France Literature – in the First Half of the 20th Century

The poem

In the early twentieth century, if the poem does not deny the experience of Baudelaire, Rimbaud and Mallarmé, the roads nevertheless began to diversify, from the Roman école of Moréas, to the naive and rhythmic poetry of P. Fort, to the Christian simplicity of France Jammes, to the Abbaye group of poets (C. Vildrac and G. Duhamel), to the unanimism of J. Romains, to naturism, to the humanism of France Gregh, to the école fantaisiste by P.-J. Toulet. P. Valéry, after his youthful renunciation, returns to poetry deepening the Mallarmean experience; G. Apollinaire takes in himself the poetic experiences of Baudelaire and the symbolists with total unconventionality: he is seen as the initiator of new poetic trends, from the Dada movement of total revolt, founded in 1916 by T. Tzara, to the more enduring one of surrealism, which has in A. Breton its leader and the author of its manifesto (1924). The poets who rediscover the root of lyricism, which is freedom, are linked to surrealism, albeit in a critical position: from P. Éluard, L. Aragon, P. Soupault, to the group of A. Artaud, B. Péret, R. Desnos, to R. Char, up to the ‘dissidents’ J. Prévert and R. Queneau. The poetry of the first half of the century cannot however be categorized as a continuation of surrealism: apart from at least P. Claudel, an admirer of Rimbaud, P. Reverdy, J. Supervielle, L.-P. Fargue, bizarre and amused evocator of Paris at night, OV de L. Milosz, J. Cocteau, M. Noël, France Ponge, J. Audiberti, H. Michaux.

The novel

To the crisis of the novel in its traditional form, which opened in the bosom of the naturalist experience, the work of A. Gide (starting with Faux monnayeurs, 1925) and above all that of M. Proust through the 7 volumes of À la recherche du temps perdu (1913-27). The river novel (frescoes of the society and customs of the time filtered through the life of great families) relives in the work of R. Rolland, R. Martin du Gard, Duhamel, Romains. Psychological investigation combined with a ‘classic’ form characterizes the short novels by R. Radiguet and P. Morand. Religious unrest profoundly marks the work of Catholics such as France Mauriac and G. Bernanos; A. Malraux, A. de Saint-Exupéry are the singers of the greatness of man, existentialists ante litteram. The novel of social criticism and customs asserts itself with H. Barbusse, L. Aragon and L.-F. Céline, who with Mort a crédit (1936) initiates an innovative search for linguistic solutions.

A turning point occurs around the years of the Second World War with the novel of ‘commitment’, theorized by J.-P. Sartre, which is, with S. de Beauvoir and A. Camus, albeit with different colors, one of the protagonists of existentialism. In recent years the production is rich even if not excellent, in some cases it inclines towards a poetic and almost surrealist vision of everyday life (Queneau, R. Vailland, J. Gracq) or interprets the youth revolt against conformism (F. Sagan) or shuns the Sartrian forms of engagement with the use of fantasy (A. Pieyre de Mandiargues, R. Minier) or realism (Vailland).

According to HYPERRESTAURANT, the nouveau roman marks a turning point in fictional techniques: the functions of the novel are revolutionized to make room for the imagination of the reader who cannot, as in the traditional novel, remain passive (N. Sarraute, A. Robbe-Grillet, M. Butor, M. Duras, C. Simon).

The theater

The First World War did not break the great tradition of the boulevardier theater: G. Feydeau excels in vaudeville. The tradition continues, with some innovations (psychology and satire), in the work of M. Pagnol, M. Achard, E. Bourdet, A. Savoir, S. Guitry, up to M. Aymé and France Marceau. J. Coupeau, founder of the Théâtre du Vieux Colombier (1913), is, together with C. Dullin, the master of a generation of directors, set designers and actors, from L. Jouvet to J.-L. Barrault, J. Vilar. The theater is the mirror of a general uneasiness, also linked to the political and customs events that call for the renewal of a society that bears outdated values: from H.-R. Lenormand, C. Vildrac to A. Salacrou, Cocteau, J. Giraudoux, Mauriac, to the theater of the cruelty of Artaud, to the opera of H. de Montherlant, up to the engagé theater of Sartre, Camus, J. Anouilh, S. Beckett, E. Ionesco, J. Genet, indefatigable defender of society’s ‘pariahs’.

France Literature - in the First Half of the 20th Century

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