Literature in 17th Century France

From Writer and Public in France by John Lough

One striking feature of the literature of seventeenth century France compared with that of the previous age is the way in which it was firmly concentrated in Paris where the court and government were now established at the centre of an increasingly centralised country.

Not only were practically all new books printed and published there, but it was in Paris that the relatively narrow public known in the language of the time as ‘la cour et la ville’ had its tastes catered for by writers who flocked to the capital from all corners of France.

There were, of course, very large numbers of Parisians among them, starting with  Molière and Boileau, and others like Racine and La Fontaine came from relatively near the capital.

Molière

Molière

 

Pierre Corneille, like any other writer from the provinces hastened to seek a reputation in Paris but only deserted Rouen and settled in the capital when he was fifty-six; but this was exceptional.

Throughout this period writers from all over France came to Paris and the court and settled there as soon as they could. Malherbe came from Caen (he was already fifty by the time he managed to secure a foothold at court) and Théophile de Viau from near Agen in the south-west.

 

Guez de Balzac belonged to the region rather further north, around Angoulême, and d’Urfé to the Forez on the eastern side of the Massif Central. Voiture was from Amiens, but Cyrano de Bergerac, despite his name, came from Paris.

In this period there was no provincial centre famed for its writers, printers, and booksellers as Lyons had been in the sixteenth century: literature was produced in Paris and in the first instance at least catered for the tastes of the court and polite society there.

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