A century not fertile in narrative works, even if we do not want to forget novels such as Manon Lescaut (1731) by Abbot Prévost, Candide himself (1759) by Voltaire or Le paysan parvenu (1735-36) by Marivaux or Les liaisons dangereuses (1782) by Laclos, who nevertheless prepared the way for the greatest literary revolution of the modern era: Romanticism, which had a moment of meditation with Chateaubriand (1768-1848), a neoclassical of inspiration and expression but, as M.me de Staël, supporter of individualism, an essential component of Romanticism. He published the Génie du Christianisme (1802) and renewed Christianity by transforming it into an aesthetic fact in which the sentiment of the heart triumphed, while Atala and René, both works later isolated from the context of Génie, preceded the romantic heroine and hero with the homonymous protagonists. To Romanticism Chateaubriand opposed only an obstacle, himself, still respectful of the rules, but ready to step aside so that the modern spirit that M.me de Staël (1766-1817) proposed with enthusiasm both through her novels Delphine (1802)) and Corinne ou l’Italie (1807), both with his essay De l’Allemagne (1810), parallel between romantic literature born in Germany and classical literature of the South. Romantic theories, which claimed full freedom to the author, which exalted the imagination and sensitivity, which made him arbiter of morality, imposing on him the right passion, and easily grafted on Rousseau’s conceptions, they found immediate echo in the Premières méditations of Lamartine (1790-1869), in the first Poems of A. de Vigny (1797-1863), which served as a confirmation of the drama Chatterton (1835). Cenacles were formed immediately and the new poets tacitly recognized Victor Hugo (1802-85) their teacher. He was to clarify for all concepts of Romanticism in the famous preface of Cromwell (1827); it was he, with the help of all the faithful, who won the romantic battle on the evening of February 25, 1830 in which his drama Hernani triumphed.
And this only confirmed the theories he had already announced in the preface of Odes et ballades (1826), a collection which, with all his subsequent poetic work – from Les orientales (1829) to the second part of the Légende des siècles (1877) -, consecrated him as the greatest poet in France, for the power of inspiration and imagination, for the ease and clarity of the verse, the use of rhythm, rhyme, for the warmth and vivacity of the sentence, the property of the vocabulary and the depth of sentiment. To poetry he alternated the theater, historical, melodramatic, tragicomic, epic, and fiction (Notre-Dame de Paris, Les Miserables, Quatre-Vingt-treize etc.), filling every writing with a life overflowing with fury, such as to put in works by more subtle authors such as A. de Musset (1810-57) are also overshadowed by exquisite dramas and comedies (Lorenzaccio, 1834; On ne badine pas avec amaour, 1834). Meanwhile, in the romantic world, Alexandre Dumas father (1802-70) had a moment of splendor in the theater with Henri III et sa cour (1829) and with Antony (1831) but his fame is linked to the accompanying novels. All of France, ministers in the lead, read avidly from the columns of the newspapers the adventures of its musketeers, timeless and unalterable heroes of as many unalterable deeds that were repeated with each new novel. And while the theater, after the romantic blaze, rested on the minor works of E. Scribe (1791-1861), E. Labiche (1815-88), H. Meilhac (1831-97) and L. Halévy (1833-1908)), by V. Sardou (1831-1908) and of Dumas son (1824-95) who with his Dame aux camélias (1852) made all of France cry as his father had entertained it, the novel became the true protagonist of the century. XIX. If writers such as E. Sue (1804-57), P. de Kock (1793-1871) were successful in the appendix stories, with Dumas, much deeper works prepared the great flowering of French fiction and reference is made in particular to Benjamin Constant ‘s Adolphe (1816) (1767-1830) and de Musset’s La confession d’un enfant du siècle, which were the introduction to the romantic masterpieces of Stendhal (1783-1842): Le rouge et le noir (1830) and La chartreuse de Parme (1839), of psychological analysis, but where passion and action are the connecting links of every feeling. And completely romantic are the two tales by P. Merimée (1803-70) Colombe (1840) and Carmen (1845), which still today ensure glory to their author. A speech in itself must be made for George Sand (1804-76), a romantic at the beginning, then a narrator of political-social commitment and finally of disengagement, in the pleasure of narrating in order to narrate.
Thus, while Stendhal remains the greatest romantic narrator, the most fruitful of the century is undoubtedly Honoré de Balzac (1799-1850) who, although he grew up side by side with the leaders of the new movement, appears to be a realist more than a precursor of realism. Sainte-Beuve (1804-69), the greatest critic of France, even if he blamed the style, understood its greatness. Balzac’s colossal work, collected under the general title Comédie Humaine, includes authentic masterpieces such as Eugénie Grandet (1833), Le père Goriot (1835), La cousine Bette (1846), Le cousin Pons (1847). The writer left a gallery of characters: a true creator of souls, he investigated the total, dominant passion of man, the passion that leads to catastrophe and left us titanic pictures (the death of Goriot, the madness of Claës in the Recherche de l’Absolu). Parisian life from 1820 to 1850 is analyzed with the meticulousness of a scientist. And if realism started with Balzac, with G. Flaubert (1821-80) it not only triumphed but found its master and surpasser. Investigator par excellence, rigorous analyzer of every fact, of every sentiment, Flaubert published his first masterpiece in 1857: Madame Bovary. The simple story of a woman who, looking for the love denied her by marriage, gets lost in squalid pleasures and who kills herself when she becomes aware of it, shocked France, which cried out to scandal. Acquitted from the trial for immorality that followed, Flaubert published, in the second and final edition, another masterpiece, the Éducation sentimentale (1869). Naturalism, thirsting for scientific rigor, was then superimposed on Flaubert’s realism, which was wrong to write a thesis, demonstrating the theories that underlie it. While the Goncourt brothers gave their work the value of a reality that could have been, É. Zola (1840-1902) gave life to the “naturalistic” novel in the sense of deriving from the narration the principles of a social logic derived from the experiences and from the life of the characters. To realize his theory he wrote the cycle of the Rougon-Macquarts which invested with his own radical and socialist political tendencies and where he followed the events of five generations of a family. They joined the naturalist movement G. de Maupassant (1850-93), which soon passed to his independence as an objective and detached narrator, and in part A. Daudet (1840-97) with Sapho, but more inclined to the description of small everyday realities (from Petit-Chose to Tartarin’s cycle ), while it stands alone for naturalist and symbolist elements J.-K. Huysmans (1848-1907), with controversial interests as a Catholic writer.