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FR11: Gender, desire, and power in 19th century French culture

This paper is available for the academic year 2020-21.

This paper uses a broad thematic optic to provide students with a detailed, wide-ranging, and thought-provoking account of nineteenth-century French cultural life. The thematic approach adopted here has the double advantage of reflecting specialist research interests in the Department while simultaneously reflecting some of the most important and fruitful critical approaches to the subject that have developed in recent decades.

Learning Objectives

  • To introduce students to a robust corpus of primary texts, including both ultra-canonical and some less well-known works, with a stress on prose fiction;
  • To provide you with a broad contextual knowledge within which to situate the set texts;
  • To improve students' knowledge of the cultural and political history of nineteenth-century France;
  • To acquaint you with some of the major conceptual strands of research in nineteenth-century French studies over the past thirty years;
  • To alert you to the usefulness and to the limitations of gender, class and sexuality for literary and historical analysis.

The topics for 2020/2021 will be:

  • Romantic Identities – Benjamin Constant: Adolphe and George Sand: Indiana.
  • Serial Love  – Guy de Maupassant: Bel-Ami and Anatole France: Le Lys rouge.
  • The Novel of Adultery – Gustave Flaubert: Madame Bovary, and Emile Zola: Pot-Bouille.
  • Class and Social Power – The Goncourts: Germinie Lacerteux, and Emile Zola: Germinal


In most cases, students can use any modern paperback edition (GF or Folio, for instance).

Preparatory reading: 

Please see the paper reading list.

Teaching and learning: 

Students taking paper Fr11 will follow, over Michaelmas and Lent terms, a single, 16-20 lecture core course. This is divided into four separately titled ‘topics’, plus additional introductory lectures.

  • Each topic will take the form of three or four lectures and be supported by two supervisions.
  • Ample reading lists will be provided to encourage wider critical and contextual reading.

The exam will be comprised of three sections: A, B and C. Students will answer one question from each section (see the specimen paper).

  • Section A: four general questions requiring a synoptic answer. Students will be expected to make reference to 'at least three of the texts' they have studied.
  • Section B: two questions each on the four topics taught in lectures in the relevant year, to elicit more focused, detailed responses. Students will be expected to discuss one particular topic in this answer.
  • Section C: a critical commentary exercise on one of a choice of two texts, which will be taken from ‘unseen’ works (i.e. not those works prescribed for the course).
Course Contacts: 
Dr Claire White (maternity leave Easter & Michaelmas 2020)
Prof Nick White (Easter & Michaelmas 2020)