In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section France

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Digital Resources
  • Reception of French Writers and Actors
  • Translations and Publishers of French Literature
  • Historical Studies

Victorian Literature France
Nathalie Vanfasse
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 May 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199799558-0155


What kind of knowledge did the Victorians have about 19th-century France, and what were their representations of France during a period that saw the 1830 revolution and the July Monarchy followed by the 1848 revolution, the Second Republic, and the rise of Napoleon III, which ended with the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 and the advent of the Third Republic? The answer to these questions implies finding out what sources the Victorians could use to acquire this information. This, in turn, means looking at the Victorians’ distant perception of France, but also at their experience of France as travelers or residents in the country, or even at the impressions conveyed upon them by French people who, for various reasons, were led to travel or reside in Victorian Britain. Admiration, vilification, interactions, cooperation, and misunderstandings are some of the words that crop up most frequently in the bibliographical references that follow. This article will be looking at what could be read about France in Victorian literature—especially travel literature and travel guides—but also in newspapers of the time. It will also consider Victorian translations of French literature and the publishers involved in promoting French literature in Britain. The learning of French in Britain, as well as Victorian views on French education, will be taken into account, as will Victorian perceptions of French political events and representations of France and the French by Victorian visual artists. Last but not least, the role of commerce, universal exhibitions, and art exhibitions will be considered.

General Overviews

The best starting points to cover the question of the Victorians and France are Marandon 1967, which highlights all the directions that this topic can take, Tombs and Tombs 2006 and Martens 2006 for a more cultural perspective, and Aprile and Bensimon 2006 for a more historical approach to the question. This can be completed by Ramos Gay 2015, Mitchell 2013, and Boucher-Rivalain and Hadjenko-Marshall 2008 for scientific, political, historical, literary, and artistic perspectives on France.

  • Aprile, Sylvie, and Fabrice Bensimon, eds. La France et l’Angleterre au XIXe siècle: Échanges, représentations, comparaisons. Paris: Éditions Créaphis, 2006.

    Landmark collection of essays on the relations between France and England in the 19th century. Argues that the 19th century has been somewhat neglected in this respect, and purports to make up for this relative neglect by examining the circulation and transformation of ideas about France in British representations, as well as Victorian misunderstandings about France and the French.

  • Boucher-Rivalain, Odile, and Catherine Hadjenko-Marshall, eds. Regards des Anglo-Saxons sur la France au cours du long 19e siècle. Paris: L’Harmattan, 2008.

    This collection of essays examines the combination of fascination and repulsion that France continued to inspire the English with, in the long 19th century. Looks at artistic, literary, economic, educational, social, and historical influences on English intellectuals, politicians, artists, writers, and critics. Usefully completed by a reading of Mitchell 2013 and Ramos Gay 2015.

  • Marandon, Sylvaine. L’image de la France dans l’Angleterre Victorienne. Paris: Armand Colin, 1967.

    Seminal work on how the Victorians perceived France and the French. Analyzes the image of France through English representations from 1848 to 1900 and looks at the instruments that enabled the British to picture France to themselves—publications on France, oral testimonies by French immigrants or conversation in “salons,” and visual information such as theater plays, commerce, or art exhibitions. A key reference to find out about the Victorians and France.

  • Martens, Brita. “The Victorians’ View of France.” Literature Compass 3.3 (2006): 562–571.

    This article shows how recent findings in cultural studies and research on the Victorians and France demonstrate that the Victorian’s attitude toward France covered responses to French culture understood in a broad sense. It focuses on Anglo-French relations as a field of studies that is becoming increasingly interdisciplinary.

  • Mitchell, Rosemary, ed. Mutual (In)comprehensions: France and Britain in the Long Nineteenth Century. Newcastle upon Tyne, UK: Cambridge Scholars, 2013.

    A collection of essays that look at the combination of admiration and anxiety with which the English perceived France and the French, and at how they used their best enemy to shape their own national identities. Artistic, literary, economic, religious, and historical influences are taken into consideration. Chimes with Boucher-Rivalain and Hadjenko-Marshall 2008 and Ramos Gay 2015.

  • Ramos Gay, Ignacio, ed. Curious about France: Visions littéraires victoriennes. Bern, Switzerland: Peter Lang, 2015.

    This collection of essays examines France through the eyes of various Victorian writers and intellectuals. France is presented as an imaginary and political construction that partakes of identity building. Perceptions reveal much about the English themselves and about their own country. Essays combine literary views on France with scientific, political, historical, and artistic perspectives. Offers a complementary take on France to Boucher-Rivalain and Hadjenko-Marshall 2008 and Mitchell 2013.

  • Tombs, Robert, and Isabelle Tombs. That Sweet Enemy: The British and the French from the Sun King to the Present. London: Heineman, 2006.

    The second part—chapters 7, 8, and 9—covers Franco-British relations after the Napoleonic Wars. Depicts the increase of British visitors to France after 1815 and addresses the image of the French and of France that these visitors entertained, as well as the way London life influenced Parisian social life.

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