grabbed my attention: suicide. What could it be? An essay on suicide. A novel? Poetry? Regardless of its format, the subject matter was clear. Someone committed suicide and the author had much to say about that. I had read plenty about the topic throughout my life and have had myself suicidal ideations at different points in my life. There was no reason then for me to want to immerse myself in a book dealing with that subject, especially as I had just finished reading another novel…


Much-needed pessimism from France’s top literary export

Michel Houellebecq has nothing left to prove: his string of literary successes starting with novels like Whatever (1994) and peaking with best-selling ones such as Platform (2001) and The Map and the Territory (2010) have positioned him as France’s biggest contemporary literary export and one of the biggest references for contemporary Western postmodernist literature. He has also written essays, opinion editorials, and even a movie. However, that has not stopped him from continuing to write and, most importantly, from causing mixed reactions with his newer works that do not fear dealing with sensitive current events. In 2015, his dystopian novel…


Doubrovsky lived as if he had to write about it

Because they offer unique perspectives on multiple historical and personal events (and because they have sold well!), it is very regrettable and remarkable that as of yet no novels by French writer and academic Serge Doubrovsky have been translated into English. This can be, at least partially, attributed to the fact that his writing style is rather peculiar: envision pages-long paragraphs with phrases divided only by commas, plenty of references that would escape non-French and non-academic readers and chapters that jump around different timelines and you get the standard Doubrovsky novel, of which it would certainly be a monumental task…


Pierre Loti’s classic novel is a delightful marriage of naturalist literature and emotion

On The Beach in Brittany by Paul Gauguin

The Celtic region of Brittany has held a special place in the national imagination of France: it used to be seen as a place that clings to traditional values and a peaceful, rural existence in contrast to the bustling, noisy life of Paris and other large European metropolises. Evidence of this are numerous artistic and literary works taking place there, most notably a series of paintings by Paul Gauguin depicting rural life there in the late 19th century and early 20th century. In literature, a novel that similarly adheres to the notion of the tranquil Brittany is Pierre Loti’s most…


The highly experimental novel is Anatole France’s ambitious philosophical quest to find out what makes humans human.

For a relatively brief novel — just over 200 pages-long in the edition I read — Anatole France’s Penguin Island (1908, French: L’île des pinguoins) is quite dense. We could not expect otherwise for a work of fiction that deals with a profound question that the French have been asking themselves for centuries: what makes our nation special? What does it mean to be French and what does our history say about us? Is being French any different from belonging to any other ethnicity? It would have been far easier for the Nobel Prize-winning author to simply write a lengthy…


Guy Hocquenghem. A name that certainly isn’t as familiar as Michel Foucault’s or Judith Butler’s, but that ought to be. Once a prominent activist and writer on the frontlines of queer liberation during and after the 1968 student uprisings in France, today he is a far more obscure figure. There are, of course, a few reasons for this. His disillusion and subsequent quarrels with French leftist figures and organizations meant that he remained a somewhat ostracized French intellectual. Nonetheless, his output is still remarkable. His most famous and most translated work by far is The Homosexual Desire (published 1972), an…


1973 Edition

Roger Peyrefitte’s daring debut novel Les Amitiés Particulières (translated in English as Special Friendships) was published in 1943, when depicting a same-sex romantic relationship — while not entirely new — was still controversial. Nonetheless, perhaps a fictionalized account would prove less scandalous than a memoir, which Peyrefitte could have written since the novel is inspired by his life. Later on, as a self-described polemicist Peyrefitte would mind less and less causing outrage with his ideas and actions. …

French Literature Daily

Blog dedicated to French literature — anything from the Middle Ages to the 21st century, I write enthusiastically about French literary works.

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