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Recent Upper-Level French Seminars

All courses conducted exclusively in French.

Spring 2014: Modern French Culture and Society on Film

Fall 2013: La Poésie française

Spring 2013: World War II in French Film and Literature

Fall 2012: Black and White and Read All Over--Race and Desire in French Restoration Fiction, 1814-1848

Spring 2012: Exploring Beyond the Literary Canon--Bestsellers from 17th, 18th, & 19th Century France

Fall 2011: La Poésie Française

Spring 2011: World War II in French Film and Literature

Fall 2010: Mort de rire--Molière and French Comedy

Spring 2010: Translating the Facts--L'Affaire des Colonies, 1789-1794

Fall 2009: Crossing Boundaries in Forgotten Bestsellers

Spring 2009: Poison and Witchcraft in 17th-century French Theater and Society

Fall 2008: The 1968 Strikes and Uprising--History, Literature, Art, Politics

Spring 2008: Classicism vs. Romanticism--The Battle over Quality and Control on the French Stage

Fall 2007: The Weight of the Pen, Strength of Words-The French Language, Literature, and Power

Spring 2013 and Spring 2011: World War II in French Film and Literature

In this seminar, we will examine literary and cinematic depictions of life in France during World War II, including novellas, plays, novels, documentaries, and feature-length films. These materials will be supplemented and contextualized by readings from the work of historians of World War II. How and why did works such as Les Mouches and Antigone make it past the Nazi censors and still convey a message of resistance, while works such as Le Silence de la mer were published clandestinely? Suite française was only discovered years after the war—but it was written "in the fire of History," a magnificent literary portray of the Occupation as it happend; the novel was never finished, since the author was captured by the Nazis and deported to Auschwitz. What kinds of people risked their lives and why? Who collaborated with the Nazis and why? Why do some films, like Lucie Aubrac, mythologize the Resistance? What about the critical eye that films like Un Héros très discret or L’Armée des ombres cast on the Resistance? Why was Clouzot's film Le Corbeau (1943) condemned by those on both the Left and the Right in France, during and after the war? How can we balance analysis of these films and texts as cultural artifacts and as historical sources?

Fall 2012: Black and White and Read All Over--Race and Desire in French Restoration Fiction, 1814-1848

In this seminar, we will read six literary texts in French and five articles for background on the questions we will be examining. The subject of this course is representations of race and desire in French fiction from the Restoration and the July Monarchy (1820s-1840s). This time frame ranges from approximately a decade after the establishment of Haiti as an independent republic and through the years when the abolitionist movement in France and Europe regains momentum in its fight to end slavery and the slave trade. Literary works from this period represent one of the first waves of of post-colonial fiction that grapples with racism as a social issue. Students will read the texts, keep a journal or write short response papers to prepare for class discussion, prepare two oral presentations, do an explication de texte, and write an 8-10 page analytical paper. There will be a final exam. Texts: Duras, Ourika; Desbordes-Valmore, Sarah; Hugo, Bug-Jargal; Rémusat, L'Habitation de Saint-Domingue: Lacour, Pyracmond, ou Les Créoles; Dumas, Georges.

Spring 2012: Exploring Beyond the Literary Canon--Bestsellers from 17th, 18th, & 19th Century France

     In this seminar, which is a revised version of the topic offered in Fall 2009, we read five bestselling novels from 17th, 18th and 19th century France, as well as two bestsellers that also became classics, not just of French literature, but of world literature. Our heroes and heroines include an independent Inca princess, virtuous wives struggling with their inner demons, desperate housewives, a confused newlywed husband, and a highly unconventional couple. (Lafayette, La Princesse de Clèves; Graffigny, Lettres d'une Péruvienne; Charrière, Lettres de Mistress Henley; Cottin, Claire d'Albe; Belot, Mademoiselle Giraud, ma femme; Rachilde, Monsieur Vénus; Flaubert, Madame Bovary).
     Five of the novels on the syllabus were chosen for publication in the Modern Language Association’s “Texts and Translations” series. According to the MLA’s website, the “series Texts and Translations was founded in 1991 to provide students and faculty members with important texts and high-quality translations that otherwise are not available at an affordable price.” (http://www.mla.org/pub_guidelines_tt). This raises the following questions: what makes these novels important? Do they merit republication? What makes a bestseller? What makes a work of literature? Can a book be both?
     To read bestsellers from the past, along with the classics that outlived them, is to find out what books long-ago readers found fascinating, horrifying, meaningful, and/or sublime. Not all bestsellers turn out to be classic or canonical works of literature, but like the classics, they open a window onto the past and onto some of the enduring questions of the human condition: who am I—in relation to others, to society, to my upbringing? What am I going to do with my life? What gives my life meaning?

