French Literary Boy Characters

Figure 1.--Louis Pergaud's La guerre des boutons provides information on the clothing worn by French village children in the 1950s. This is a scene from the 1960s film. Notice the berets and book bags.

I have limited information on boys in French literature. This may well be because of my inability to speak French. We know of several books with boy characters. I do not know, however, of any important French boy literarty character. Some of our French visitors have provided some details to HBC. It appears while there have been books written about French boys, both adult books and children's books. As far as we can determine, however, nome of these characters have arisen to the cultural status that American and British boyhood characters like Oliver Twist or Tom Sawyer acieved. Perhaps our French readers can take issue with this or confirm it. HBC is not sure why there is such a difference in English and French literature.

French Literature

Some French contributors to HBC have confirmed HBC initial assessment that there are more key boyhood characters in Americasn and English lterary works than in French works. Several contributors confirm that there are no novels in French like Tom Sawyer, Oliver Twist or the other important Anglo-American boyhood characters. They are of course important, not only because of the number of such works but because they actually portray American boyhood itself. Many see Tom Sawyer or Huck Finn as a symbol for the American boys. Generations of American boys read about Tom and Huck and joined them on the Mississippi in their imagination. The same is true of British works, including some of the more whimsical 20th century creations like Penrod, Dennis, William, and Jennings. While there are numerous French boy characters as discussed below, none of them have really become an arch symbol of French boyhood like the counterparts in American and Beitish literature.

It is interesting to speculate why boy characters are so important in American and British literature and relatively unimportant in French literature. HBC at this time has no theories, but it is an issue that we eventually hope to address.

A French contributor confirms that if there are no comparable characters as those from Tom Sawyer or Oliver Twist. but he says there are many pieces of good literature. Our French contributor maintains, "I am enclined to say even of better literature that explains lower popularity." HBC would take issue with this. HBC views Twains' books about Tom and Huck as two of the classics of American literature and the Dickins' books as also great works. However, as this is the French page, we certainly want to include French assessments on the subject.

Popular French Books

A French contributor reports that a 1999 survey that described the hundred most popular books in France. The third most popular book was St Exupery's world famous Le Petit Prince. Alain Fournier's beautifully written story Le Grand Meaulnes has been classified six or seven. It was translated into English under the title The Wanderer.

Individual Characters

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.

Signe de Piste

HBC has noted a French series of adventure stories for boys, Signe de Piste. I do not believe that a major French literary character ever emerged from these books. They did involve Frenc boys in a variety of adventures in which their clothing was depicted or described. There were some school and scouting stories, but many were highly romanticized adventure stories. HBC at this time has only limited information on the series.

Figure 3.--Joubert is best know for illustrating books and articles about French scouting. This book was also part of the "Signe de Piste" series.


One French contributor has mentioned Pierre Joubert who has illustrated numerous French books. The books do not seem to have established any literary charcter like To Sawyer in America or Oliver Twist in England. Many were jacket illustrations for historical works. One of the books appears to be a school story, but again a boy such as Jennings or Our William did not emerge to representvthe quinisential French school boy. I notice that a lot of the books he illustrated are part of a series reffered to as Sige de Piste. I'm not sure just what that was all about. Joubert illustrated a variety of French scouting publications, but I do no think that any literary characters eerged from this work. They do provide a number of drawings illustrating Fremch scout uniforms in the 1950s and 60s.


Ariaux, Bénédicte. E-mail message, June 17, 2003.


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Created: November 12, 1999
Last updated: 11:10 PM 5/27/2008