<div style="display:inline;"> <img height="1" width="1" style="border-style:none;" alt="" src="//googleads.g.doubleclick.net/pagead/viewthroughconversion/1028731116/?value=0&amp;guid=ON&amp;script=0">
CHRISTMAS OFFER Subscribe to France Magazines today click here

12 classic French novels you should read

PUBLISHED: 12:56 02 June 2017 | UPDATED: 12:56 02 June 2017

Collections of old books line the shelves in this private study © Thinkstock

Collections of old books line the shelves in this private study © Thinkstock

Archant

From Voltaire to Zola, France has produced some of the world’s finest writers. Here is our pick of classic French novels you should read

Voyage au centre de la terre, Jules Verne Voyage au centre de la terre, Jules Verne

VOYAGE AU CENTRE DE LA TERRE

By Jules Verne

First published in 1864, Verne’s extraordinary novel tells the story of German professor Otto Lidenbrock, who discovers a strange code inside a manuscript that points to a series of volcanic tunnels leading to the centre of the Earth. Lidenbrock sets off on a journey of discovery, and encounters strange prehistoric beasts and natural hazards on his search for the Earth’s core. This thrilling adventure is testament to the power of the imagination and the public’s fascination with scientific advance at that time.

La belle et la bete, Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve La belle et la bete, Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve

LA BELLE ET LA BÊTE

By Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont

First published in 1740 by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve, the fairy tale is best known in this abridged version made 16 years later, which omits the back stories of the main characters and the sub-plots. A prince is turned into a beast by an evil fairy, but a young woman he meets treats him with care and kindness, despite his ugliness. Beauty finally accepts his marriage proposal and the handsome prince re-emerges. The ideas of romantic love and not judging people on their looks have an enduring appeal, but in the 18th century the story also addressed issues surrounding women’s lack of marriage rights.

La Cousine Bette, Honoré de Balzac La Cousine Bette, Honoré de Balzac

LA COUSINE BETTE

By Honoré de Balzac

First published in 1846, La Cousine Bette marks the culmination of Balzac’s novel sequence La Comédie Humaine. The protagonist is a middle-aged spinster who blames her wealthier relatives for her unhappiness, and plots their downfall with the help of a younger woman. This gripping portrayal of bourgeois society in 1840s Paris also shows the different ways in which the French language can be manipulated to trick and deceive others.

Voyage au bout de la nuit, Céline Voyage au bout de la nuit, Céline

VOYAGE AU BOUT DE LA NUIT

By Céline

This classic novel, published in 1932, charts the experiences of Ferdinand Bardamu, who finds himself accidentally caught up in World War I and goes on to travel through Africa and the United States before becoming a doctor back in Paris. The complex plot and use of slang provide plenty of challenges for those seeking complete fluency in French.

Candide, Voltaire Candide, Voltaire

CANDIDE

By Voltaire

First published in 1759, the philosopher Voltaire’s satire tells of a young man leading a sheltered life in the home of a baron. Indoctrinated with optimism by his mentor, Professor Pangloss, Candide is thrown out after falling in love with the baron’s daughter and soon discovers that the world is not what he believed it to be, as he encounters a series of disasters. With its fast-moving plot and sarcastic tone, the story provides an enlightening portrayal of the human condition.

Thérèse Raquin, Emile Zola Thérèse Raquin, Emile Zola

THÉRÈSE RAQUIN

By Émile Zola

This early work from Émile Zola, first published in serial form in 1867, is a torrid tale of adultery and murder in a working-class Parisian neighbourhood. Set in a dingy haberdasher’s shop near the Pont-Neuf, the plot focuses on an affair between Thérèse and a friend of her husband’s. The adulterous pair drown the shopkeeper, but are haunted by visions of the dead man and are pushed into madness. On its release, the work was denounced by many as obscene, and one critic went so far as to describe it as ‘putrid’. For modern readers, the novel remains compelling thanks to its densely plotted narrative and rich vocabulary.

Les Misérables, Victor Hugo Les Misérables, Victor Hugo

LES MISÉRABLES

By Victor Hugo

Referred to as ‘Les Mis’ by its many fans, Victor Hugo’s epic 1862 novel, turned smash-hit musical, focuses on the plight of ‘les misérables’ – the poor, desperate souls of 19th-century Paris – and focuses in particular on the trials and tribulations of the hero Jean Valjean. The novel, which at 1,200 pages is one of the longest literary works ever produced, is a powerful story of redemption, human kindness and empathy. It is justly famed for its richness of style, host of complex characters and dense plotting.

Le Père Goriot, Honoré de Balzac Le Père Goriot, Honoré de Balzac

LE PÈRE GORIOT

By Honoré de Balzac

Balzac’s 1835 novel follows the intertwined lives of three men – Goriot, Vautrin and Eugène de Rastignac – all of whom live in a decrepit boarding house in Paris. The story focuses on a series of mysteries surrounding the lodgers, which the young Rastignac tries to solve by fulfilling his ambition of penetrating Parisian high society. Balzac allows his story to unfold step by step (it was originally published in serial form) as he sets out to expose the corruption and greed of French society after the fall of Napoléon Bonaparte.

