Inklings of a revolution were already on France’s horizon long before the Storming of the Bastille began the destruction of the French monarchy. The Age of Enlightenment was beginning to take over the world in the 17th and 18th centuries, introducing many to the ideas of freedom, advanced knowledge, and overall world progress. French historians mark Enlightenment in France as the period between King Louis XIV’s death in 1715 and the start of the Revolution in 1789. Many authors during this period connected to society at large and encouraged the public to express their outrage at the excessive lifestyles of the monarchy and the church. So if the French moved on from the idealistic world of Enlightenment, what kind of literature followed post-revolution? Join Bookstr as we take a journey into how the French Revolution changed French literature and, ultimately, the world.
Past the war, artists of all sorts were frustrated by the Enlightenment movement. The public majority had won the war, but now what? They didn’t know how to live their lives past how they already lived, and if they were to go back to their old lives, then the revolution would have been for nothing. Annoyed by Enlightened thinkers who had a very limited view on how people should live past the war, a new era in France emerged: the Romanticism era. While Enlightenment thinkers used reason and rationale to begin and win the French Revolution, Romanticists wanted to emphasize emotion and imagination to encourage people to live the lives they always wanted. Such thinking brought about some of the most beautiful literature we have today.
The Romantic era introduced readers to French authors (like Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas, and François-René de Chateaubriand) whose work we consider classics today. Hugo published Les Misérables and Notre-Dame de Paris (or as we know it today, The Hunchback of Notre Dame) as commentary on the previous French establishments and encouragement for those who were considered “lesser-than” to rise above the systems that brought them down. Alexandre Dumas wrote the famous Les Trois Mousquetaires (The Three Muskateers), which encouraged people to be daring and stead-fast in what they believe in. Chateaubriand became the father of Romanticism in France when he wrote Génie du christianisme (The Genius of Christianity), which influenced religious culture in France and Mémoires d’Outre-Tombe (Memoirs Beyond the Tomb), his memoir that personalized historical events to how they shaped his own life.
All of this is to say that one day of storming a prison completely changed the art and literature that followed it. The French were inspired by a new way of life, and their writing reflected that. Although it took a while before the French would settle into their status as a country without a monarchy, they (very obviously) succeeded and became a world power. It will be interesting to see the kind of literature that will evolve from the 2020s, especially since this last year was a monumental moment within itself. It truly does only take one day, one individual, or one moment to change an entire culture for years to come.