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Historical Fiction: France

Aside from Great Britain, where I live, I have spent most time in France.  I adore the country, and have visited every year – often multiple times – since I was a child.  I am very drawn to fiction set in France, and find its historical fiction particularly rich, due to the country’s fascinating and tumultuous past.  With this in mind, I thought I would create a list of eight historical fiction books set in France which I can’t wait to read.

 

1. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas 7126
‘In 1815 Edmond Dantès, a young and successful merchant sailor who has just recently been granted the succession of his erstwhile captain Leclère, returns to Marseille to marry his Catalan fiancée Mercédès. Thrown in prison for a crime he has not committed, Edmond Dantès is confined to the grim fortress of If. There he learns of a great hoard of treasure hidden on the Isle of Monte Cristo and he becomes determined not only to escape, but also to unearth the treasure and use it to plot the destruction of the three men responsible for his incarceration.’

 

181439772. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
‘From the highly acclaimed, multiple award-winning Anthony Doerr, the stunningly beautiful instant New York Times bestseller about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II.  Marie-Laure lives in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where her father works. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.  In a mining town in Germany, Werner Pfennig, an orphan, grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find that brings them news and stories from places they have never seen or imagined. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments and is enlisted to use his talent to track down the resistance. Deftly interweaving the lives of Marie-Laure and Werner, Doerr illuminates the ways, against all odds, people try to be good to one another.’

 

3. The Dream Lover: A Novel of George Sand by Elizabeth Berg 22716467
‘A passionate and powerful novel based on the scandalous life of the French novelist George Sand, her famous lovers, untraditional Parisian lifestyle, and bestselling novels in Paris during the 1830s and 40s. This major departure for bestseller Berg is for readers of Nancy Horan and Elizabeth Gilbert.  George Sand was a 19th century French novelist known not only for her novels but even more for her scandalous behavior. After leaving her estranged husband, Sand moved to Paris where she wrote, wore men’s clothing, smoked cigars, and had love affairs with famous men and an actress named Marie. In an era of incredible artistic talent, Sand was the most famous female writer of her time. Her lovers and friends included Frederic Chopin, Gustave Flaubert, Franz Liszt, Eugene Delacroix, Victor Hugo, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and more. In a major departure, Elizabeth Berg has created a gorgeous novel about the life of George Sand, written in luminous prose, with exquisite insight into the heart and mind of a woman who was considered the most passionate and gifted genius of her time.’

 

146624. The Red and the Black by Stendhal
‘Handsome, ambitious Julien Sorel is determined to rise above his humble provincial origins. Soon realizing that success can only be achieved by adopting the subtle code of hypocrisy by which society operates, he begins to achieve advancement through deceit and self-interest. His triumphant career takes him into the heart of glamorous Parisian society, along the way conquering the gentle, married Madame de Rênal, and the haughty Mathilde. But then Julien commits an unexpected, devastating crime – and brings about his own downfall. The Red and the Black is a lively, satirical portrayal of French society after Waterloo, riddled with corruption, greed, and ennui, and Julien – the cold exploiter whose Machiavellian campaign is undercut by his own emotions – is one of the most intriguing characters in European literature.’

 

5. In a Dark Wood Wandering: A Novel of the Middle Ages by Hella S. Haasse 123091
‘This novel exemplifies historical fiction at its best; the author’s meticulous research and polished style bring the medieval world into vibrant focus. Set during the Hundred Years War (1337-1453), the narrative creates believable human beings from the great roll of historical figures. Here are the mad Charles VI, the brilliant Louis d’Orleans, Joan of Arc, Henry V, and, most importantly, Charles d’Orleans, whose loyalty to France brought him decades of captivity in England. A natural poet and scholar, his birth and rank thrust him into the center of intrigue and strife, and through his observant eyes readers enter fully into his colorful, dangerous times. First published in the Netherlands in 1949, this book has never been out of print there and has been reprinted 15 times. ‘This novel exemplifies historical fiction at its best; the author’s meticulous research and polished style bring the medieval world into vibrant focus. Set during the Hundred Years War (1337-1453), the narrative creates believable human beings from the great roll of historical figures. Here are the mad Charles VI, the brilliant Louis d’Orleans, Joan of Arc, Henry V, and, most importantly, Charles d’Orleans, whose loyalty to France brought him decades of captivity in England. A natural poet and scholar, his birth and rank thrust him into the center of intrigue and strife, and through his observant eyes readers enter fully into his colorful, dangerous times. First published in the Netherlands in 1949, this book has never been out of print there and has been reprinted 15 times.’

 

980496. Luncheon of the Boating Party by Susan Vreeland
‘Bestselling author Susan Vreeland returns with a vivid exploration of one of the most beloved Renoir paintings in the world.  Instantly recognizable, Auguste Renoir’s masterpiece depicts a gathering of his real friends enjoying a summer Sunday on a café terrace along the Seine near Paris. A wealthy painter, an art collector, an Italian journalist, a war hero, a celebrated actress, and Renoir’s future wife, among others, share this moment of la vie moderne, a time when social constraints were loosening and Paris was healing after the Franco-Prussian War. Parisians were bursting with a desire for pleasure and a yearning to create something extraordinary out of life. Renoir shared these urges and took on this most challenging project at a time of personal crises in art and love, all the while facing issues of loyalty and the diverging styles that were tearing apart the Impressionist group. Narrated by Renoir and seven of the models and using settings in Paris and on the Seine, Vreeland illuminates the gusto, hedonism, and art of the era. With a gorgeous palette of vibrant, captivating characters, she paints their lives, loves, losses, and triumphs in a brilliant portrait of her own.’

