"The stage throws into relief the best gifts of the French mind, and the Theatre Francais is not only the most amiable but the most characteristic of French institutions. I often think of the inevitable first sensations there of the “ cultivated foreigner,” let him be as stuffed with hostile prejudice as you please. He leaves the theatre an ardent Gallomaniac. This, he cries, is the civilized nation par excellence. Such art, such finish, such grace, such taste, such a marvellous exhibition of applied science, are the mark of a chosen people, and these delightful talents imply the existence of every virtue. His enthusiasm may be short and make few converts; but certainly during his stay in Paris, whatever may be his mind in the intervals, he never listens to the traditional toe —toe —toe which sounds up the curtain in the Rue Richelieu, without murmuring, as he squares himself in his chair and grasps his lorgnette, that, after all, the French are prodigiously great!" From "The Parisian Stage" by Henry James
This is my fourth year as a participant in Paris in July # 6. hosted by Thyme for Tea. The event is getting of to a great start with lots of posts on a wide range of topics, from food, to travel, to movies and of course French literature. There is a great body of literature by those who admire France but cannot claim it as their birth land. In my limited reading, the greatest American in Paris novel is The Ambassador by Henry James (1843 to 1916.). Henry James lived in Paris in 1875 to 1876, staying just over a year. He loved the deep culture of France, the beauty of the country and was impacted by writers he met in Paris such as Flaubert, Zola, de Maupassant and Turgenev.
I was looking through the Delphi E Book of The Complete Work of Henry James (at $2.95 this 6000 page plus work will keep you off the streets for a long time) at his nonfiction. I have previously read his very perceptive essay on Honore de Balzac. I found in his travel book, Transatlantic Sketchs "On the Paris Stage". Anyone emerged in 19th century French literature to any degree will know how very important the stage was to Parisian society. In "On the French Stage" James gives a superb description of the play going experience. He talks about the famous actors and actresses. It was interesting to read his descriptions of the actresses.
James loved the theater and made me wish I lived where I could see classical French theater preformed. In order to understand the French novel James tells us we need at least a nodding acquaintance with the great plays, especially those of Moliere.