When In France
What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of France? I have a variable response depending on what context I’m thinking about France in. If the context is history, I’m thinking about Normandy and the beaches on D-Day. If I’m thinking about movies, Ratatouille and my favorite line from Ocean’s 12 (“What can he do? He’s one man, and he’s French.”) comes to mind. If the culinary arts come up though, I’m going to immediately think of wine and apples with cheese. Geographically I am sure everyone else also thinks immediately of the Eiffel Tower, Notre-Dame, and other magnificent locations within Paris.
Now, when it comes to French literature . . . there is a lot more that comes to mind!
Everyone should know about classic authors such as Victor Hugo and Alexandre Dumas. In a sense, they truly embody the best of French literature. But France is also a romantic place and has produced some pretty risque books as well. And yet, their academics are well recognized for their historical work, especially surrounding the French Revolution. Truly, the library of French literature varies so completely as to give a complex picture of its people. But I digress from the real point: the books you must read!
- Les Miserablés by Victor Hugo
This book changed my literature-life forever. I read it my senior year in high school when I was spending three days a week in PT and had all the time in the world to read since I finished school early. I remember especially enjoying the first 70 pages and saying to Mom, “I will one day own this book.” Now, three years later, I own the book and I’ve seen the movies, and it’s still one of the dearest stories I’ve ever read. It’s not for everyone – that’s for sure. This tome clocks in at around 1200 pages depending on the edition you read. But for those willing to take the plunge, you won’t be disappointed. The redemption and grace in the midst of terrible law is so evident, and although the point was not, perhaps, to point to Christ’s work of redemption on the cross, any Believer will quickly see the parallels. This book also contains a very sweet romance between two of my favorite characters. Can it get any better? Oh that’s right. A Tale of Two Cities.
- A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
Charles Dickens was not French, but his incredible work set during the French Revolution must be included on this list. If I could only read one book for the rest of my life, this might be it. There are few novels, few other stories, few inspirational blips of the life of fictional characters that will ever move the soul so much as this book. If beauty were a book, it would be A Tale of Two Cities. Are you starting to understand how I feel about this book?! Sacrifice and steadfast love in the midst of absolute horror and bloodshed produces one of, if not the greatest love story of all time in Dickens’ book. I cried for an hour the last time I read this. And now it’s your turn. If you haven’t read this yet, you are missing out on a huge portion of life right now and you need to fix that ASAP. 🙂 You’re welcome.
- The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
If you want a frolicking, swashbuckling, page-turning adventure, these musketeers will give you exactly what you want. I can’t remember how quickly I read through this book by Alexandre Dumas, but it was fast. I actually read another book by Dumas, The Count of Monte Cristo, first and was therefore skeptical of The Three Musketeers. Needless to say, I was surprised and quickly drawn in. This is definitely one of my favorites, though still surpassed by A Tale of Two Cities and Les Miserablés. There is some suggestive content that went over my head the first time I read it, but the point in this book is the adventure, the mystery, the intrigue, not the romantic interests. It stands in stark contrast to the first two books I listed, but has attained just as high a level of fame. Dumas certainly deserves your attention!
- The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
I watched the movie The Count of Monte Cristo (2002) with Jim Caviezel long before I read the book by Alexandre Dumas. That, unfortunately, might have been a mistake. Being very French in ending (eternal irritation rests in my soul on that one Dumas!) and being a little bogged down in the details in the middle, I lost interest in the book rather quickly. But I attribute that to the fact that I watched the movie first. I know I would have appreciated this book more, if not loved it, if I would have read it first. I will say . . . the revenge runs so much deeper in the book. There are so many more details and delicious returns on the “bad guys” that the book is superior to the movie in that way. But, the movie summarizes a large story so well (the 2002 version mind you, I haven’t seen the others because Jim Caviezel of course) and ends on a beautiful, redemptive note whereas the book . . . suffice it to say, how very French of you Dumas! Still, it’s a book that is probably a must read.
- The Old Regime and the Revolution by Alexis de Tocqueville
A few months ago, I got a sudden urge to study the French Revolution. I’m not kidding you, I literally dropped everything else I was reading (including a Winston Groom WWII book, which is saying a lot!) and immediately inter-library loaned the four most popular books on the French revolution. My favorite of the four was this historical treatise by the diplomat and philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville. This is a very academic work, make no mistake. Not everyone will make it through the prosy style here, but the content is incredible. I felt enlightened within the first few pages, not mention how I felt after reading the entire book! Another interesting facet of this piece is the fact that de Tocqueville wrote his own “commentary” if you will. It explains expressions, people, places, terms, and other French lifestyle and political characteristics that would otherwise go over the average readers head, not being from 1700s France. If you are looking for a single book to explain the French Revolution to you, this is it! Do note, this is not a “historical” work in the sense of describing what happened, when, and where. This is a development of de Tocqueville’s reasoning for why France ended up in a bloody revolution while the rest of Europe stayed just short of civil war in their own countries.
Have you read any of these classics? Did you enjoy them? Leave your thoughts in the comments below and go read a book! 🙂
Until the next time.
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