Unmasking the Bourgeoise

Reappearence Of Romance Under Bourgeois Dress

A Love Story




Real Life




Middle Age Romance: Literature portrayed romance in the most ideal sense

After the Renaissance: Love and romance in French literature wanes

Nineteenth Century Romanticism: The revival and modification of romantic ideals



Middle Age Romance 

It has often been said that French is the language of "L'amour, toujours l'amours". French literature is the longest and probably the richest literature in Europe. In the Middle Ages, epic poems on courtly love and romantic tales of Tristan and Lancelot were the dominating literatures. The legend of Tristan and Iseult establishes the theme of romantic love and conflict between lover and marriage in French culture. The love between Tristan and Iseult is of an adulterous one. Iseult is betrothed to Marc, but the man she loves is Tristan. Their passion was so great that ultimately, both lovers died for it. The lover's struggles form the basis of the story which pattern throughout French literature in the Middle Ages. The medieval literature expressed passionate and sexual love either obstructed by the conventional marriage or circumstances beyond human abilities. The plot usually involves an idealized love object and an aspiring lover, both of which belong to the aristocratic class. In its quintessential form, the heroine is put on the pedestal for her exquisite beauty and grace. The lady is usually distant, removed, to the point of unattainable, and most likely, she is in a conventional marriage. In medieval literature, love and marriage are treated as separate subjects. Marriage meant restriction and convention while love is idealized with chivalry and adventure. In the Lais of Marie de France, love was the central subject. A woman can be unfaithful to her husband to whom she does not have to love, but if she were unfaithful to her lover, some terrible consequence would come about.

Renaissance and Beyond

The Renaissance was a time of turmoil for France. The social order, which had been feudal since the Middle Ages, became Monarchy, in which the King summed absolute power, and the middle class, the bourgeois class rose to domination. During the period of social turmoil, no epic love poems, no great tragedy or drama was composed in French literature. From the Renaissance until the late 18th century, literatures wane away from the romantic notion.

During the 18th century, frequently called the Age of Reason, the literature was thought of as dry and lucid. Poetry became so reasonable and intellectualized that it loses all its appeal to the senses and the imagination. Because of the dominating bourgeois power, the emphasis now was on marriage rather than love. The ultimate goal in most late 18th and 19th century leads marriage. It was thought logically that marriage leads to love, which opposed the typical medieval literature.

Romantic Literature Reappears

During the Age of Reason, there were men writers such as Diderot and Rousseau, whom modern scholars would call the preromantics. Romanticism in France was developed quite late compared to England and Germany due to their preoccupation with the Revolution. During the time of the Revolution, France produced very few literatures. It was not until 1820's that Romanticism flourished in France. During this period, French literature returned to the genre of romantic love. The Romantic Movement in literature is the revival of the past, or rather, the multiple pasts which preceding centuries had neglected (Peyre, 91). The notion of romantic love typified in the Middle Ages is restored. For instance, Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary undeniably one of the greatest works of French literature. The heroine in this novel struggles through the conflict between the ideal of passionate, romantic love and her unsatisfactory marriage. The novels of adventure and chivalry Emma read in her adolescene are the direct descendents of the Tristan legend. Through her literary ideal of the Medieval love, Emma finds disillusionment not only in her marriage, but also in her adulterous liaisons as well.

However, due to the rising faith in religion, the literature based love on marriage more and more. Marriage was the ultimate goal instead of love but marriage involve romantic love as well. Although the Romantics revived the notion of romantic love, they also modified it as well. Adultery is considered sinful and abstinence is put on the pedestal. Similar to the Middle Ages, Romanticism placed woman on the pedestal. In Les Miserables, a woman is described as "the angel spirit….we feel the approaching warmth [of woman], and, with [her] coming, serenity, our gaiety and estacy overflowed; we [men] are radiant in our darkness." (Hugo, 162).

Throughout the history of French literature, love and marriage have been the main topics written about. The Middle Ages invented the notion of romantic love full of gallantry and chivalry. It also places love more important than marriage. The literatures after the Renaissance France placed less value on love. Rather, love was less tradegic and less idealized. Love in the idealized sense is revived during the Romantic Movement in 19th century. Although love was romanticized as in the literature of Medieval Age, it was also modified to which love and marriage go together.