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Classic French Literature

Sunday, 10 April 2016
Elisabeth Vigée Lebrun, Selfportrait at 16, 1771.
This face seems to be straight out of a Madame de Lafayette or Balzac's novel. Elisabeth Vigée Lebrun in her self-portrait looks a lot like one of those girl, running after love in a classic story.

How many of you taking French Literature class were completely bored and fed up by Balzac, Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Madame de Lafayette's novels? Don't tell me a thing, I know the answer, almost every single one of you. And even if I don't want to judge you, I am judging you. Ok, not really. Plus I can relate to the school context, and imagine your annoying teachers asking you tons of questions on your readings, but it is such a shame that does influe on our literature tastes! I understand this hate, this disgust created by school, courses, teachers and tests, and myself, as a literature lover, I had to face this problem so I get the point. But anyways, somehow, I became conscious that literature shouldn't be something you'll have to see only as a study subject, it is actually not the way to fall in love with classics. At school I used to enjoy reading all of those novels, short stories, classics and stuffs, but I hated it when my teacher was like "anywise this sentence" or "answer this question". At college, in Comparative Literature, it became way more interesting, and to read the 600 pages of Proust's novel wasn't a problem at all, I truly enjoyed it actually. As much as I enjoyed reading all of the other ones, trying to understand them better, to know more about the authors, and to discover the hidden sense of the story. I learnt a new way to appreciate reading classics. And this is why I am maybe part of the few persons that thank school/university for forcing me to read and ask myself questions on what I was reading, even if the high school system was far from the best. So here I beg you to read again, or fort he first time, those classics, from Zola to Maupassant and Flaubert, far away from school system, only for your personal pleasure. 
    Even though I love literature studies, I decided to go back to "reading for pleasure" during the summer after I ended my university degree. During this break kind of thing I read some books that I never had, like Eugenie Grandet by Balzac, or read for the second time some of my all time favorite as La Princesse de Clèves by Madame de Lafayette. Out of the school context, those novels are completely different, and those classics become your favorite books ever. Trust me, you have to give them a try! A train journey, a rainy afternoon or a waiting space or whatever else, every moment and every place will be a good one to start! And by reading for your own pleasure, it will become a hundred time better. You won't ask yourself a thousand questions, and you will only focus on the more important thing: the beauty of those stories and there writing. No need to look for style figures in Balzac's novels, only focus on his flawless descriptions, and Flaubert will not be interesting only for his vocabulary, but now for his characters so well described physically and mentally that they seem real, standing in front of our eyes. Madame de Lafayette won't be studied because in her book she brings some autobiographies content, but only because her love stories will make you dream of impossible loves and charming princes. Everything become better in literature when you start reading it for what it has been written: pleasure. You have to take your time, follow the story and just enjoy, nothing more is asked. 
    Examples are many, hundred of authors, thousand of books, so I won't list them or what they are worth, it will be up to you to discover it! Go beyond your prejudices, forgot your bad school memories and dive in this classic literature sea, full of surprises, and so different from what is written today. A true literature, telling about another life, which will lead you from tears to laughs. When the book will be closed you will dream of having lived in Paris during 1800's, or to be heartbroken girl on the French country side. I won't tell you more about those stories, you will have to take the best of them by yourself now! No need to work to do so, just to let you be leaded by the author, deep in the magical land of classical French literature. 

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