While I don’t have that much interest in French fantasy literature, I am interested in French weird fiction and supernatural horror.
Review: The Handbook of French Fantasy & Supernatural Fiction, Jean-Marc & Randy Lofficier, 2022.
The origins of this book, its organization, and even the deficiencies of its index are similar to The Handbook of French Science Fiction. Both books cover works produced in French by non-French writers, and, in fact, that’s much truer of this book since it concentrates on the rich tradition of Belgium fantasy and horror written in French. In fact, the only writer to get his own section in this volume is Belgium Jean Ray. (Coverage of him was one of the main reasons I bought this book.)
The origins of French fantasy are what you might expect: medieval romances and ballads and poetry and religious dramas. But it received its own unique stamp from several other things: some of the first publications of famous fairy tales, the Tales of the Fey often produced under pseudonym by female aristocrats, and occult and esoteric texts. The latter are so important that the Lofficiers carry coverage of them throughout the whole book, and French works of that sort (like the ones that inspired The Da Vinci Code and Jacques Bergier’s and Louis Pauwels’ The Morning of the Magicians) have become international bestsellers.
The Age of French Proto-Fantasy moves into fantasy literature as we know it today with the nineteenth century, a period which would see several notable authors like Honoré Balzac, Victor Hugo, and Anatole France dabble in the genre. It also was influenced by foreigners, especially the English Gothic which became the roman noir in France. John Polidori’s The Vampyre, translated into French in 1819, kicked off a major enthusiasm for works centering on that supernatural entity. It was at this time a distinction would arise between two sub-genres — fantastique populaire and fantastique littéraire. Some of the authors here, like Alexandre Dumas and Paul Féval, made their reputation as writers of feutilleton, serialized novels published in newspapers.
Starting in the 1820s, under the influence of E. T. A. Hoffman, a fantastique romantique movement developed. Under the influence of Edgar Allan Poe, a fantastique réaliste emerged. Less tied to metaphysics than Hoffmanesque works and emphasizing math and science, it was more respectable for the literati. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, decadent fantasies, also known as fantastique symboliste, started appearing.Continue reading