Fall 2011: La Poésie Française

This seminar offers an introduction to poetry in French. Throughout the semester, we will be considering the fundamental question of what constitutes poetry. We will examine how poetry written in French developed from the Middle Ages through the present and seek to understand the relevance of poetry in society. This course opens the door to the wide and diverse world of poetry that spans several centuries, includes writers from a wide range of francophone places, and exhibits an intoxicating array of aesthetic, structural and thematic characteristics. In 15 weeks, we cannot hope to exhaust all aspects of poetry in French. Instead, our objectives focus on providing a solid introduction that prepares students for individual research and for sharing their knowledge with a broader audience, especially in the classroom. We will work to acquire the analytic and intellectual tools needed to read, discuss, evaluate, and write poetry. We will lay a foundation to understand how poetry evolved from the 12th century onward. We will establish a basic overview of the major poets from the past and present. By doing these three things, students will improve their abilities as autonomous readers (as well as critics, teachers, and perhaps writers) of poetry capable of appreciating excellence and innovations and demonstrating to others how poems function socially as pieces of public art. The course will end with a festive public evening in which students invite our campus and local communities to join in a celebration of poetry in French and music.

Fall 2010: Mort de rire--Molière and French Comedy

This seminar focuses on six of Molière's masterpieces that define French classical comedy. Reading the texts in chronological order, our study of L'Ecole des femmes, Dom Juan, Tartuffe, L'Avare, Les Femmes savantes and Le Malade imaginaire will help us articulate the structural elements that define French comedy as such and define its place in French culture in the 17th century as well as the cultural legacy that Molière left behind.  Students will acquire  a practical and working knowledge of the theatrical poetics and aesthetics.  They will master and practice using the appropriate vocabulary to analyze theatrical representations from the script and stage directions to the quality of final productions and  acting.  Students will demonstrate their understanding of the texts and theatrical techniques learned in class through a variety of formative and summative tasks that include giving a formal textual analysis in a written and a verbal explication de texte, staging assigned scenes, acting out assigned scenes, critiquing professional and class stagings in formal compte-rendus, and writing a final exam summarizing their knowledge and comprehension of the material studied throughout the semester.  Students will participate in all activities assigned, including the public performance of scenes that will be one of the major summative projects for the semester.  Throughout the semester, we will be using Flip video camera technology as a means of practicing, improving, and perfecting students' ability to communicate the meaning of Molière's works.  This technology will also allow for a record that charts student progress.

Spring 2010: Translating the Facts--L'Affaire des Colonies, 1789-1794

This seminar provides an introduction to translation and practice in the skills needed to produce precise and accurate translations in English of French documents. In order to provide students with practical experience, this course focuses on the translation of pamphlets, documents, and letters written between 1789-1794 in connection with the debates and events that served as the foundation for the Haitian Revolution. Written in Saint-Domingue, Paris, and the Americas, these documents offer a fascinating look at the political and individual struggles to legally define citizenship, nationality, civil rights, and human rights in 'la perle' of France's colonies.  The debates in Paris and the violence in the Caribbean revolved around two major issues: colonial self-governance and race.  In the debates, the issue of slavery shifted from a status determined by the condition of a person, as free or enslaved, to one defined by race and genetics.  The highly charged political rhetoric in the documents makes it difficult to sort out the lies from the truth.  Some of the documents from the Affaire des Colonies have been translated into English, others remain accessible only in the original French. This seminar will play a vital role in making a piece of this history available to students and scholars by translating a selection of documents into English.  Students will work together and with the professor to establish accurate translations and notes for later use in classes on Haitian history here at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth. Please note that one class period will be devoted to a visit to the John Carter Brown Library in Providence on the Brown University campus.  This visit is mandatory and we will hold class in one of their conference rooms. 

Fall 2009: Crossing Boundaries in Forgotten Bestsellers

   This seminar focuses on the character, vision, and development of five of the bestselling novels in 18th and 19th century France. Our heroes and heroines include an independent Inca princess, virtuous wives struggling with their inner demons, a confused newlywed husband, and a highly unconventional couple. All of them cross boundaries in one way or another: geographical, social, moral. To read forgotten bestsellers is to find out what books long-ago readers found fascinating, horrifying, meaningful, and/or sublime. Not all bestsellers turn out to be classic or canonical works of literature, but like the classics, they open a window onto the past.
     Each of these novels was chosen for publication as part of the Modern Language Association’s “Texts and Translations” series. According to the MLA’s website, the “series Texts and Translations was founded in 1991 to provide students and faculty members with important texts and high-quality translations that otherwise are not available at an affordable price. The books in the series are aimed at students in upper-level undergraduate and graduate courses—in national literatures in languages other than English, comparative literature, literature in translation, ethnic studies, area studies, and women's studies.” (http://www.mla.org/pub_guidelines_tt)
     This raises the following questions: what makes these novels important? Do they merit republication? What makes a bestseller? What makes a work of literature? What are the boundaries, or limits, that define bestsellers and literature? Can a novel be both? Thus, our main goal this semester is to analyze these novels as bestsellers and as works of literature. Our other goals are to hone your critical acumen and to strengthen your French comprehension, composition, and discussion skills.

