Definition of belles-lettres in English:


plural noun

  • 1Essays, particularly of literary and artistic criticism, written and read primarily for their aesthetic effect.

    • ‘This is downright impossible unless you reach for the treasury of belles-lettres, for its rich variety of expression.’
    • ‘'With an Essay on Style' and 'Essays from the Guardian' encapsulate his engagement with Victorian periodical journalism and belles-lettres.’
    • ‘Books of literate and entertaining essays on occasional topics - what used to be called belles-lettres - are no longer common, and that is a shame.’
    • ‘We review both belles-lettres and nonfiction.’
    • ‘Lowenstein notes that the exclusion of Jews from prestigious professions such as the higher bureaucracy, military, and judiciary stimulated cultural creativity in more open environments such as journalism and belles-lettres.’
    learning, scholarship, erudition, education, knowledge, book learning, academic training
    View synonyms
  • 2Literature considered as a fine art.

    • ‘So if the peer group is the Court, the discourse appropriate to such a dispersed social sphere would be belles-lettres.’
    • ‘History ‘was considered a branch of belles-lettres.’’
    • ‘A prolific and often acute essayist, Kames's interests ranged from metaphysics to manners, morals, jurisprudence, belles-lettres, and agricultural improvement.’
    • ‘He himself writes Hellenistic (standard Greek), as befitted a technical writer; Atticism (imitation of classical Athenian authors) was confined to belles-lettres.’
    • ‘Only a few years before, Longfellow had become professor of modern languages and belles-lettres at Harvard University.’


Mid 17th century: from French, literally fine letters.