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FR1: Introduction to French literature, film and thought

NB: the linguistics element of this paper is suspended for 2022-23.

Fr1 introduces students to the many different aspects of French culture taught at Cambridge.  Students will engage with works from the twelfth to the twentieth 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 six 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
  • Pierre de Ronsard, Les Amours (1552-1584), ed. Marc Bensimon and James L. Martin (Paris: GF Flammarion, 1981). ISBN: 2080703358  Sonnets pour Hélène, Books I and II (pp. 261-314)
  • 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 texts for 2023/2024

Please note that the following text will be added to the programme from 2023/2024:

  • Marie NDiaye, Autoportrait en vert (Gallimard Folio, 2006) 

Please also note that Ronsard will be replaced by the following text for 2023/2024:

  • Michel de Montaigne, Des cannibales, suivi de La Peur de l’autre (anthologie), ed. by Christine Bénévent (Paris: Gallimard, 2008)

Content note

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.

Preparatory reading: 

Before they come to Cambridge, students should aim to develop a working knowledge of each of the six topics and a more detailed understanding of the three topics that will be covered in the first term (Michaelmas).  In 2022-23, these will be: Balzac’s Le Père Goriot, Varda’s Cléo de 5 à 7, and Corneille’s Horace.

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 (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 2022/2023, assessment will take the form of 'course work' ie an exam to be completed 'at home' within a specified two-day window at the end of the year. Please note that candidates will be required to answer three questions: one from Section A, and two further questions chosen from Sections B, C, or D.  Each answer should be between 1200 and 1300 words.  Please see past papers prior to 2020 (pre-pandemic).

Course Contacts: 
Professor Jenny Mander