Spring 2009: Poison and Witchcraft in 17th-century French Theater and Society

“The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.” What do we make of a society that shunned onstage violence yet reveled in public executions, which produced both Cartesian philosophy and demonic possessions, which saw Paris’s first police chief and its most famous poisoners? The age of Versailles, the Sun King, and the birth of the Académie Française was also an age where witches were still burned at the stake, and where criminals could poison with impunity.
     In this seminar, we focus on theater as an introduction to these darker aspects of seventeenth-century French society. We will read both famous and not-so-famous plays in their socio-historical context.  Other primary texts will include Cyrano de Bergerac’s Lettres pour et contre les sorciers, 17th-century legal briefs, and correspondance between King Louis XIV’s ministers and his chief of police. We will also consider the role of theater in a well-regulated society, as expressed in the debates over the morality of theater, which raged during the century.
     Our goal is to examine whether theater—and hence, entertainment in general—is a metaphorical poison. What sort of power did poison and theater have over the social imagination of seventeenth-century France? What similarities and differences exist between this long-gone society and our own? Our other goals are to hone your critical acumen in reading both primary and secondary sources, and to strengthen your French comprehension, composition, and discussion skills.

Fall 2008: The 1968 Strikes and Uprising--History, Literature, Art, Politics

This seminar explores the events of 1968 (strikes and up-rising) and seeks to understand them within the historical, literary, artistic, philosophical, sociological, and political contexts in France, in Europe, and in the world.  While “1968” represents a vast subtext, it is also quite a timely one (40th anniversary of the strikes and violence, in the midst of a French presidency that ran for office on a platform of breaking with and eradicating the goals of the 1968 reformers).  The breadth and complexity of the topic mean that the course will not establish a definitive interpretation of the events, but rather set out the historical, literary, artistic, political, cultural, social etc. markers that allow us to map the events and consider the issues at stakes for the different groups.  The seminar will be highly interdisciplinary in nature and course work will be organized around the production of a timeline.  Students will explore and research topics of interest and use the results of their inquiries to establish a moment to plot on the timeline.  They will write a text explaining the relevance of the moment and they will present this orally to the class.  Students will also field questions from the class.  They will be responsible for explaining the details of their chosen point, for establishing connections between their time plot and others on the timeline, for explaining why this time plot is relevant to our understanding of 1968.  The development of the timeline will help students acquire and practice skills in selecting and evaluating primary and secondary sources for research, synthesizing information, contextualizing information, conducting individual research, presenting information and results in a variety of formats. 

Spring 2008: Classicism vs. Romanticism--The Battle over Quality and Control on the French Stage

This seminar focused on the vicious debate over aesthetics that rocked the French theaters in the 19th century.  The course began by reviewing the basic characteristics of Classicism through analysis of two 17th century masterpieces, Corneille’s Horace and Le Cid. After, students did independent research to review the major historical events and figures that mark the shift from 16th France to 19th century France.  Sharing this information through class presentations provided the necessary context to understand the aesthetic, poetic, and rhetorical differences seen when the focus shifted to the early 19th century.  The second half of the class was devoted to studying the three Romantic plays that stormed the French stage, Dumas père’s Henri III et sa cour, and Hugo’s Hernani and Marion de Lorme. In addition to reading five of the major canonical works in French literature, students acquired familiarity with the diverse world of 19th-century French theater industry, an understanding of the terms ‘poetics’ and ‘aesthetic’, as well as the issues at the heart of an on-going debate over the production and consumption of art.  They continued to develop their skill in close reading, textual analysis, expository writing, and specialized research.  The majority of class time was devoted to discussion of the primary texts and considerations of theatrical staging.  Students played an important role in structuring the class discussion through presentation of key passages.

Fall 2007: The Weight of the Pen, Strength of Words--The French Language, Literature, and Power

This seminar began with the premise that for American university students, Renaissance poets, 18th century Revolutionaries, Canadian separatists, African writers, and modernist poets alike, using the French language transformed and continues to transform individual lives and the shape of the world around them.  It then suggested that while the fact that French does shape one’s identity and ground one’s place in the world may appear obvious, understanding how the mechanisms at work in this phenomenon is less straightforward?  Hence, the course proposes an examination of the following: the role does the French language play in determining a person’s life; the ways in which words and literature change peoples’ lives; the ways in which words and literature help people stake their claims for independence and autonomy; and the ways in which writers, readers, and speakers of French use this language to position themselves in relation to the dominant forces of economic, social, and political power.

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