The French literary tradition is long-established, internationally renowned and prolific. Love has always been a key topic of the French literary tradition and each successive era has approached love from its own perspective. Here is a short presentation of three famous and poignant literary classics on love from three different centuries that have captured my imagination.
Dangerous Liaisons: This 18th century novel was an instant bestseller at the time and remains both gripping and engrossing to the 21st century public. It is a story of love, seduction, deceit and manipulation. Situated in pre-revolutionary aristocratic circles, it follows both the exploits of two allied, malicious characters, a man and a woman, and the tribulations of the innocent victims that succumb to their deceitful charms. I particularly admire the author’s skills as this masterpiece is epistolary, which means it is composed of a succession of letters that the various characters write to each other. I love how brilliantly the author writes in multiple styles, taking on the perspectives ranging from young, naïve, inexperienced adults to that of cunning, smart but Machiavellian protagonists. The brilliance of this plot has inspired many movie directors. It is fun to read the novel and then watch its various movie adaptations, such as the French Les Liaisons dangereuses, the British Valmont, the American Dangerous Liaisons and Cruel Intentions, the Korean Untold Secrets and the Chinese Dangerous Liaisons.
Carmen: Perhaps you already know of the famous French opera by this name. What you may not know is that the opera was inspired by an earlier 19th century short story with the same title. It is also a tale of love, seduction, deceit and manipulation. Situated in Spain, it follows the adventures of a formidable outlaw gypsy woman named Carmen, who seduces Don José, a soldier who is watching her in jail. Carmen then leads Don José down a path of crime and perdition fueled by the burning passion they feel for each other. What I love about this book is that the author had the brilliant idea to give his heroine Carmen all of the attributes of love. In other word, she is the embodiment of love itself. She is beautiful, passionate, irresistible, erratic, wild, and… dangerous.
Hiroshima mon amour: This story was first a movie released in 1959 whose script had been written by famous French author Marguerite Duras. She then published a novel version of the script which has become a cult classic in France. Situated at once in 1950’s Japan and in World War Two France during the Nazi occupation, this tale is about a forbidden romance between a young French woman and the enemy. The heroine falls in love with a German soldier who is killed as the war is ending. Duras eloquently conveys the heroine’s intense suffering and reveals the ordeal she goes through as she is treated like a traitor. There is a stark juxtaposition between the rest of the population rejoicing, and the heroine who becomes an outcast locked up in her father’s basement where her grief borders on insanity. The narrative keeps going back and forth through time, the courting, the romance, the lover’s death, the heroine’s punishment and public shaming for loving the enemy, her grief and sorrow, her present life in Japan. I personally love the modernity of the author’s style. She mostly writes in short, uncomplicated sentences that may have no verbs, and few words. Yet, her forte is her ability to craft incredibly eloquent sentences that powerfully convey the sentiments and emotions of her characters.