The Reception of French Literature in England, 1885–1914



In their discussion of the aesthetic movement, the implications of ‘art for art’s sake’ , and the phenomenon of the 1890s, Walter E. Houghton and G. Robert Stange focus on a curious occurrence: ‘Out-of-the-way and queer writers were sought out; the elaborate metres of medieval French and Italian poetry were revived. But most important was the sudden addiction to, and liberal borrowing from, the works of nineteenth-century Frenchmen.’1 To explain how this addiction came to exist and indeed to endure through the first decade of the twentieth century one must look first to the writers who preceded the writers of the 1890s and influenced the course of their literary lives. Beginning in the 1860s, several writers and critics contributed to a newly developing sense of the importance of French literature and began to exercise a profound influence upon the course of English attitudes towards the literature, culture and intellectual history of France; chief among them were Matthew Arnold, Algernon Charles Swinburne and, above all, Walter Pater, although such writers as John Morley and Andrew Lang also set the stage for a growing appreciation of French literature.


English Reader French Literature French Writer Literary Life French Tradition 
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  1. 1.
    W. Houghton and G. R. Stange, Victorian Poetry and Poetics (Boston, Mass.: Houghton Mifflin, 1968) p. 755.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Edmund Gosse, Life of Swinburne (London: Macmillan, 1917) p. 168.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Swinburne was the first in England to write of Baudelaire and is generally credited with introducing Gautier’s formulation of ‘art for art’s sake’ to English readers in his William Blake (London: Hotten, 1868) p. 101. For a more extensive discussion of Swinburne’ s place in introducing French literature to English readers, see John J. Conlon, Walter Pater and the French Tradition (Lewisburg Pa: Bucknell University Press; London: Associated University Presses, 1982) ch. 1.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    See Matthew Arnold, Lectures and Essays in Criticism, ed. R. H. Super (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1962) p. 230.Google Scholar
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    For a more detailed listing of translations of Zola’s work, a general sense of his reception in contemporary England, and a brief examination of his life and work see John J. Conlon, ‘Emile Zola’, Critical Survey of Long Fiction: Foreign Language Series, ed. F. Magill (Englewood Cliffs, N.J: Salem Press, 1984) pp. 1982–95.Google Scholar
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© Ceri Crossley and Ian Small 1988

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