The first epic poems the "Chanson de Roland" celebrating heroic deeds in the age of Charlemagne's defeat is considered to be the first example of early French literature.
The renaissance in the 15th century did not change the form and style in the literature. The Italian humanist movement attracted a deep attention into secular life in arts and literature. French kept its unstable character during this period.
During the 16th century, Rabelais, Calvin and Montaigne came to the literary scene with great influence on the literature with a new style and a disciplinary manner.
The Academie Francaise, was founded in 1635. The task of the academy was to regulate and codify the literature, grammar, spelling and rhetoric.
The classical age came after this. La Fontaine and Malherbe were first. They were followed by Corneille, Moliere and Racine. The skepticism and criticism was a common feature of this period in literature.
This was reacted by the French philosophers of the time and rationalism was founded. The logical thought was based on the Descartes' famous saying "I think, therefore I am". This was the turning point of Western thought into the modern age.
The great rationalist Diderot compiled his famous work "Encyclopedie" which was aiming to catalog systematically, all human knowledge into this multi-volume masterpiece.
Voltaire, d'Alembert and Rousseau were also behind this new philosophy.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau first introduced the concept of the "social contract". This new thought was marking the roots of the Great French Revolution of 1789.
The strong influence of German romantic poet Goethe in the 19th century, has created a new wave in French literature. Chateaubriand and Constant were the first French romantics. The move reached to its peak with Victor Hugo. His masterpiece "Les Miserables" was preoccupied with the self and the emotions with a detailed social interaction. This era was also the implication of novel as the most essential literary variety.
The realism followed romanticism. Flaubert's "Madam Bovary" is the most important example of this new movement.
Symbolism emerged as a new technique by the end of the 19th century. Verlaine, Rimbaud and Mallarme were among the most influential ones of this new understanding of literature.
Surrealists of the 20th century moved into more abstract figures in their works. Breton and Eluard were the first two, of this modern form of literature.
Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus by investigating the psychological and ontological foundations of the human nature created the philosophy of Existentialism. Sartre was the architect of this new influential philosophy. Camus and later on Simone de Beauvoir applied the idea into the literature in different forms with a great success.
Finally, Alain Robbe-Grillet and Nathalie Sarraute created a new movement in the literature ; "Nouveau Roman".