As far as popular literature is concerned, fairy tales – after the Contes del Perrault which, in the century XVII, marked the beginning of all such collections – they greatly interested the public during the whole century. XVIII; but only in the following, under the influence of the Celtic movement and romanticism, did the collection become truly scientific. France now possesses a rich literature on the folk tales of the various provinces; it is estimated that more than ten thousand are the accounts published by Cosquin, Sébillot, Carnoy, Deulin, and about six hundred literary themes represented in these collections. All genres of popular literature are represented in France: fairy tales, marvelous, heroic (some of which date back to the Middle Ages), witty and comic, which come from themedieval fabliaux and belong to the same genus as the Facetiae of Poggio Bracciolini. Numerous legends have also been collected, which belong to the series also known in other countries: legends about prehistoric and Roman monuments, about castles and churches, about undergrounds and treasures, etc.; finally, hagiographic legends, which mostly come from the collections of miracles by Gregorio di Tours and Giacomo di Varazze, or from the famous medieval Exempla (see example). On the other hand, oriental tales, such as those of the Thousand and One Nights, they have not penetrated among the people. An important factor of diffusion were the small books decorated with coarse wood carvings and sold for little money by colporteurs in the countryside. The study of this popular literature has allowed us to ascertain that, for the most part, the French accounts are similar to those of other countries in Europe and also in the East. However, specific themes are often found in legends, some Germanic (in Flanders and Lorraine), others Celtic (in Brittany); the themes collected by the Basques are also proper to the region. An interesting fact is that some provinces (for example, the Alpine ones: Provence, Dauphiné and Savoy) are very poor in counts, but full of legends.
According to Franciscogardening, another part of the very rich folklore throughout France is that of folk songs. The oldest collections date back to the end of the century. XV; in the eighteenth, peasant songs were also successful among the nobility and at the court: since then, popular songs were also used in operas or musical comedies; later, great musicians such as Berlioz, Bizet, V. d’Indy, Debussy, also used the songs of their native province. The scientific study of these songs has been done by several generations of scholars; for the general theory, the names of LA Bourgault-Ducoudray, J.-J. Ampère (v.), T. Weckerlin, J. Tiersot, Tresch and Coirault and, for the collection, of J.-F. Bladé (1822-1900; Gascony), L. Lambert (Languedoc); FM Luzel (1821-1895; Brittany), Servettaz and Pinck (see Bibl.), Etc. These songs are, for the most part, the same throughout France; only very few details are known to a single province or region. They were spread by Compagnons du Tour de France (a kind of brotherhood of workers, continuation of the oldest secret brotherhoods, reorganized in 1848 by the carpenter Agricol Perdiquier, called Avignonnais-La-Vertu; see his Livre du Compagnonnage, 1838, and the novel by G. Sand, Le Compagnon du tour de France, 1840), by soldiers, by marriages. The collection is already very abundant, but many songs remain to be published before we can have the complete Corpus of French folk songs.
A special series of songs has been studied with more care: that of the songs sung at Christmas before and after the midnight mass. This literature begins, in Latin, in the early Middle Ages, and has been cultivated above all in convents and churches, equipped with organists and singers. Its origin is therefore only partially popular. But often the authors, among which the most famous are Saboly (1615-1675) in Provence, La Monnoye (1641-1728) in Burgundy, Nicolas Martin (1498-1566) in Savoy, took the melodies from the people, adapted liturgical formulas and prayers to arias fashionable in their time. Even first-rate writers and musicians have not disdained composing noëls (v.). The peasants, who heard them in the churches, then took them to their huts, naturally forgetting the name of the poet and the musician. Today the noëls are sung less and less; but there is a revival of interest, thanks to the gramophone and the radio.
In the field of plastic arts and clothing, the great variety and richness of popular costumes should be noted in the first place. At one time the custom was different even from one small region to another. Most of the rural customs come from those of the court and the wealthy classes, often imitated with a delay of half a century and remained unchanged in the countryside: thus, in modern costumes, there are survivals of the centuries from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century. The persistence is especially noticeable in the shapes of the female bodice and hats. On the other hand, the latter have undergone particular evolutions, as demonstrated by Bourilly for the hairdressing of the women of Arles, the Bigot for those of Brittany. It seems that in every village there was a principle of inventing a small modification of the hairstyle or headdress in order to be able to immediately identify, in a fair or on a pilgrimage, the place of origin of each woman. In Savoy there is a valley of the Moriana, that of the Arves, where the hairstyle is different, not only from town to town, but from one cottage to another. Collections of folk costumes have existed in France since the mid-century. XVII. But the most beautiful were made after the discovery of color lithography. The most beautiful folk costumes had already disappeared when photography was invented. The evolution was even more rapid after the World War: the complete disappearance of all peasant customs could be foreseen, if certain regional societies had not taken on the defense. V ‘ it is in fact a fairly strong movement for the conservation and renewal of popular traditions in clothing, in Brittany (v.), in Auvergne, Savoy and Provence. But these costumes are very expensive and very uncomfortable: they are now a luxury and can only be preserved by artificial means.