The roots of French fiction run deep in France’s history, from the medieval epic chansons de geste and romans, or “romances,” of the late medieval period to the Renaissance and early modern periods, when the novel in its modern form began to emerge. Storytelling is fundamental to human life, and certainly the French are no exception to this rule. Stories can be told in verse, as in French epic poems and great tragedies and comedies for the stage; prose chronicles and histories also share a storytelling function, but they promise their readers “truth,” not fiction, even when employing the technical devices of prose fiction writing. Long fiction in France, as in other Western societies, found its métier in the novel, and it is the story of the novel’s rise to prominence and popularity among critics and the reading public alike that necessarily forms the central focus of this survey. While to modern readers the novel’s place in literature is beyond dispute, the reasons for its emergence, development, and survival are varied and complex.
In English, the distinction between novel and novella is easier to grasp than in French; short fiction means the short story, and a novella represents some sort of halfway mark between a story and a full-fledged novel. The French word roman means simply “novel” to the modern reader, but its original usage conveyed instead the sense of “romance,” a literary genre lacking what...
(The entire section is 509 words.)