Breton literature (brĕt´ən), in the Celtic language of Brittany. Although there are numerous allusions in other literatures of the 12th to 14th cent. to the "matter of Brittany," which includes the stories of Tristan and King Arthur, no Breton texts remain from this period. The earliest ones date from the 15th cent. Until the 19th cent., texts included songs, stories, and plays, all popular and mostly of unknown authorship. The plays were imitations of late medieval French miracles. As elsewhere in Europe, serious collecting of Breton folk literature began in the 19th cent. Jean François Le Gonidec (1775–1838) pioneered with a dictionary of the language in 1821. Théodore Hersart de La Villemarqué assembled an anthology of folk poems but was attacked for his dubious scholarship. A more sophisticated collector was François Marie Luzel (1821–95). The mid-19th cent. saw the birth of a cultivated literature, mainly in stories and verse. Auguste Brizeux (1803–58) was the best known of the poets who wrote in their native Breton. Others were J. Guillome and Prosper Proux (1811–73). In the late 19th cent. an intensification of the campaign to revive local literary traditions resulted in the establishment of several folk theaters and in the expansion and modification of the vocabulary by writers. Among the leading writers of the late 19th and the 20th cent. are the poets Emil Ernault (b. 1852), Jean Pierre Calloc'h, and Robert Le Masson; the storytellers Louis and Louise Herrieu, Louis Héno, and Jakez Riou; and the playwright Tanguy Malemanche. During the 19th and 20th cent. a large number of Breton folk tales and songs have been collected. The diversity and richness of this collection make it unique in world literature.
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