We have not been able to find any major boy heros or principal characters in French literature. There do appear to be some French boyhood characters that need to be mentioned. While they do not rise to the status of major literary characters or cultural phenonemons--they are several interesting characters and literary works that can be mentioned. Perhaps the most important child character is Cosette from Victor Hugo's Les misérables. The best known boy character is probably Antoine de Saint Exupry's Little Prince. We have, however, found quite a number of boy characters. We are not entirely sure why there are none of the major boy characters that people Anglo-American literatutre. It is interesting to note the boy characters that we have found.
Perhaps the best known child in French literature is Cosette from Victor Hugo's Les misérables. Cosette like many important child characters is an orphan. Her real name is Euphrasie. Her mother Fantine
nicknames her Cosette. Her father is Felix Tholomyès, but she is ilegitimate. Tholomyès abandons both Fantine and Cosette. Fantine pays the Thénardiers who operate an inn in Montfermeil to care for her Cosette while she seeks work in the larger city of Montreuil-sur-Mer. Rather than properlycare for Cosette, the Thénardiers set her to work at their inn, And to make matters worse, Éponine and Azelma Thénardier, the Thénardiers twodaughters, mistreat Cosette. Fantine does not fare well in Montreuil-sur-Mer. She winds up in a hospital. She pleads with Jean Valjean, the mayor of the city, to retrieve Cosette. Fantine dies, however, before Valjean can be returned to her. Valjean decides to care for her like a daughter.
An interesting book is Yves Gibeauas' Allons z'enfants which relates the adventures of Simon Chalumot a 13 year-old boy whose father has enrolled in a military school created for children of french army soldiers. Simon's situation is described in the foreword of that book, by Lewis Mumford, "Happily enough for humanity, the army has generally been the shelter for third level minds."
A famous book also made into a movie is Louis Pergaud's La guerre des boutons (The War of Buttons). It describes war between the kids of two villages where our hero invented the war trophy of all buttons of trousers/smocks. I'm not sure to what extent the boys' clothing os described in the book, but you would assume that is necessary given the importance of the buttons. The movie was made by Louis Malle and is very descriptive of French kids and a result French boys' clothing is extensively illustrated, including the smocks that were still commonly worn in the years in which the book was set. A remake of the movie filmed in Ireland was released in 1995 amid some controversy.
The Three Little Musketeers by Emile Desbeaux, was published in the U.S. for high school students of French. The preface claims that it was illustrated by a French artist; a claim for its verisimilitude and accuracy of depiction! The hero, a young Gascon boy of about 14/15 years, is sent to Paris to continue his studies. He shows up in a blouse of blue wool, long black trousers, a rakishly cocked red beret, and solid peasant shoes. His costume provokes peals of laughter among his new classmates, until he receives his school uniform, made up of a blue visored cloth cap, long blue, buttoned shirt without a belt, blue short pants (which appear to be a couple of inches above his knees), socks about mid-calf length, and lace-up shoes. If the book's claims are true, this should be typical for French secondary schools of the mid-1920s.
Un bon petit diable (A Good Little Devil) was written by the Countess of Ségur (1799-1894). I'm not sure about the boy's name. It is actually not about a French boy, but a Scottish orphan, raised by a [?mantle]. But the "good little devil" is a bit naughty and does not [?let itself make]. Its turbulent naturalness and its sharp imagination push it to play of the rotten tricks to all those which [?l.ennuient]. The countess of Ségur wrote many books for children: Small model girls, Memories of a donkey, The Dourakine General. I'm not sure who illustrated Un bon petit diable for her. The story has been made into a movie.
One HBC contributor points out a little guy-famous now in multiple language translation-as well as for the illustrations done by the author). Antoine de Saint Exupry (1900-44) wrote and illustrated Le Petit Prince. The book has been made in a stage offering, a video, and I don't know what else. The book is a symbolic account of a system of an encounter meeting in the desert of a man with a young boy from an unknown planet. This child is "the Little Prince". In France one hesitates to give this book to a child as only informed adults can really understand and appreciate it. Saint Exupry was an
aviator, pionier of air-mail in the 1930s. He is disappeared in 1944 in the Meditteranean on a military mission during World War II. He is the author of many works imagined during his long solitary flights: Night flight, Ground of the men, Fighter pilot, etc.
Another very popular book is Jules Renard's Poil de Carotte. The book examens what it feels like to be unloved as a child. Freckle-faced, 11-year old "Poil de Carotte" is unloved and tormented by his cruel mother untill a new maid awakens his previously unengaged father. She informs the father that his son is on the verge of suicide. Yet, his dad seems incapable of giving the boy all he needs, or is his new job as mayor more important? A movie (1930? by J. Duvivier with Harry Bauer) and theater plays have contributed to popularity of Poil de Carotte.
Jean l'Hôte wrote La Communale about a French ementary school class. This book was also adapted for a movie. The boys at school wear smocks. Hopefully our French contributors will provide more information on this book. Author Jean L'Hôte was born in 1929, made studies in history of art and pursued a double carreer in writing novels and in movies. The novel itself, written around 1950, takes place in 1936. The 9-year old son of the teacher is narrating the life of his family in a little town of Lorraine (northern France), with some hints on the difficult life of a boy being as well pupil of father...
