skip to content

FR1: Introduction to French literature, film and thought

NB: This paper is available for the academic year 2024-25, but the linguistics element of this paper is suspended for the year.

Fr1 introduces students to the many different aspects of French culture taught at Cambridge.  Students will engage with works from the twelfth to the twenty-first century across a variety of genres, including poetry, theatre, discursive prose, and film.  No prior knowledge of any of these areas is presumed. Students are expected to develop an independent critical voice in their approach to the topics, while drawing appropriately on secondary criticism and theoretical approaches.  They will be able to develop skills in close reading and critical commentary, to practise concise and scholarly essay writing, and to pursue comparative analysis.  Through a range of intrinsically stimulating and challenging works, Fr1 aims to provide students with the analytical skills and broader historical context from which they can make informed choices for Part 1B (second year) and Part II (fourth year).


The paper consists of seven topics.  Students are encouraged to study the texts using the prescribed editions below. (Other editions vary considerably). ISBN codes have been provided for the avoidance of confusion. Some of the texts are freely available on Kindle via Amazon.

  • Marie de France, Lais, ed. by Karl Warnke, accompanied by a modern French translation by Laurence Harf-Lancner (Paris: Livre de Poche, 1990). ISBN: 225305271X
  • (new for 2023/24) Michel de Montaigne, Des cannibales, suivi de La Peur de l’autre (anthologie), ed. by Christine Bénévent (Paris: Gallimard, 2008) [only Des cannibales is required reading]
  • Corneille, Horace, ed, Jean-Pierre Chauveau, Collection Folio Théâtre no. 16 (Paris: Gallimard, 1994) ISBN: 2070386600
  • Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Discours sur l’origine et les fondements de l’inégalité parmi les hommes, ed. Jean Starobinski, Collection Folio Essais (Paris: Gallimard, 2008 [first published 1969]). ISBN 2070325415
  • Honoré de Balzac, Le Père Goriot, Stéphane Vachon (Paris: Le Livre de Poche Classiques, 1995)  ISBN: 2253085790
  • Agnès Varda (director), Cléo de 5 à 7 (1962)
  • (new for 2023/24) Marie NDiaye, Autoportrait en vert (Gallimard Folio, 2006) 


For 2023/24 there are two key themes that will structure comparative work:

  • Language, place, identities
  • Art and performance

Content notes

In Varda's Cléo de 5 à 7 the protagonist is awaiting medical results for a potentially terminal illness, which may be a difficult or sensitive topic for some viewers.

Autoportrait en vert has a description of suicide, which some readers may find distressing.

Preparatory reading: 

Before they come to Cambridge, students should aim to develop a working knowledge of each of the topics and a more detailed understanding of the three topics that will be covered in the first term (Michaelmas).  In 2023-24, these will be: Marie NDiaye's Autoportrait en vert, Balzac’s Le Père Goriot and Corneille’s Horace. 

There are plenty of introductory podcasts that might be a useful starting point, e.g:

Students may also wish to consult some of the following accessible overviews before they arrive:

John D. Lyons, French Literature: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010)

The Cambridge Introduction to French Literature, ed, Brian Nelson (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015)

Once students are in Cambridge, they will have free online access to two further extremely useful background texts:

The Cambridge History of French Literature, ed. B. Burgwinkle, N. Hammond, E. Wilson (Cambridge University Press, 2011)

A Short History of French Literature, ed. S. Kay, T. Cave and M. Bowie (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003)

Moodle Reading List: 

A full reading list, with learning resources, is available on the Fr1 Moodle site (for current students with a Raven password)

Teaching and learning: 

The paper will be taught through a combination of twice-weekly Faculty-based lectures in the first and second terms (Tuesdays/Thursdays in Michaelmas and Lent) and fortnightly college-based supervisions and/or seminars throughout the academic year.  It is expected that students attend all lectures and that they have supervisions on each topic.  The latter will be arranged by College Directors of Studies and, wherever possible, will be timetabled to follow the relevant lectures.  Students are expected to engage with all the works in the original French language; teaching and essay writing for supervisions and for end-of-year assessment will be normally be conducted in English.


For 2023/24, Fr1 will be assessed through a 5-hour timed online examination during which students have access to resources. Please note that candidates will be required to answer three questions: one from Section A (Commentary), one from Section D (Comparative) and one from either Section B (Marie de France, Montaigne, Corneille) or Section C (NDiaye, Varda, Balzac, Rousseau). Each answer should be between 1200 and 1300 words. 

Course Contacts: 
Professor Jenny Mander