L'Assommoir, Emile Zola L'Assommoir, Emile Zola

L’ASSOMMOIR

By Émile Zola

Zola’s 1877 novel, the seventh in his 20-volume Rougon-Macquart chronicle, is a powerful study of the wretched conditions endured by the urban poor in 19th-century Paris. The main character, Gervaise, who appeared briefly in a previous novel, runs away to the capital with her lover Lantier to work as a washerwoman. Despite being abandoned, she makes enough money to open her own laundry, but a series of misfortunes leads down the dangerous path to alcoholism.

Notre Dame de Paris, Victor Hugo Notre Dame de Paris, Victor Hugo

NOTRE DAME DE PARIS

By Victor Hugo

Victor Hugo’s 1831 novel is better-known in English as The Hunchback of Notre- Dame, but the original title shows the author’s desire to put the Gothic cathedral and medieval Paris centre-stage. Against this backdrop unfolds the tragic tale of Quasimodo, the deformed bellringer whom everybody derides, and the beautiful Esmeralda, a gypsy street dancer who takes pity on him. The besotted Quasimodo tries to protect her from the lecherous archdeacon Claude Frollo, whose failed attempt to seduce the dancer leads him to devise a murderous plot.

Nadja, André Breton Nadja, André Breton

NADJA

By André Breton

The writer and poet André Breton was one of the founders of Surrealism and his 1928 novel is considered a key work in the movement. Not surprisingly, the narrative structure is unconventional as we follow a man’s ten-day relationship with a beautiful and intriguing young woman named Nadja. Breton weaves together personal experience and elements of magical realism to show that reality represents everything that is wrong with mankind.

La nausée, Jean-Paul Sartre La nausée, Jean-Paul Sartre

LA NAUSÉE

By Jean-Paul Sartre

Sartre’s philosophical novel, published in 1938, centres on dejected historian Antoine Roquentin, who becomes increasingly convinced that inanimate objects and situations are encroaching on his intellectual and spiritual freedom. This feeling experienced by the protagonist leads to a sense of nausea, with the rest of the work focusing on his breakdown and sickness. Sartre’s first novel is an intriguing work that shows the indifference of the physical world to man’s aspirations.

Like this? You might also enjoy:

22 French faux amis ready to trip you up

61 French words and phrases to use when shopping in France

Are these the best beaches in France?

0 comments

Welcome , please leave your message below.

Optional - JPG files only
Optional - MP3 files only
Optional - 3GP, AVI, MOV, MPG or WMV files
Comments

Please log in to leave a comment and share your views with other Complete France visitors.

We enable people to post comments with the aim of encouraging open debate.

Only people who register and sign up to our terms and conditions can post comments. These terms and conditions explain our house rules and legal guidelines.

Comments are not edited by Complete France staff prior to publication but may be automatically filtered.

If you have a complaint about a comment please contact us by clicking on the Report This Comment button next to the comment.

Not a member yet?

Register to create your own unique Complete France account for free.

Signing up is free, quick and easy and offers you the chance to add comments, personalise the site with local information picked just for you, and more.

Sign up now

Article by France Magazine France Magazine

More from Travel

Friday, October 20, 2017

Beautiful mountain valleys, good food and easy access – the Jura Mountains should be your next holiday destination in France

Read more
Franche-Comte
Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The capital of the Alsace wine region, Colmar is renowned for its pastel-coloured, half-timbered houses and bridge-laced canals that will have you thinking that you have stepped into a fairytale. Here is our insider’s guide to the main attractions, restaurants and property in Colmar

Read more
Alsace
Friday, October 6, 2017

A river cruise is a great way to explore Europe and who better to choose than the industry pioneer CroisiEurope who can help you travel in style and comfort and offer organised excursions to help you discover the area

Read more
Boating in France
Friday, October 6, 2017

Get in the festive spirit by visiting one of these 12 traditional Christmas markets in France and pick up some French Christmas gifts

Read more
Christmas in France
Thursday, October 5, 2017

The French love a good ghost story, from royal headless ghosts and underground cemeteries to the home of a serial killer. These are 13 of the most haunted places in France to visit this Halloween

Read more
Short breaks
Thursday, October 5, 2017

Whether you are with your family, your friends or your partner, you will find something to enjoy in Aude. Discover our ideas for outings and stays and unmissable points of interest

Read more
Languedoc-Roussillon
Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Explore Europe on a CroisiEurope river cruise and discover sunlit vineyards, vibrant cities and fascinating places...

Read more
Boating in France
Wednesday, October 4, 2017

With charming villages and unspoilt countryside, Aveyron is a great holiday destination for getting away from it all

Read more
Midi-Pyrenees
Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Want to discover all the secret destinations France has to offer? Escape the tourist trail in these hidden and underrated French locations

Read more
Culture and attractions
Thursday, September 21, 2017

Often quieter, cooler and cheaper, France offers plenty of choice for autumnal getaways. Read on to find out where in France you can make the most of autumn...

Read more
Short breaks
Subscribe From

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

France Forum

Questions about France? Visit our free France forum to get help and advice from thousands of other Francophiles and expats. Topics include: property, tax, law, travelling, pets, education, healthcare and much more.

Join the forum

Most Read

Join us on social media

France magazine
Living France magazine
French Property News magazine

Enter our competitions

Win books, DVDs, travel and even holidays in France in our great competitions! Take a look at our latest competitions…

Enter now