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Michigan State University

France: History and Literature: Reference Sources for Literature

Use this guide to research topics in French history and literature. Last updated 06-05-2023

Reference Sources for Literature

Use these subject dictionaries, encyclopedias, bibliographies, indexes, etc. to read up on topics and authors and find further reading references.  This is a very long section, with these parts, in this order:
Guide to Reference
General Encyclopedia
Literature Dictionaries and Literary History
Literary Bibliography--Current (Sources that are updated or published in an ongoing fashion)
Literary Bibliography--Retrospective
Gazetteers/Place Name Dictionaries and Atlases

Doing Research

Guide to Reference Books

Guide to Reference  Main Z 1035 .G8 ed. 11

Published by the American Library Association in 1996,  this is the last print version of an annotated guide to reference works in all subject areas.  From the table of contents choose the Humanities section if your work is in literature or language  Choose the History and Area Studies section for History  The kinds of sources presented here are the kinds of works presented in this section of this research guide you are working your way through. 

General Encyclopedia

Encyclopaedia Universalis. AE 25 f.E3 1993 v. 1-23 Main

Thousands of articles, on all topics. Comparable to Encyclopedia Britannica or Encyclopedia Americana in the English speaking world. Descriptions of other general French language encyclopedias may be found in the Guide to Reference Books, 1996, p. 112.

Dictionnaire Philosophique Main B 42 .C66 2013

1654 short definitions of terms in the philosophy field, mostly a paragraph to a page in length.  Could be useful in either history or literature. 

Dictionnaire Amoureux de l'Esprit Francais  Main DC 33 .A73 2019

Listed here because it could be useful by both history and literature specialists.  The author, Metin Arditi, is by birth Turkish, but has lived many years in Switzerland.  He writes novels and essays, In French, was trained in the sciences, was chairman of the Orchestre dela  Suisse Romande, has taught physics, creative writing, economics and management, and involves himself in UNESCO in cultural activities.  His writings are all about the difficulties of parenthood, loneliness, and exile.  This dictionary has multi-page entries on French authors, places,  and topics of interest to those studying French life and culture.

Literature Dictionaries and Literary History

Historical Dictionary of French Literature  Main PQ 41 .F58 2022  also older ed.

Guide to the significant French writers, to crucial historical periods, and to artistic and political movements.  Chronology.  Dictionary section has hundreds of concise entries on important writers, movements, and works.  Bibliography of over 40 pages at end.  Author is emeritus professor of French at University of Kent in U.K. and a specialist on 20th c. French literature and Francois Mauriac.

Cambridge History of French Literature. Main PQ 103 .C26 2011

New Oxford Companion to Literature in French.  Reference PQ 41 .N48 1995

Shorter articles on authors, critics, historians, religious writers, savants, scientists. Also articles on individual works, allusions, places, and institutions. General survey articles on phases or aspects of French literary life, movements, etc.

Cambridge Introduction to Francophone Literature Main PQ 3809 .C67 2007

Guide to French Literature. Main PQ 41 .L48 1992 and 1994

Beginnings to 1789 and 1789 to the Present in two separate volumes. Lengthy entries on individuals and literary movements. Comprehensive bibliographies of authors' works and selective lists of largely book-length critical studies.

New History of French Literature. Main PQ 119 .N48 1994

"Essays by individual scholars built around particular date and theme" from 778-1985. Covers French literature outside France, too, and political or social events that influenced literature. Short bibliographies. French language edtion in Main at PQ 119 .N4814 1993.

Encyclopedia of the Literature of Empire  Reference PN 56 .I465 .S66 2010

Dictionary of Modern French Literature from the Age of Reason through Realism. Main PQ 41 .D65 1986.

"Aims to provide an 'introduction to the major writers, works, and literary movements that flourished during the 180 years from the dawn of 18th-century French literature through the age of realism, as well as a starting point for further research'."

Dictionnaire de la Litterature Francaise et Francophone.  Main PQ 41 .D52 1987 t 1-3

"Entries for authors, titles, terms, literary journals, geographical areas, schools, etc."

Dictionnaire des Ecrivains Francais.  Main PQ 41 .M3 1995 v. 1-2.

"Covers 281 authors, half from the 20th century.  For each, provides a biobibliographical essay, with critical analysis, a bibliography of works by the author, and very selective references to criticism."

Dictionnaire des Lettres Francaises. Main PQ 41 .D53 1994

volumes cover Moyen Age, XVIIe siecle, XVIIIe siecle. "articles, varying from a few lines to several pages, on persons, academies, universities, and literary subjects. Articles are signed and contain extensive bibliographies of the works of the authors and of materials to consult concerning persons or subjects."

