Collections and services


From manuscripts to self-published books, from humanist editions to contemporary critical analysis.

French literature

French literature is one of the fields in which BnF’s literature collections excel.

Printed books and journals - François-Mitterrand Library

La Princesse de Clèves by M.-M. La Fayette, title page of the anonymous 1678 edition <br />

La Princesse de Clèves by M.-M. La Fayette, title page of the anonymous 1678 edition

At the François Mitterrand Library (Site François-Mitterrand), the Art and Literature Department offers a sweeping panorama of French literary output, with open-access material classified by century and author, as well as journals and works dedicated to literary and poetic creation.

The Reference library places the emphasis on the 20th and 21st centuries, and especially on contemporary creative works.

The Rare Books Reserve (Réserve des livres rares), located in the Research library, holds first editions and corrected proofs.

Manuscripts - Richelieu Library

At Richelieu Library, the Manuscripts Department houses a rich collection of literary manuscripts dating back to the Middle-Ages up to the present day.

Written in latin, old French, Occitan or Picard, the collection of medieval manuscripts illustrates the development and dissemination of the major works of Western civilization from The Legend of King Arthur, Tristan and Isolde and the Chanson de Roland to the Roman de la Rose, the Roman de Renard and the Roman d’Alexandre. The collection includes works by famous authors such as Adam de la Halle, Christine de Pisan, Rutebeuf or François Villon but also a wide variety of anonymous texts, song-books, collections of fabliaux, Mysteries or Lives of Saints.

The collection of modern literary manuscripts mainly proceeds from the Victor Hugo’s donation to the Bibliothèque nationale de France in 1881. The whole of his manuscripts are housed along with drafts from famous 19th century writers: Stendhal, Gustave Flaubert, Emile Zola, Jules Verne, Marcel Proust and Colette.

17th and 18th documents are less numerous because authors of the period rarely kept their drafts. Yet, the collection includes the autograph manuscript of Pascal’s Pensées, a few letters and personal papers belonging to Jean Racine and Bossuet, an intermediate handwritten version of Les Liaisons dangereuses by Choderlos de Laclos, letters and manuscripts from Rousseau, various texts written by Diderot and some 18th century plays.

But the collections include an important number of 20th and 21th century authors: committed and both often communist writers such as Romain Rolland, Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre but also catholic writers such as Georges Bernanos, Gabriel Marcel or Paul Claudel. Popular literature has recently been included in the collection: science fiction (Pierre Boulle), detective novels (Didier Daeninckx, Jean-Patrick Manchette), French-speaking literature (Mohamed Dib, Edmond Jabès, Salah Stétié) and contemporary literature as a whole (Nathalie Sarraute, Pierre Guyotat, Hélène Cixous, Olivier Rolin, Annie Ernaux); these works, both paper and digital archives, are now an important part of the collection.

Arsenal Library

The Arsenal Library (Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal) is another essential place to study French literature. In line with the direction set by its founder, the Marquis of Paulmy, and collections acquired under the legal deposit scheme over subsequent centuries, it now acquires all kinds of documents on literature from the 16th to the early 20th centuries. 

It also holds the following:

  • manuscripts such as those of the 15th century Dukes of Burgundy, the 17th century “Recueil Conrart”, the 18th century papers of Louis-Sébastien Mercier, and the papers of Paul Lacroix
  • specific composite collections (manuscripts, letters, books, objects, etc.), including a collection on the Romantic movement and Nodier’s literary salon, a collection dedicated to Joris-Karl Huysmans, and materials on José-Maria de Heredia and his daughter Marie de Régnier, known as Gérard d’Houville, from the 19th and 20th centuries 
  • the archives of Georges Perec and Oulipo, which are held in storage and may be consulted by appointment
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Literature and audiovisual material

In addition to literary adaptations (e.g. Maurice Tourneur’s l'Oiseau bleu from 1918) and films by writers (from Jean Cocteau to Pierre Guyotat), the Audiovisual Department holds around 1,500 interviews and documentaries with leading names in French and foreign literature, mainly from the 20th century (e.g. François Mauriac by Roger Leenhardt), but also including classics (e.g. Victor Hugo architecte by Eric Rohmer). Also available are sound recordings of other 20th century French literary authors, including in particular a large collection of audiobooks, production of which peaked in the 1960s-1970s and has undergone something of a revival over the past few years. These include writers reading their own works: Apollinaire, Barrès, Verhaeren, etc. There is a highly original corpus of songs by writers. The department’s collections also include opera librettos and brief scenarios for ballets by writers such as Jean Cocteau, Georges Bernanos, Samuel Beckett , Michel Butor, etc.

Science fiction at BnF: a different approach to literature

Cover of Jules Verne’s “Voyages Extraordinaires”, Hetzel collection<br />
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Cover of Jules Verne’s “Voyages Extraordinaires”, Hetzel collection

The Manuscripts Department actively collects science fiction literature manuscripts from authors and their successors, from Jules Verne to Pierre Bordage: notebooks and sketches, plans, drafts of published and unpublished novels, literary correspondence and editorials, etc. Additional research material can be found at the François Mitterrand Library, including the following:
  • the full range of science fiction books and journals published in France
  • donations such as the collection of comics published by American firm Marvel (Spiderman, X-Men, Hulk, etc.) 
  • all kinds of documents on a wide range of media related to the world of science fiction, including films and even video games
In addition, room H of the Reference library has a specific area offering books by outstanding French writers in the genre.

Monday, November 28, 2016