July 14 is Bastille Day, when the French celebrate the 1789 storming of the Bastille prison that touched off the French Revolution. In the spirit of liberty, equality, and fraternity, celebrate the day with some French literature. Here are five French writers for Bastille Day.
Jean Racine wrote well before the French Revolution, but should top your reading list for dramatists of the French Neo-Classical style. His “Phedre” is an incredible interpretation of the ancient Greek myth dramatized in ancient times by Euripides in “Hippolytus” and “Phaedra” by Seneca. Racine’s tragedy, first performed in 1677, is powerful. In 2009, Dame Helen Mirren starred in the title role at the National Theatre in an English translation of the play.
Madame de Stael inspired many writers of the Romantic movement with her work and her ideals. Though she was an aristocrat, Madame de Stael was politically active and wrote about Rousseau and the rights of women. Living through the French Revolution and the Napoleonic era, she was fervently in favor of freedom and a critic of Napoleon. Her epistolary novel, “Delphine” published in 1802 is a tragic love story that examines the limited rights of women at the time. The book was so controversial in its day, Madame de Stael was exiled from France by Napoleon.
George Sand was the pen name of Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin. Perhaps more well-known today for her relationship with Frederic Chopin via the 1991 film “Impromptu,” Sand was a gifted writer. Her novella “The Devil’s Pool” was based on her childhood experiences.
Marcel Proust began writing the massive work “In Search of Lost Time,” formerly translated as “A Remembrance of Things Past,” in 1909 and was not finished with the last volumes at his death in 1922. Published in seven parts between 1913 and 1927, the last three volumes were published posthumously by his brother Robert. Read it and never look at madeleines, little French cakes, the same way again.
Colette, pen name of Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, rocked the one name trend long before Cher and Madonna appeared on the scene. Published in 1920, “Cheri” remains an entertaining classic of French literature set in the Belle Epoque. A film adaptation of "Cheri" starring Michelle Pfeiffer and Rupert Friend appeared in 2009. Colette’s novella “Gigi” was adapted for the Broadway stage and then as a musical by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe. “Gigi,” the film adaptation of the musical, won the Best Picture Oscar for 1958.