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FR5: Revolutions in writing, 1700-1900

This paper is available for the academic year 2024-25.

This paper combines a focus on particular key texts from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, with a broad chronological scope and thematic focus. The concept of Revolution will be interpreted with reference to the socio-political transformations of 1789, 1848 and 1870-81 respectively, but also, more generally, to innovations in the figure and role of the writer, to literature of revolt and reform, and to new stylistic and aesthetic models. Students will, obviously, have encountered an eighteenth-century and a nineteenth-century text on Fr1. No other experience is essential, but, in common with the convenors of other papers, we encourage students to read primary and secondary texts over the summer prior to taking the paper. On completion of the course, students will have been able to develop their skills in critical reading and commentary, essay-writing; their understanding of some major texts of the period; and will have been given opportunities to consider these in a range of historical and critical contexts.


Eighteenth Century

  • Prévost, Manon Lescaut
  • Diderot, Le supplément au voyage de BougainvilleLe neveu de Rameau
  • Voltaire, Contes (Zadig, Candide, L'Ingénu, Micromégas)
  • Beaumarchais, Le Barbier de Séville, Le Mariage de Figaro, La Mère coupable

Nineteenth Century

  • Mme de Duras, Ourika
  • Charles Baudelaire: Les Fleurs du mal; Le spleen de Paris
  • Gustave Flaubert, L'Education sentimentale
  • Emile Zola, La Débâcle

In most cases, students can use any modern paperback edition (GF or Folio, for instance). In the case of Mme de Duras’s Ourika, we recommend the Folioplus Classiques edition (ed. Virginie Belzgaou). ISBN 9782070424337

Preparatory reading: 
  • Burgwinkle, Hammond and Wilson (eds), The Cambridge History of French Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011)
  • Denis Hollier (ed.), A New History of French Literature (Harvard University Press, 1989)
  • Kay, Cave and Bowie (eds), A Short History of French Literature (Oxford University Press, 2003/2006)
  • Alison Finch, French Literature: A Cultural History (Polity, 2010). ​

Full reading list

For the 18th century, see here.

For the 19th century, see here.

Teaching and learning: 

Students will alternate between supervisions on the eighteenth-century and nineteenth-century French literature and will, in normal circumstances, have had 4 supervisions on each by the beginning of Easter Term.  They will probably, but not necessarily, have a supervisor for each century.  Students will normally have one lecture on each century per week.

Please see the lecture schedule here.

For the Fr.5 Moodle site, please see here.


The paper will be examined by final examination or by Long Essay.

Section A of the exam paper will offer general questions which students will answer with reference to a range of material from within one century; section B questions deal with individual texts/topics; and section C with commentary passages. Students answering on the eighteenth century for section A would answer on the nineteenth for section B, and vice versa. Students should not do a Section C commentary on an author they have analysed at length in Sections A or B. In all, students will answer three questions, one from each section.

Content warning

As with much literature, these 18th- and 19th-century texts represent a wide range of issues, scenes and experiences which you may find distressing. Examples of these include racism and slavery (Duras), sexual violence (Beaumarchais, Baudelaire and Zola), child abuse (Diderot), deportation (Prévost), and violence and death in war (Zola). 

Course Contacts: 
Dr John Leigh - Eighteenth century
Prof. Nick White - Nineteenth century