The fantastique is a substantial genre within French literature. Arguably dating back further than English language fantasy, it remains an active and productive genre which has evolved in conjunction with anglophone fantasy and horror and other French and international literature.
What is distinctive about the fantastique is the intrusion of supernatural phenomena into an otherwise realist narrative. It evokes phenomena which are not only left unexplained but which are inexplicable from the reader's point of view. In this respect, the fantastique is somewhere between fantasy, where the supernatural is accepted and entirely reasonable in the imaginary world of a non-realist narrative, and magic realism, where apparently supernatural phenomena are explained and accepted as normal. Instead, characters in a work of fantastique are, just like the readers, unwilling to accept the supernatural events that occur. This refusal may be mixed with doubt, disbelief, fear, or some combination of those reactions.
The Fantastique is often linked to a particular ambiance, a sort of tension in the face of the impossible. A good deal of fear is often involved, either because the characters are afraid or because the author wants to provoke fright in the reader. However, fear is not an essential component of fantastique.
Some theorists of literature, such as Tzvetan Todorov, contend that the fantastique is defined by its hesitation between accepting the supernatural as such and trying to rationally explain the phenomena it describes. In that case, the fantastique is nothing more than a transitional area on a spectrum from magic realism to fantasy and does not qualify as a separate literary genre.
The fantastique began to become defined in the Middle Ages. The old Celtic and Germanic myths were translated from religion (implying belief and worship) into popular folklore (implying belief but not worship).
The Renaissance bloomed in France during the reign of King Francis I who created a favorable environment for the development of letters, arts and sciences. It was during the French Renaissance that proto-science fiction first split from the fantastique. The traditional fantastique derived from myths, legends and folklore also split into one form which continued the poetic tradition of the Middle Ages and eventually led to the Merveilleux [Marvelous] and the Contes de Fées or Fairy Tales, and the other, the darker side of the same literary coin, dealing with witchcraft and devil worship.
In this fashion, the literary evolution of the Fairy Tales paralleled that of French Royalty, with the decadence and corruption of Louis XV replacing the aristocratic grandeur of Louis XIV. Writers like Cazotte embodied the transition between the Fairy Tales and a darker and grimmer fantastique.
French fantastique writers of the 19th century were diversely influenced by the English Gothic novel writers, especially Ann Radcliffe, Matthew Gregory Lewis, Sheridan Le Fanu, and Charles Maturin, German author E. T. A. Hoffmann and composer Richard Wagner, American writer Edgar Allan Poe, British poets Lord Byron and Oscar Wilde.
It was during this incredibly rich century that we started seeing a split between the more lurid and exploitative fantastique dubbed fantastique populaire, and the more literary forms adopted by mainstream writers, dubbed fantastique littéraire.
As the 19th century was about to begin, the English gothic novels became a major influence on the development of the fantastique. Their extravagant and macabre nature tapped into the emotions released during the French Revolution, and eventually helped the genre to seamlessly evolve into the more modern forms of the fantastique.
Eventually, the roman noir gave way to more modern forms of the fantastique. One was the feuilleton, stories serialized in daily instalments in newspapers; the other was the popular novel, published in inexpensive formats, catering to large audiences. In the true tradition of popular fiction, these were often considered cheap thrills, good only for the barely educated masses.
The split between fantastique populaire and fantastique littéraire was definitively formed. The former was written by writers walking in the footsteps of Dumas, Sue and Féval, the latter by successors of Hoffmann, Poe and the symbolists.
World War II exacted both a huge physical and psychological toll on French culture. France's defeat in 1940, followed by four years of occupation, confronted writers with choices they never before had to face. The discovery of the atom bomb and the Cold War introduced sharp new fears. Mainstream French culture increasingly frowned upon works of imagination and preferred instead to embrace the more naturalistic and political concerns of the existentialists such as Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus. Yet, paradoxically, despite being marginalized by critics and the literary establishment, the fantastique thrived as never before, both in terms of quality and quantity.