 

7. Paris: The Novel by Edward Rutherfurd 18730321
‘From Edward Rutherfurd, the grand master of the historical novel, comes a dazzling epic about the magnificent city of Paris. Moving back and forth in time, the story unfolds through intimate and thrilling tales of self-discovery, divided loyalty, and long-kept secrets. As various characters come of age, seek their fortunes, and fall in and out of love, the novel follows nobles who claim descent from the hero of the celebrated poem The Song of Roland; a humble family that embodies the ideals of the French Revolution; a pair of brothers from the slums behind Montmartre, one of whom works on the Eiffel Tower as the other joins the underworld near the Moulin Rouge; and merchants who lose everything during the reign of Louis XV, rise again in the age of Napoleon, and help establish Paris as the great center of art and culture that it is today. With Rutherfurd’s unrivaled blend of impeccable research and narrative verve, this bold novel brings the sights, scents, and tastes of the City of Light to brilliant life.’

 

305978. The Hunchback of Notre-Dame by Victor Hugo
‘This extraordinary historical novel, set in Medieval Paris under the twin towers of its greatest structure and supreme symbol, the cathedral of Notre-Dame, is the haunting drama of Quasimodo, the hunchback; Esmeralda, the gypsy dancer; and Claude Frollo, the priest tortured by the specter of his own damnation. Shaped by a profound sense of tragic irony, it is a work that gives full play to Victor Hugo’s brilliant historical imagination and his remarkable powers of description.’

 

Have you read any of these books?  Which are your favourite novels set in France, historical or otherwise?

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Classics Club #9: ‘The Three Musketeers’ by Alexandre Dumas ****

The ninth book upon my Classics Club list is a French classic, Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers.  Whilst never having read the book before, I have seen both the most recent film and used to occasionally watch the cartoon when I was younger, so I was relatively familiar with the story before I began.  I have wanted to read Dumas’ work for such a long time, and had high hopes for The Count of Monte Cristo, even ordering the book a good few years ago and thinking I’d get to it immediately.  The length of it sadly put me off, however, and I ended up plumping for one of his shorter novels first – something which I am very glad I did.

The Three Musketeers is the first volume in the d’Artagnan series.  In the novel, the narrator of the piece has chanced upon the memoirs of the former, and sets out his past in the following manner: ‘D’Artagnan relates that on his first visit to M. de Treville, captain of the king’s Musketeers, he met in the antechamber three young men, serving in the illustrious corps into which he was soliciting the honour of being received bearing the names of Athos, Porthos and Aramis’.

The Three Musketeers begins ‘on the first Monday of the month of April, 1625’ in a market town named Meung.  The town ‘appeared to be in as perfect a state of revolution as if the Huguenots had just made a second La Rochelle of it’.  Dumas goes on to set the scene of the various skirmishes which are in existence immediately: ‘In those times panics were common, and few days passed without some city or other registering in its archives an event of this kind.  There were nobles, who made war against each other; there was the king, who made war against the cardinal; there was Spain, which made war against the king.  Then, in addition to these concealed or public, secret or open wars, there were robbers, mendicants, Huguenots, wolves, and scoundrels, who made war upon everybody’.

A well wrought and diverse cast of characters have been considered here, and socially, the novel is incredibly interesting.  Dumas brings seventeenth-century France to life, his scenes becoming more vivid and his plots gathering speed as the book goes on.  His sentences are often long, but they are, without a doubt, wonderfully crafted.  As one who is relatively familiar with the tale would expect, it is filled with duels and mass sword fights, all of which add a touch of excitement to proceedings.  The Three Musketeers is rich, and well worth investing the long amount time which it takes to read into.

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Wednesday Wishlist: Classic Novels

Below are five classic novels which I am lusting after.  They are all books which I feel I should have already read, particularly as a literature student.

1. Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
I so enjoyed Tess of the d’Urbervilles and feel that I really should read more of Hardy’s works. The story in this novel looks like a wonderful one.

2. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
I have never read any Flaubert, but this novel has been downloaded on my Kindle for quite some time now.  Perhaps I will finally get around to reading it this year!

3. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
I have had a physical copy of this novel for around four years, but the sheer size of it and tiny print size has really put me off.  I think the plot sounds fascinating and I have heard only good things about it, so this is another I really should get around to reading.

4. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
For some unknown reason, this passed me by in my childhood, and I am certain that I would have adored the story.  Anne looks like a marvellous heroine, and I cannot wait to read about her.

5. Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
I remember watching an amateur production of Treasure Island when I was younger and I absolutely adored it, so I struggle to see why I’ve not read it thus far!