Dictionnaire des Litteratures de Langue Francaise.  Main PQ 41 .D533 1984 v. 1-4

Covers "French literature from medieval to contemporary times, with signed entries on authors, terms, and themes, titles for anonymous works and literary reviews; other national literatures; and French literatures outside France. Entries for major authors are very full, providing discussion of a writer's life and works, chronological tables, synopses and critiques of important works, and bibliographies of primary and secondary works."

Feminist Encyclopedia of French Literature. Main PQ 149 .F47 1999

"Brings to public attention the works and world of French women writers, past and present." Topical and biographical entries with bibliographic references for further reading, including both works by the authors and about them.

French Women Writers, a Bio-bibliographical Source Book. Main PQ 149 .F73 1991

Covers "51 'of the most important women writers in the history of French literature'." "For each author, biographical information, with emphasis on the woman's experience as a writer, a discussion of major themes, a survey of criticism, and a bibliography of primary and secondary works."

Passages et Ancrages en France, Dictionnaire des Ecrivans Migrants de Langue Francaise (1981-2011). Main PQ 41 .P3888 2012

Dictionnaire du Livre de Jeunesse Main PQ 845 .D53 2013

Signed entries from a paragraph to a page or two in length.  1034 entries on writers, illustrators, and publishers of children's books; also entries for topics.  Contains much historical information on children's literature from the Ancien Regime to present.  Includes also entries, in  French, for American, German,  English etc. authors.  Color illustrations.  Further reading references.

Dictionnaire de la Presse Francaise Pendant la Revolution 1789-1799 Main PN 5176 .D53 2005 t. 1-4

Arrangement by area or region.  With each by departement.  Then alphabetically by name of periodical.  Entries are lengthy and include such information as:  title/title changes, dates of founding and of publication, frequency, place of publication and "zone principale de diffusion," names, addresses, biographical information of the proprietors, editors, and printers, volume of circulation, price and mode of distribution, format/size, typographic features, political tendencies explicit or implicit, where copies are held today, bibliographic references about the periodical.

Dictionnaire Amoureux des Ecrivains et de la Litterature  Main PN 41 .A87 2016

By Pierre Assouline, author and journalist.  Entries for topics in literature, mostly short.  Entries for authors, mostly French, but also a few Americans and some from other European countries, deceased, going back in time to the 17th century, citing their works, but offering no further reading references.  Few entries for female writers.  Probably he has written about the writers that have impressed him personally and topics of interest to himself also.

Dictionnaire des Poetes Francais de la Seconde Moitie du XVIe Siecle (1549-1615) Main PQ 418 .B37 2015 v. 1-3 (names A-J)

Long articles, maybe 60 pp. or so, arranged alphabetically by surnames of the poets.  Footnotes within the articles, at page bottoms.  In French.  The author was a book collector whose collection is now part of the University of Geneva.

Dictionnaire des Animaux de la Litterature Francaise  Main PQ 145.1 .A54 D53 2015 t. 2

Alphabetical by name of animal.  Many b/w illustrations.  With quotes from literature containing writing about animals.  Etymologies.  Histories of the animals in French lit.  Some entries are chapter length.

Dictionnaire Litteraire des Fleurs et des Jardins (XVIIIe et XIXe Siecles) Main PN 56 .F55 D537 2017

Many long articles on 18th and 19th c. writers and their associations with flowers and gardens.  Some topical articles.  Signed entries with bibliographies.

Dictionnaire de l'Autobiographie, Ecritures de Soi de Langue Francaise Main PQ 145.6 .S32 D53 2017

Biographical entries for famous autobiographers, as well as topical entries on the subject of autobiography.  Entries range in length from half a page to several pages.  Further reading references.  Signed entries.

Dictionnaire des Naturalismes Main PN 601 .D53 2017 t. 1-2

Biographical entries of authors of, and topics about, naturalism, a style of novel (painting, cinema, architecture, etc.) in which reality is presented without moral judgment.  Covers especially work and authors of the second half of the 19th century.  Signed entries, with further reading references, by 67 specialists of this form, mostly French academics.

Questions sur l'Encyclopedie par des Amateurs  Main PQ 2070 2007 v. 2-8

Several volumes within the ongoing publication of the Voltaire Foundation's Oeuvres Completes de Voltaire.  It is based on the 1775 Complete Works of Voltaire text  with information from 7 other editions.  34 authors worked on the articles.  Contains articles on topics in all fields:  literature and authors, history, natural science, law, political science, economics, philosophy, history, religion. etc.  These present an eclectic balance of Voltaire's thought in all its variety about everything!

