French literature

XXth Century

XXth century

1 October 2020

XIXth century

1 October 2020

XVIIIth century

1 October 2020

XVIIth Century

1 October 2020


31 March 2021

Middle Ages

1 October 2020

XXth century

France began the twentieth century with a bang, confident in itself, in its colonies, in its knowledge, in its virtues. Then came the first world war. Even today, it is not clear who is responsible for the outbreak of this war. What we do know, however, is the extent of the disaster, which makes it difficult to imagine today: in five years 1.45 million deaths for France, 1.9 million injured, that is to say, 30% of the active male population.

This conflict marks a break in the history of our country and in the history of Europe. The technical progress of which Europe was so proud had turned against it. A whole generation was sent to the slaughterhouse in an uncontrollable collective madness. At the end of the war, France was a bit disoriented. Progress continues (electricity was installed everywhere ) but the worm was in the fruit.

The “roaring twenties” followed in an economically and culturally shaken France. While fascism was winning in Italy and Germany, France dithered, confronting itself through the extreme right and the left. An appetite for destruction and revolution gripped French literature, with Dadaism and Surrealism. In 1940, the country was invaded by Germany in four weeks. The State became a collaborator. The Jews of France were hunted down, chased and sent to extermination camps in the East.

Curiously enough, France and Europe were much quicker to recover economically at the end of the war than during the Roaring Twenties: this was the so called 30 glorious years (1946-1975). But the balance of power has changed on an international level. Europe lost its leadership position . After 1945, the world positioned itself according to the United States of America or the USSR. Gaullism tried to have more influence, but the game was up : France was now a power of the past, influential because of its history rather than its present.

The rural exodus continued . In 1900, almost one Frenchman in two  worked in the fields. By the end of the century,  only 3% of them were working in the fields : this was a major economic and cultural change.

The equipment used was considerable. Children no longer die in infancy, red wine is no longer served in the canteen and people are beginning to live to a ripe old age.

Everyone is using different tools to speedily communicate and move : the car, the plane, the telephone, soon the Internet.

After obtaining the right to vote, women began to make their voices heard and demanded more rights and consideration, as well as an end to patriarchy. Family units are broken up:  parents are freer, they divorce more, young people leave to work elsewhere, and old people are crammed into old people’s homes where they wait for their end, as useless as old clogs, in a  economic and cultural world now based on youth and innovation.

The french language in the XXth century

Following on from the previous century, the specialized vocabulary (technical, scientific, artistic) developed strongly.

Numerous words were launched into everyday language in three main ways : juxtaposition of two nouns ( tarte-maison, lampe-torche, surprise-partie, couscous-merguez, voiture-balai…), addition of a suffix (- iste , – age , – eur , – iser …), or truncation ( ciné for cinematograph, apero for aperitif, vélo for vélocipède, auto for automobile.

Anglicisms are numerous (cool, black, off, out, in, loser, etc.), even if the English words borrowed often come from French (suspense, challenge, customize, etc.)

The pronoun nous tends to disappear in the oral, as well as the passé simple, which is also less used in writing. The gap between spoken and written language is increasing.