French Literature in 18th Century: Enlightenment and Classicism Part II

The Encyclopédie (1751–80), which by J. Le Rond d’Alembert and D. Diderot, later edited by Diderot alone, critically analyzed the current state of knowledge and the practical arts, also became an instrument of the Enlightenment and included state and church in this criticism; it is a unique document of the optimism for progress of the Enlightenment (encyclopedists). Diderot worked in the interests of enlightenmentalso through his theory of drama, which was received by Lessing in Germany (“Entretiens avec Dorval”, 1757, German “Conversations with Dorval”), in which he conceptually prepared the bourgeois tragedy; He provided examples of implementation in his pieces “Le fils naturel” (1757, German “The illegitimate son”) and “Le père de famille” (1758, German “The family father”). In his narrative he combined the philosophical novel with contemporary and social criticism and opened up new technical narrative perspectives by receiving the digressive tendency and addressing readers in Cervantes (»Don Quixote«) and Sterne (»Tristram Shandy«), in the dialogical novels »Le neveau de Rameau “(After 1761; German” Rameaus Neffe “) and” Jacques le fataliste et son maître “, 1771–74; German »Jacob and his Lord«);

A departure from the Enlightenment optimism about progress took J.-J. Rousseau with his “Discours sur les sciences et les arts” (1750; German “Treatise: whether the sciences have contributed anything to the purification of morals?”) And the “Discours sur l’origine et les fondements de l’inégalité parmi les hommes «(1755; German» On the origin and foundations of inequality among people «), in which he valued culture and civilization as the distance from the state of nature and original morality. He opened up the novel – under the influence of S. Richardson  - new dimensions of lyrical representation of nature and emotions. In “Julie ou la nouvelle Héloïse” (1761–64; German: “Julie or the new Héloïse”) the socially ostracized and tragically ending love between the noble protagonist and her bourgeois tutor Saint-Preux prefigures romantic passion beyond all convention; Julie’s forced marriage to the rational Monsieur de Wolmar represents Rousseau’s refused return to the norms of the Enlightenment. In the fictionalized pedagogical tract “Émile ou De l’éducation” (1762; German “Émile, or about education”) Rousseau pleaded for a naturally free maturation of the child’s personality; the pedagogue should be characterized by restraint rather than coercion, an innovative concept at the time that also shaped later educational theories. His autobiography “Les Confessions”, published posthumously from 1782-89, is considered the first full-fledged representative of this modern genre, with a deliberately relentless admission of his own mistakes and weaknesses. His doctrine of the state with the democratic principle of the “volonté générale” (“collective will”) outlined in the “Contrat social” (1762; German “The Social Contract”) became one of the most important reference texts before and during the French Revolution. Check to see more about France and other countries in the world.

Bernardin de Saint-Pierre expressed Rousseau’s conception of nature and the newly discovered “sensitivity” in the novel “Paul et Virginie” (1788; German “Paul and Virginie”) set on the island of Mauritius, a critique of civilization and morality a pre-romantic love story in an exotic setting. Since the French translation of “A Thousand and One Nights” (1704–17) by A. Galland, exoticism (including in travelogues) had increasingly acted as an instrument of relativistic criticism in French literature. N. E. Restif de La Bretonne combined criticism of civilization with ideas of social reform; P.A.F. Choderlos de Laclos In his epistolary novel “Les liaisons dangereuses” (1782; German “Dangerous Liaisons”) he analyzed the human psyche and the cynical practices of the unscrupulous libertine society of the Ancien Régime. In his novels, D. A. F. de Sade drew a psychopathology of evil based on Rousseau’s idea of ​​nature and demanding liberation from the moral fetters of civilization, which, contrary to the author’s apologetic intention, reveals the failure of sexual hedonism. The moralistic tendency continued in the 18th century, inter alia. L. de Vauvenargues, N. de Chamfort and A. de Rivarol fort. – Diderot did In turning away from the classical drama, the theory for a bourgeois drama worked out, so P. A. C. de Beaumarchais took part in the drama “La folle journée ou le mariage de Figaro” (1785; German “The great day or the wedding of Figaro”) – where the witty one Diener outwits his noble masters, who immorally seek his bride, and exposes them to ridicule – the questioning of social structures through the French Revolution in advance.

The classicism of the revolutionary era

French literature during the French Revolution and up into the Empire was – inter alia. corresponding to the exemplary function of the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire in political life – shaped by classicism. The drama (M.-J. Chénier) propagated revolutionary content in a classicist form, the poetry showed classic styling when it was in A.-M. Chénier already associated musicality and sensitivity with references to romanticism. Parliamentary rhetoric was based on ancient models (H. G. de Mirabeau, G. Danton, M. de Robespierre, L.-A. de Saint-Just, C. Desmoulins among others). In addition, political journalism (J.-P. Marat) and political song poetry developed.

French Literature in 18th Century 2