Dictionnaire des Livres et Journaux Interdits par Arretes Ministeriels de 1940-Nos Jours  Remote Storage HQ 451 .J68 2007

Dictionary of books and newspapers banned by French government 1949 to c2007.

Literary Bibliography--Current (Sources that are updated or published in an ongoing fashion)

French XX Bibliography, Critical and Biographical References for the Study of French Literature since 1885. Main Z 2173 .M6

Annual, unannotated bibliography on 20th-century literature: topics, authors, theory, literary history of France and francophone countries, genres, theater, cinema, etc.

Current Research in French Studies at Universities in the United Kingdom and Ireland. Main Z 5814 .F83 C8

Biennial. "A subject list, in three sections, of theses submitted for a variety of degrees: 1) linguistic studies and stylistics, 2) literary, historical, and sociological studies not referring to a specific writer, historical figures, or anonymous work, and 3) alphabetical list of writers, historical figures, and anonymous work."

Bibliographie der Franzosischen Literaturwissenschaft. Main Z 2173.3 .B5

"...interprets French literature in a broad sense. Lists books, articles, and theses published during the period covered, analyzing in each volume some 400 periodicals and more than 150 collections." Chronological arrangement, from the Middle Ages to the 20th century, with indexes by name and subject.

Literary Bibliography--Retrospective

These are retrospective in the sense that once these books were published no entry more recently published than the publication date will be found. Use the current bibliographies, just above, to find recently published material or the sources in the section  Electronic Resources. The books in this section are useful for building a comprehensive bibliography on a topic or author, when it is necessary to leave no stones unturned and find all the important works published in the past.

Bibliographie Gay Ideale, Dictionnaire Critique et Quasi Exhaustif de la Litterature Gay Disponible en Langue Francaise  Main PN 56 .H57 B53 2020

Arranged alphabetically by author, with brief biographical details on most writers, but more info on some.  Following the bio details are titles of their works, with bibliographical details and annotations about them. 

Bibliographie de la Litterature Francaise du Moyen Age a nos Jours. Main Z 6511 .R4 Main

Critical Bibliography of French Literature. Main Z 2171 .C3 1985

Research and Reference Guide to French Studies Main Z 2175 .A2 O8 1991

French Vernacular Books, Books Published in the French Language before 1601 Main Z 2162 .F74 2007 v. 1-2

Goal is to identify surviving copies of all known editions of works published in the French vernacular during the first great age of print. Entries come from holdings of libraries in Paris, municipal libraries in France outside Paris, and collections outside France itself (over 150 collections; 30% of the items included).  Gives library locations.  Holdings here in the M.S.U. Libraries are included, those on microfilm and in Special Collections.  We own a set of microfilm called French Books Before 1601, set #4265.  Some but not all of the items in this bibliography will be in our microfilm set, but there is no correlation between the two, so this bibliography can not be used, directly, as a finding aid for the film set.  2268 items in this film set are in our online catalog. Step one: use this bibliography.  Step two: check the titles you want that you find in the bibliography in our online catalog by author and/or title.  Items might also be found online in Gallica, ARTFL, HathiTrust, or Google Books.

Books Published in France before 1601 in Latin and Languages other than French  Main Z 2162 .F73 2012 v. 1-2

A continuation of the set just above, covering works printed in France in Latin or languages other than French.  M.S.U. is not listed in the list of libraries holding the books at the beginning. 


Gazetteers/Place Name Dictionaries and Atlases

Dictionnaire de Noms de Lieux de la France  Main DC 14 .B55 2011

Atlas des Empires Maritimes.  Map Library Short Atlas G 1046 .F1 C67 2013

Historical maps and illustrations help the reader discover the secrets of sea power from the ancient world to the present.


Dictionnaire de Citations Francophones Main PN 6086 .D538 2011

Over a hundred famous authors comment on the French language.

Doing Research

MLA Guide to Undergraduate Research iin Literature  Main PR 56 .B76 2019

Walks you through the process of research in literary studies.  Identifies databases and research guides, explains different types of sources and the roles they play in researching and writing about a literary text.  Describes strategies for web searching.  Offers guidance for organizing research and documenting sources using MLA style.

Johns Hopkins Guide to Literary Theory and Criticism  Main PN 81 .J554 2005