THE 19th CENTURY

An earthshaking time in French literature, this was a golden age for both the novel and poetry.

François-René de Chateaubriand christened the century with his wildly successful novel Atala in 1801, inspired by his travels in frontier America.

But the full flowering began three decades later.   The writers:

Stendhal with The Red and the Black and later The Charterhouse of Parma

Victor Hugo with The Hunchback of Notre Dame and later Les Misérables -- his life as dramatic as his writing, from his love affair with Juliette Drouet to his long self-imposed exile in opposition to Napoléon III …

Honoré de Balzac, the Hercules of the French novel, working himself almost literally to death to pay off his debts and marry his beloved Countess Hanska, writing his vast series of novels La Comédie humaine

George Sand, known for her scandalous behavior -- wearing men’s clothes and smoking cigars, and for her affairs with Musset and Chopin …

Alexandre Dumas, in the space of three years writing his phenomenal best-seller

The Three Musketeers, two Musketeer sequels, and The Count of Monte-Cristo.  In all, Dumas is credited with 646 books.

Gustave Flaubert revolutionized French fiction in the last half of the century with his sensational Madame Bovary, hugely influential on younger writers.
Guy de Maupassant, Flaubert’s protégé, became France’s finest short story writer, but died tragically early.
Emile Zola, the dominant novelist of the closing quarter-century, is the writer we encounter most often.  In 1898, he wrote his explosive front-page editorial “J’Accuse” attacking the French Army for framing Captain Dreyfus – an act which would cost Zola his life. 
 Charles Baudelaire launched a revolution in poetry with Les Fleurs du mal, outraging the right-thinkers because of its disturbing new subject matter, including sexual deviation.

Paul
Verlaine

Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud, two of Baudelaire’s devotees, led outrageous lives, particularly during the ten months they conducted what the teenager Rimbaud called “a long, immense, and reasoned disordering of the senses,” with absinthe as their holy sacrament.
Arthur
Rimbaud

 Ivan Turgenev left his native Saint Petersburg be near the singer Pauline Viardot, living much of the time with her and her husband, writing Fathers and Sons and his other classics far from his native land.

Gustav Strindberg fell into a horrifying state of paranoia lasting much of the year 1896, a condition he describes in Inferno

Oscar Wilde, deeply influenced by French life and literature, visited Paris many times, died here “beyond my means,” and is buried in Père-Lachaise Cemetery. 

Among other important foreigners: 

Heinrich Heine, the greatest German lyric poet of the Romantic era, exiled because of his Leftist politics, and Adam Mickiewicz, “The Byron of Poland,” his nation’s greatest poet and a champion of independence …

Charles Dickens, whose characters in A Tale of Two Cities make unforgettable appearances at the Bastille, the Conciergerie, and the Place de la Concorde, where Sidney Carton does the “far, far better thing”…
Henry James, who worked as a journalist and started his first successful novel in Paris, but found it too seductive a place to live. Like The American, his late-period masterpiece The Ambassadors is also set in the city. 
Four strange, troubled literary geniuses also make their startling appearances: 
Gérard de Nerval, the exquisite poet of dreams and madness, who hanged himself in an alley one icy winter night … the Comte de Lautréamont, poet of the macabre Chants de Maldoror, dead at twenty-four, buried in a common grave … Joris-Karl Huysmans in his décadent phase of A rebours and Là-bas … and Alfred Jarry, the wildly eccentric creator of Ubu Roi, Dr. Fausteroll, and the science of ‘Pataphysics.