Significant foreign influences on French modern fantastique include Franz Kafka, Jorge Luis Borges, H. P. Lovecraft, Dino Buzzati, Julio Cortázar, Vladimir Nabokov and Richard Matheson. Other more recent influences included Stephen King, Clive Barker, J. R. R. Tolkien and Robert E. Howard, none of whom were well known in France before the early 1980s. The growth in popularity of heroic fantasy during the last decade is a tribute to the Americanization of world culture. In Latin America of the 21st century, authors such as César Aira, Roberto Bolaño, José Baroja, Andrés Neuman, Juan Gabriel Vásquez, Jorge Volpi, among others, stand out.
Shakespeare, as presented by the Irish actress, Harriet Smithson, changed Berlioz's life forever. From the moment he saw her, he was obsessed. Symphonie fantastique is nothing less than Berlioz's extravagant attempt to attract Harriet's attention.
The Third Movement of Symphonie fantastique opens with an echo from Berlioz's childhood: the sound of a cowherd's melody. Berlioz uses the huge orchestra to create the sense of suspension of time that intimacy can bring.
Hector and Harriet started to act out in reality what the Symphonie fantastique only imagined. He began to woo her and then he did something desperate. From his pocket, Berlioz produced a vial containing a lethal dose of opium. Before Smithson's eyes, he swallowed it. She became hysterical and agreed to marry him. Then, conveniently, he produced the antidote from another pocket and swallowed that. After recuperating, Hector Berlioz and Harriet Smithson were married 1833. Ultimately, Smithson and Berlioz separated, but he always took care of her. They are buried together in Montmartre Cemetery.
The score of the Symphonie fantastique of Berlioz, a remarkable and in many ways seminal work, an early precursor of Liszt's own later symphonic poems, was not published until 1845. Liszt's transcription of the symphony, however, was made in 1833 and published at his own expense. It is a remarkable tribute to the original. Liszt himself wrote in 1837 to his friend Adolphe Pictet on the subject: I have started something quite different with my transcription of the Symphonie fantastique by Berlioz: I have worked on this as conscientiously as if I were transcribing the Holy Scriptures, attempting to transfer to the piano not only the general structure of the music, but all its separate parts, as well as its many harmonic and rhythmic combinations. He goes onto write of the similar work he is undertaking with the symphonies of Beethoven." - Keith Anderson, "Work Information" for Liszt's arrangement, Naxos Music Library.
Over the last two decades, some of the most notable films to come out of France have shunned realism, choosing instead to challenge the boundaries of the tangible and the plausible in many different ways. Directors as diverse as Claire Denis, Gaspar Noé, Michel Gondry, Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani have probed the realm of the strange, the creepy, the frightful and the oneiric, a realm that is often broadly referred to as the fantastique in France. From Trouble Every Day (2001) to Amer (2004), The Science of Sleep (2006) and Enter the Void (2010), French cinema has been a prolific producer of vibrant and varied fiction of the irrational kind.
This misconception is connected in part to the thorny question of how to define the fantastique. For some commentators it is an expansive domain that includes all forms of non-realistic narrative, encompassing the wondrous, the dreamlike and the weird, fairytales, horror and science fiction. Others like to draw a clear line between fantastique and horror, contrasting the suggestive ambiguity of the former with the explicitness of the latter.
Many authors draw on the major essays on the artistic and literary fantastique published in the 1960s and 70s, particularly those by Roger Caillois and Tzvetan Todorov. Distilling the ideas of his predecessors in his seminal 1970 study Introduction à la littérature fantastique, Todorov distinguishes between the fantastique, the marvellous and the uncanny. For him, a fantastique story is characterised by an incomprehensible event occurring within a realistic context; at the end, the reader is left unable to decide between a rational and a supernatural explanation. For Todorov, it is precisely that hesitation that typifies the fantastique.
The French fantastique can indeed be traced back to the phantasmagorical illusions created by one of the originators of the septième art, Georges Méliès. In his kinetic films, the new medium appears inherently fantastique, a magical realm that can conjure up luminous ghosts and make the invisible visible. Méliès shows cinema to be ideally suited to represent the kinds of transformations that are central to the fantastique: characters and objects constantly appear and disappear, pass from life to death, human to animal, and back again. Through his virtuoso trickery, he breaches boundaries between realms that are rigorously rigid in the rational representation of the world. He does so across different types of narratives that would later develop into distinct genres, from haunted-house tale in Le Manoir du diable (1896) to science fiction adventure in A Trip to the Moon (Le Voyage dans la lune, 1902), hereby pointing to their common core. 041b061a72