Well known author Gilbert Cesbron wrote many books on society and
children. The most famous certainly being Chiens perdus sans colliers. The book was also made into a movie with Jean Gabin and narrates story of an orphan
Hector Malot (1830-1907) wrote Sans famille (Without Family) about the adventures of two young orphans collected by a travelling entertainer. Sans famille écrit par Hector Malot (1830-1907). Les aventures de 2 jeunes orphelins recueillis par un baladin ambulant.
Another contributor suggests the eponymous figure in Alain-Fournier's Le Grand Meaulnes. The work has been translated into English as The Wanderer. A French contributer believes that most of kids who have to study this book at school will find it boring, but will change opinion as they grow up.
François, 15 years old, is the narrator of the book. He is the son of Mr. and Mrs. Seurel who are teachers at Sainte Agathe in Sologne and is studying there to become a teacher himself. Augustin Meaulnes, 17 years old, arrives at the school. His arrival is going to shake Francois’ calm and lonely life. " The arrival of Augustin Meaulnes is for me the
beginning of a new life " wrote François. Augustin, called "The Grand Meaulnes " by the other pupils, breaks the monotony of the school establishment and fascinates the students with his mysterious personality. HBC is not yet sure what clothing and schoolwear are presented in the book and movie.
Another contributor points to the little girl named "Cosette" who leads to Jean Valjean's identity bering revealed on Victor Hugo's Les Miserables. She is the little girl whose face apppers in all the publicity for Les Miz. Interestingly, a HBC contributor reports trying hard to think of a girl hero in French literature but had no success. There is also a boy who has an important role in the book, one of the most important French novels. Gavroche is a witty and teasing character but full of bravery and
generosity. His name has passed into the current french language to describe the typical kid of Paris--Gavroche. "...a boisterous, pallid, nimble, wide-awake, rouguish urchin, who looked both lively and sickly." "...in the neighborhood of the Chateua d'Eau, there could be seen a little boy of eleven or twelve, who would have quite accurately realized the ideal
of the gamin previously sketched, if, with the laughter of youth on his lips, his heart had not been absolutely dark and empty. This child was well decked out in a man's pair of pants, but he did not get them from his father, and in a woman's jacket, which was not from his mother. Strangers have clothed him in these rags out of charity. Yet he did have a father and a mother. But his father never thought of him, and his mother did not love him.
He was one of those children so deserving of pity above all others, who have fathers and mothers and yet are orphans. This little boy never felt so happy as when in the street. For him the pavement was not so hard as the heart of his mother.
His parents had kicked him out into life. He had simply taken flight.
He was a boisterous, pallid, nimble, wide-awake, rouguish urchin, who looked both lively and sickly. He would come and go, sing, play pitch and
toss, scrape the gutters, steal a little, but he did it cheerfully, like the cats and the sparrows, laughed when people called him a brat, and got angry
when they called him a guttersnipe. He had no shelter, no food, no fire, no love, but he was lighthearted beacuse he was free. ...on the Boulevard du Temple, this boy went by the name of little Gavroche." [Volume III, Book I, Chapter VIII - Little Gavroche ] These excerpts have been taken from the unabridged English translation by Lee Fahenstock and Norman MacAfee (copyright 1987), which was based on the classic C.E. Wilbour translation.
A HBC reader tells us about "Spirou" written by the Dutch comic Robeddoes. It is a French language comic called Spirou,the oldest comic still publishing in the French language. Spirou is a
teenager who started work as a bellboy. Even after he left the job,he still wore his uniform. His best friend is the blonde, pipe smoking weirdo Fantasio. He also has his squirrel Spip and the long-tailed
marsupliami. The comic was first drawn by Rob-Vel, then by others. Andre Franquin was considered the best. There is also a series called Le Petit Spirou that had has Spirou as a child with new friends,a mom
and grandfather who both wear bellhop uniforms and a chain-smoking, drinking gym teacher named Megot.
André and Julien Volden are two literary characters that were once known by virtuarly every French schoolboy, but are now mostly forgotten. A French reader tells us, "Glancing through the French page, I noticed that you omitted a book which is now very much out of date, but has been read by millions of French schoolboys at the turn of the 20th century. This book was titled, Le tour de France par deux enfants and was written by Georges Bruno. It was writen in 1877 and tells the story of André and Julien Volden, two brothers from the Lorraine region which had been annexed by Germany at the end of the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71). The heroes who surreptitiously leave Lorraine discover every French province, its history and main characteristics on their way to Provence in the South of France (in a very similar way to Nils Holgersson's on his trip round Sweden, but with a stronger patriotic theme). There were 7 million copies sold in France between 1877 and 1914. It is no longer popular, I guess, partly because of its didactic and moralizing tone." [Ariaux]
An HBC contributor reports that a few years ago he bought a couple of books, copywritten in the 1920's, of French stories. One book is sparsely illustrated, but there is one drawing of a French school boy in a black smock standing in front of the teacher's desk; he's facing the reader, and the desk obscures him from waist down. No other clothing details are available. Two additional authors of interestvare: Serge Dalens and Jean-Louis Foncine.
Ariaux, Bénédicte. E-mail message, June 17, 2003.
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