This book is the first to offer a cultural history of French literature from its very beginnings, analysing the relationship between French literature and France’s evolving power structures from the Middle Ages through to the present day. It shows the political connections between the elite literature of France and other aspects of its culture, from racism, misogyny, tolerance and liberal reform to song, street performance, advertising and cinema. The nation’s literature contributed to these and was shaped by them. The book highlights the continuities and the unique fault-lines in the society that, over a millennium, has produced ‘French culture’. It looks at France’s early and continuing struggle for a national identity through both its language and its literature, and it shows that this struggle co-exists with openness to other cultures and a bawdy or subtle rebelliousness against the Church and other forms of authority. En route it takes in cuisine, gardens and the French tradition in mathematics. The survey provides an accessible approach to key issues in the history of French culture as well as a wide context for specialists.