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Life lessons – 4 to 6: French Literature – what can we learn?

Welcome to the second article in the series on life lessons from French Literature. In 2017, in the era of the constant barrage and chatter about ‘mindfulness’ and ‘self-development’ I decided to dig deep and see what we could learn from our elders in classic French Literature.

As a lover of the classics of French literature I found myself wondering:

What can we learn and apply to life today from the characters we love and feel that we know so well.

If these characters were sitting by my side today, what wisdom could I take away from those conversations? Here are three more life lessons in this series. Let’s see what more we can learn… [You can find Life lessons 1 to 3 here in case you missed them.]

4. Life lessons: Mme de Rênal – Live life to the fullest

Mme de Rênal is Stendhal’s heroine from ‘Le Rouge et le Noir’.

She is seen as a provincial woman with no experience of life. A convent educated lady, this character views literature as sin and deprives herself of imagination as well as discovering passions. Mme de Rênal is not only trapped in a passionless marriage but her lack of worldly knowledge, causing her to feel oppressed.

MyFrenchLife™ - MyFrenchLife.org - French Literature - Life Lessons - Reading

On one hand, her ignorance of the world proves to be Mme de Rênal’s saviour, as she is too naïve to see any of the foreshadowing dangers. However, on the other, she doesn’t experience life to the fullest and allows herself to be oppressed.

What life lessons can we learn from Mme de Rênal?

  • Let’s go and experience the world by travelling and not accept just staying at home.
  • Let’s read. Reading is one of the easiest ways to learn more! Not only will we gain life lessons, but knowledge around history, emotions and even increased vocabulary – a writer’s dream!
  • Let’s make sure we live life to the fullest.
Time to read?  Buy here:
In English – In search of Lost time’ by Marcel Proust
En français – À la recherche du temps perdu’ by Marcel Proust

5. Life lessons: Candide – Don’t believe everything you hear

From Voltaire’s famous satire ‘Candide’. MyFrenchLife™ - MyFrenchLife.org - French Literature - Life Lessons - Shakespeare Bookshop

Candide is the protagonist that is in many ways, too ‘simple’. He refuses to question the theories of his teacher, Pangloss, a supporter of ‘Optimism’: a theory that evil does not exist in the world and everything is God’s plan.

The adventures in Candide show the irony in this theory, with situations such as the Lisbon earthquake and the misfortune of other characters. Candide believes everything Pangloss has to say, taking everything at face value.

What life lessons can we learn from Candide?

  • Let’s be active learners. As French learners, readers, workers and students let’s never forget to question our own understanding of tasks ahead of us. By not being afraid to ask questions, we will develop our own learning.
  • Let’s never let anyone control our attitudes and beliefs: be yourself!
Time to read?  Buy here:
In English – In search of Lost time’ by Marcel Proust
En français – À la recherche du temps perdu’ by Marcel Proust

6. Life lessons: Mâtho – Don’t let passions overtake logic

Mâtho is a warrior in Flaubert’s ‘Salammbô’.

He has devoted his cause to gain the hand of his beloved, Salammbô. We can really admire how passionate Mâtho is for Salammbô, however, we can learn that this can be overbearing. He cannot seem to concentrate on any task without thinking about her. Although this is motivational, it can take over Mâtho’s logic.

MyFrenchLife™ - MyFrenchLife.org - French Literature - Life Lessons - Reading

What life lessons can we learn from Mâtho?

  • Be passionate in life.
  • Enjoy your job, your work, your studies, your loved ones.
  • Find something that makes you passionate.
  • Don’t let it take over your life!
Time to read?  Buy here:
In English – In search of Lost time’ by Marcel Proust
En français – À la recherche du temps perdu’ by Marcel Proust

What have you learnt from your literary characters? Please share any life lessons to be learned this way? Share your thoughts in the comments box below.


Image Credits:

  1. La lectrice by Sylvain Courant via flickr
  2. Coffee shop reading by Natalie Collins via unsplash
  3. Shakespeare Bookshop by Adams K. via flickr
  4. Reading by Paul Keller via flickr

Learn more Life lessons from French literature & the characters in the classics we know well

Life lessons 1-3:
Emma Bovary  I  Gustave Flaubert  I  Marcel Proust  I  Guy de Maupassant
Life lessons 4-6:
This article – Mme de Rênal  I  Candide  I  Mâtho
Life lessons 7-9:
Lamiel   |   Madame Taillefer   |    Dr.Rieux



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