French Language and Literature


Yale University Library has a long tradition of collecting materials in French language and literature, and the Sterling Memorial Library’s collection is among the most comprehensive in the United States. The main body of the French literature collection is in the Sterling Memorial Library. Virtually all periods of French literature are covered, including the vernacular literature before French, and the French literature from the Middles Ages to the present. Highly specialized or dated works are in the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library with treasures ranging from medieval illuminated manuscripts of the Roman de la Rose, to incunabula, to first editions of masterpieces of modernism.

Sterling Library also houses a rich array of resources related to the French language, including reference works, bibliographies, works on the origin and history of the language, lexicographical works, and comparative language studies.  The collection also includes works on and in many regional languages, including Norman, Provençal, Basque, Corsican, Breton, and Occitan.

Yale Library supports research in the linguistic and literary aspects of the discipline, including the teaching of basic and advanced language skills, and a detailed study of French literature, criticism, theory, and culture. Thorough coverage of the various aspects of the French language–its history, grammar, phonetics, morphology, syntax, rhetoric, style, composition, lexicography and philology–is maintained. Collecting focuses on major literary French authors and their works from the early Middle Ages to the present.    

The library seeks to support research and teaching through targeted acquisitions, both of new materials and retrospectively.  In recent decades, this has resulted in particularly strong collections in specific topics such as: French medieval literature; Renaissance authors (especially Montaigne and his contemporaries); the literature of the French Enlightenment; 19th century literature and culture; 20th century literary movements, e.g. Dada, Surrealism, Futurism; most recently, Francophone black African and Caribbean literatures; and Francophone African Maghrebi and sub-Saharan literatures. Current collecting includes fiction, literary theory and criticism; literary sociology, aesthetics, comparative literature, general literature, folklore, reference works and bibliographies, anthologies, and works on humanism and scholarship.

Departments/disciplines/programs/subject areas supported

The French language and literature collections reflect the interests of the following departments and programs:

  • Department of Comparative Literature
  • Department of French
  • Department of Linguistics
  • The Literature Major
  • Program in Medieval Studies
  • Program of Film and Media Studies
  • Program of Theater Studies
  • Program of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies
  • Renaissance Studies Program

Because French language and literature have cross-disciplinary implications, these collections also offer support for research and teaching in other Western European language and literature departments (e.g., English, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese, German) as well as area studies such as African Studies.

Formats collected


  • Academic and trade press monographs are acquired in print or electronic formats.
  • Maps and textbooks are generally excluded unless requested by faculty.


  • Online-only subscriptions are preferred; print subscriptions are initiated or continued when an online edition is not available, not stable, or not adequate.

Reference materials

  • Electronic reference materials, including indexing and abstracting databases, dictionaries, and encyclopedias, are almost always preferred to their print counterparts. Print reference materials are acquired when an online version is not available, not stable, or not adequate.

Audiovisual materials

  • DVDs are acquired very selectively, primarily in response to faculty demand.


  • Yale Library has extensive microform holdings supporting French language and literature. However, due to the increasing conversion of microform collections to digital formats and the interlibrary loan availability of microform sets from the Center for Research Libraries, microform supporting French language and literature is now acquired on demand only

Languages collected

Primary (literary) texts are collected first in French and, if available, in English translation.   For the most important writers (e.g., Voltaire, Flaubert, Proust, Sartre), some editions are acquired in other major European languages. Criticism and theory is collected in French and in English, with important contemporary critical works (e.g., Foucault, Cixous, Derrida) also acquired in other languages, especially German, Spanish and Italian. 

Chronological and geographical focus

Current materials are emphasized, with out of print materials purchased to replace damaged or lost copies of significant works, or in response to faculty or student requests.

In terms of time periods covered in the materials themselves, the collections run the gamut from medieval to contemporary. 

The collections are international in scope. Materials published in North America (excluding Mexico) and in Western Europe are collected extensively (essentially in France, French-speaking parts of Belgium and Switzerland). All other geographic areas of the world are collected selectively: all remaining French colonial possessions in the Caribbean, Indian, and Pacific Oceans; Africa: Maghreb (Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria) and Sub-Saharan Francophone Africa (Congo, Madagascar, Cameroon, Cote-d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, Niger, Senegal, Mali, Rwanda, Guinea, Chad, Burundi, Benin, Togo, Central African Republic, Gabon, Comoros, Equatorial Guinea, Djibouti, Seychelles).

Collaborations within Yale

  • The International Collections acquire material in French language and literature for their respective regions: African Collection, East Asia Collection, Judaica Collection, Latin America Collection, Near East Collection, Slavic and East European Collection, Southeast Asia Collection, and the South Asia Collection.
  • Collaboration within HCRE (Humanities Collections and Research Education) on purchases, especially databases of wide interest to humanists including historical newspapers, pamphlets, scholarly editions, and journals.
  • Occasional collaboration with the Music Library, Divinity Library, Center for British Art, or the Law Library in purchases of or subscriptions to databases of mutual interest.
  • Bass Library

Subject Librarian

Michael Printy
Librarian for Western European Humanities
Humanities Collections
Department of Area Studies and Humanities Research Support (DASHRS)
(203) 436-9215