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Classic French Novels That Show The Different Sides of Paris

April 07, 2021
Classic French literature is arguably completely underrated. Sure, there are some stories that are world-famous thanks to film and stage adaptations, but there are a lot more that people should know. What's so great bout such works is that they're not fluffy with sweet-nothings and predictable happy endings. In fact, more often than not, French classics end quite tragically, which in essence, is part of their charm. They also provide a great alternative image of Paris, the country's capital. These stories show that even in the most beautiful city in the world the stories here can get dark, tragic, and full of intrigue.

Classic French Novels That Show The Different Sides of Paris


Les Misérables

You've probably seen the broadway musical but the original story is just as fascinating. "Les Misérables" is the story that depicts the many lives affected by the French revolution, shows the many sides of France, particularly in Paris. That the regal beauty of the city houses a diverse set of ideas, origins, and journeys, each more different than the next. And how important it is to fight for them even when others won't. Like any other city, Paris is a complex capital with many types of people living in it, even to this day. This is what "Les Misérables" is all about. 


The Three Musketeers

Speaking of fighting for one's ideals, "The Three Musketeers" is another great French classic that upholds this concept. But more than ideals, this story is about keeping faith in one's values and honoring them as best as one can. Written by the great Alexandre Dumas, it is the quintessential swashbuckler story in French literature, full of heroic escapades, noble characters, and a little bit of romance. It follows D'Artagnan, a young impressionable man who befriends three of the greatest musketeers of his time and learns what it truly means to become one. Unfortunately, they no longer exist in modern-day Paris. 


Classic French Novels That Show The Different Sides of Paris


The Hunchback of Notre Dame

There is one place, however, in classic French literature that you can still visit in Paris: Notre Dame. And the story is, of course, "The Hunchback of Notre Dame." One of the most tragic tales of the genre, it's all about the famous church's bellringer, Quasimodo, who befriends (and falls in love with) a gypsy girl named Esmeralda. Though initially hidden because of his appearance, Quasimodo slowly but surely discovers Paris, with all its beauty and ugliness. And he later finds out that, even when many people are scared of him, there are still some should out there who can still love him for who he is. 


Madame Bovary

Now for something a little bit controversial. Classic French literature has its own fair share of tragic heroines and one of the most popular is Madame Bovary. Having grown up in modest means, she marries the gentle yet gauche Charles Bovary, who attempts to give her everything she wants. The only problem is, what Emma Bovary really wants is far from what her well-meaning husband can give her. As a result of reading countless fantastical and fanciful novels, Madame Bovary yearns for an exciting life of luxury and passionate romance. And she'll go to great lengths to get it, even hurting those closest to her in the process. 


Classic French Novels That Show The Different Sides of Paris


The Lady of the Camellias

On the flip side, there's Marguerite Gauthier, the heroine of "The Lady of the Camellias." Her life is just as tragic but underneath that veil of allure and glamour lies a gentle soul who just wants to be loved. Famous for her youthful beauty and charming wit, Gauthier starts out as the belle of Paris. The most prominent courtesan, she entices wealthy men to be her benefactors and lovers. But it's Armand Duvall, a young man of modest means, who captures her heart. And she prepared to sacrifice everything—her luxurious life in Paris—just to be with him. 


Manon Lescaut

You could say that after reading "Manon Lescaut" that the heroine is a mix of the two previous tragediennes. In fact, the novel itself appears in "The Lady of the Camellias," acting somewhat as a foreshadowing of Marguerite's own fate. Manon Lescaut has the same ruthless ambitions as Madame Bovary. She, too, wants to live a life of luxury in Paris, trying to achieve it by any means necessary. However, her love for Des Grieux is as true and sincere as Margeurite's affections for Armand. And although their story ends tragically, their love ultimately wins and conquers all. 


Dangerous Liaisons

After all this reading of tragic lovers, here's one that's a lot more intriguing and powerful. "Dangerous Liaisons" chronicles the manipulations of the Marquise de Merteuil, a rich and powerful beauty in Parisian society. Exacting her revenge to many people within her close circle of the elite. she uses her own powers od seduction and treachery to puppet them. She doesn't succumb to love, but rather she uses it as her own dangerous weapon. But she later realized that her actions have consequences, resulting in a series of twists and turns that will shock you at every turn of the page. 


Classic French Novels That Show The Different Sides of Paris


As beautiful and beguiling a city as Paris is, it has its own fair share of intrigue, mysteries, and tragedy. And this has been the case for past centuries. These great classic literary works will educate you on that! Read them to see a whole new side of the French capital! 




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