Although the French language has a very long history, the Standard French dialect evolved comparatively later, in the nineteenth century. When considering French literature, we need to consider the early literature written in French regional dialects, Old French dialects and medieval French dialects in order to glean a broad sense of this subject.
Early French Literature
The earliest known work of French literature dates back to the ninth century. The literature created in this period was mainly related to practice of religion and chronicled the lives and works of different saints. The first work in Old French described the life of the Saint Eulalie and was written in form of a poem. The other primary work of this period was about the life of Saint Alexis, and is entitled, “Vie de Saint Alexis.” It gives a complete idea about how Saint Alexis eschewed fame and family ties in order to establish an intimate relationship with God. Along the same lines, another example of French literature, dated to the twelfth century, is the biography of St. Albans Psalter, a prominent piece of work that is said to exist in an immaculate condition.
Authors of French literature during the medieval period were limited to a handful of learned men who mainly included the higher officials related to the courts. Those few who could write mainly wrote down their observations about certain facts that interested them, and worked entirely by hand. The French literature of this period includes many mistakes, which were incorporated due to errors of transcription and interpretation that occurred between successive editions of a work. Some of these old works found today are missing information, which might have been caused by the political situations during that period.
Rise of French Literature
After the medieval period, French literature started incorporating more creativity in the development of new works. French literature had already started dominating other countries in Europe as France grew in strength and emerged as a top continental power. The number of literary works written in regional French dialects began to decrease as the French language was standardized during Napoleon’s regime. Further French literature involved naturalism, symbolism and surrealism, which helped it become more famous in local and international markets. Today, several French authors have been awarded with the Noble Prize for their contributions to French literature.