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Robert Briffault (187611 December 1948) was a French-born New Zealand novelist, historian, social anthropologist and surgeon.


He was born in Nicemarker, Francemarker. His father served as private secretary to Napoleon III. After the death of his father, Briffault and his Scottish-born mother emigrated to New Zealand. In May 1896 he married Anna Clarke; the couple had three children, Lister, Muriel, and Joan, born from 1897 to 1901. Briffault received his MB, ChB from the University of Dunedinmarker in New Zealandmarker in 1905 and commenced medical practice. After service on the Western Front during World War I, he settled in England, his wife having died. In the late 1920s he married again, to Herma Hoyt (1898-1981), an American writer and translator, best known for her English translations of modern French literature. The Briffaults became clients of the literary agent William Bradley and were befriended by his wife, Jenny. His book on the troubadours helped popularize the theory that they were heavily influenced by the poetry and music of Muslim Spain. Briffault debated marriage with Malinowski in the 1930s and corresponded with Bertrand Russell. He died in Hastingsmarker, Sussex, England on 11 December 1948.

Asked how to pronounce his name, Briffault told The Literary Digest: "Should be pronounced bree'-foh, without attempting to give it a French pronunciation." (Charles Earle Funk, What's the Name, Please?, Funk & Wagnalls, 1936.)


  • The Making of Humanity
  • Psyche's Lamp
  • The Decline and Fall of the British Empire
  • Breakdown: The Collapse of Traditional Civilization
  • Mothers: A Study of the Origins of Sentiments and Institutions (1927)
  • Europa (1936)
  • Europa: The Days of Ignorance (novel); a best selling book in the United States in 1935
  • Europa in Limbo (novel)
  • Marriage Past and Present
  • Sin and Sex
  • Les Troubadours et le sentiment romanesque (1945), rev. tr. as The Troubadours (1965)


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