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Belgian francophone collections

Our Belgian francophone collections are among the most extensive outside Belgium. The exact size is not known since, as with other country/language holdings, they have no separate catalogue.

There are approximately 7,200 titles in French in the Current Catalogue which covers material acquired since 1975. The collections contain books and periodicals on all subjects in the humanities, social sciences and history of science, with particular emphasis on history and literature. A good collection of official publications is held in the Social Science Reading Room.

Currently there are some 170 current titles on standing order (periodicals and monographs in series) and some 200 monographs are acquired each year.

Early collections

The pre-1851 collections are the responsibility of Early Printed Collections. Details of the British Library's early imprints may be found in the French and Dutch short-title catalogues described on the Early Printed Collections web pages.

Modern collections (post-1850)

The strengths and weaknesses of the modern francophone Belgian collections can be illustrated by an overview of the literature holdings. The bilateral Franco-Belgian Convention of 1852 put an end to the production of pirated editions of French authors, but Belgian publishers continued to publish works deemed subversive by the French authorities. Famous examples include the works of Victor Hugo (e.g. Les Chatiments (1853), Les Contemplations (1856) and Les Misérables (1862), Rimbaud's Une saison en enfer (1873) and Lautréamont's Maldoror (1874). Fin-de-siècle Belgium experienced an effervescence in the arts emulated only by Austria and a strong literature in French was created. The Library is fortunate to hold an almost complete set of the output of the Brussels publisher Edmond Deman. Deman set high standards of book production and commissioned artists such as F. Rops or Th. Van Rysselberghe to illustrate or decorate his books, which include the original editions of most of the works of Verhaeren and also Mallarme's Poésies (1899).

The British Library holds runs of the following leading periodicals: La Jeune Belgique (complete), La Wallonie (wanting année 1, no.1 and année 5, no.6-7) and L'art moderne (incomplete: année 1-7 only). There is a strong and varied (but not comprehensive) collection of post-1918 writing from Belgium (original/early editions or reprints). Some 200 Belgian authors have presented copies of their works published in Belgium to the British Library, among them: A. Ayguesparse, R. Bodart, C. Burniaux, M. Carême, H. Closson, M. Gevers, M. de Ghelderode, G. Librecht, M. Mariën, E.L.T. Mesens, P.Nothomb, E. Picard, M. Thiry, and Franz Weyergans.

Belgium also has a strong literature in Walloon and this too is reflected in the collections, for instance the publications of the Societé de littérature wallonne founded in Liège in 1856 (a complete run of the annual Bulletin (1858-1930) and good holdings of the current annual publication Littérature dialectale d'aujourd'hui).

The Flemish collections are the responsibility of the Dutch/Flemish Section.


French Section
The British Library
96 Euston Road
United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)20 7412 7568
Fax: +44 (0)20 7412 7784