Poppy Phillips (St Mary's Menston) reviews John D. Lyons's 'A Very Short Introduction to French Literature'

A Very Short Introduction to French Literature is a small but highly informative book written by John D. Lyons. The book covers the most famous and influential forms of literature such as books and poems from the middle ages to present day. For each piece of literature, Lyons successfully conveys how culture effects the writing of each book, why the writer may have chosen to do certain things and a brief summary of the book.

Learning about French literature may not always seem exciting however the inclusion of extracts from the book (in French and English) has encouraged me to expand my reading to literature written in French. By including extracts in both languages, it is not only informative to be able to understand what the Lyons is illustrating about each piece of literature, but it is also informative in teaching the language of French itself such as adjectives and sentence structures I would not have considered using in my French writing before this book.

Whilst this book was very interesting, it focused very heavily on literature from the Renaissance Period and the Middle Ages and seemed to neglect modern French literature from the 21st century, which is just as important. The books may use more ‘common’ language however the book went into less detail on modern texts such as Le Procès-verbal (1963) than on more infamous documents such as sonnets from the 17th century.

My favourite section of this book was the section focusing on World War 2 and the impact on France. The poem Printemps (Springtime) on page 102 is a beautiful poem talking about the impact of war on seasons and people and this contributed to this section being my favourite part of the book because it really demonstrates how war changes everything and leaves nothing untouched.

Something I agreed with in this book was...

The idea that a title can suggest as much about literature as the piece of literature itself such as À une passante (To a woman passing by) which creates the idea of fullness and life and death flashing before people which is also the message of the poem.

Something I disagreed with in this book was...

The negative opinions of women writing literature in the middle ages, using the pronoun ‘I’ because women using their voice should be a positive thing and not something to be seen negatively.

Something I learnt from this book that I didn’t know about this subject before was...

That heroes and protagonists are not always written to be good such as in Phèdre (1677) when the protagonist falls in love with her stepson and lies about graphic topics such as rape to get what she would like.