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Book of extracts from French literature marks anniversary of Charlie Hebdo attacks

6 January 2016: More than 100 students and academics from Oxford University have translated extracts from great French writers of the eighteenth century to demonstrate the importance of freedom and tolerance in French literature and thought.

A book of these translated quotations is to be published tomorrow to mark the one-year anniversary of the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris.

The book can be read for free online.

It is targeted at the general public and the authors hope it will be used for teaching in schools.

Dr Caroline Warman of the Faculty of Medieval & Modern Languages at the University of Oxford, who led the project, said: ’We hope people will be excited by the texts and that it will help them to reflect on the world we live in now.

‘We want this book to reach people thinking about tolerance and intolerance, and to inspire them to connect with our history, as they discover that major European thinkers of the past also wrote passionately about these topics.

‘So many students and colleagues wanted to be involved in this project. We thought it was something we could do to show our support for France and for all countries in the world affected by these issues.

‘I wrote the preface for the book in the week after the recent attacks in Paris, and it was very difficult to do - I had to acknowledge what had happened but I tried not to be too emotional about it.’

One of the passages chosen is from Voltaire’s La Henriade, an epic poem about Henry IV, who converted from Protestantism to Catholicism to end the religious wars tearing France apart in the sixteenth century. It includes the lines:

While all was dark and night lay black and still
They raised the signal, gave the call to kill

The fate of Coligny, a bleak presage
Was only a mild foretaste of their rage
Unbridled soldiers of a murderous race

There are also passages from English, German, and Spanish writers, as well as themes which are not limited to France, such as slavery, colonialism, and exploitation.

Oxford academics will also mark the anniversary of Charlie Hebdo today by holding a panel discussion on tolerance at a conference organised by the British Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies at St Hugh’s College.

Calling all budding cineastes! French film essay competition 2016

The Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages at Oxford University is looking for budding film enthusiasts in Years 7-11 and 12-13 to embrace the world of French cinema. Read more…

A feast of narrative imagination and directorial invention!

Results of the French film essay competition 2015

Results from previous years

Award-winning multi-media edition of Rameau’s Nephew

The multi-media edition of Rameau’s Nephew, (translated by Faculty members, Kate Tunstall and Caroline Warman) has just won the 2015 British Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies Digital Prize. With over a hundred illustrations and embedded musical clips, it can be read in paper or online versions, and also be downloaded. The online version can be read for free.

Prizes for Oxford students of French

An Oxford DPhil student (Sarah Hickmott, Merton) has won the 2014 R. H. Gapper Postgraduate Essay Prize, accorded by the Society for French Studies, for an essay titled ‘(En) Corps Sonore’, an interdisciplinary reflection on the question of listening in the work of the philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy. The prize includes an award of £750 and expenses-paid travel to the Annual Conference of the Society.

The joint runners-up for this year’s award included another Oxford postgraduate, Emma Claussen (St John’s), along with Edmund Birch (Cambridge).

In 2013 an Oxford undergraduate Dulcie fforde (SEH) won another major prize accorded by the Society for French Studies, the R.H. Gapper Undergraduate Essay Competition. The 2014 prize is yet to be accorded.

New Outreach Blog from the Sub-Faculty of French

French blog web page

The schools liaison office in the Oxford French sub-faculty is proud to announce the launch of Adventures on the Bookshelf. A collaborative project run by the staff and students in French at the university, the blog is aimed at pupils and teachers of French in Years 11 to 13, and anyone with an interest in French language and culture who may be considering applying to study them at Oxford. It combines lively posts about French language, literature and culture, insights into student life, and reviews and recommendations for French books, films, apps and websites, along with information for prospective applicants about how the Oxford admissions process works from UCAS form to interview, and what you can do to prepare for it. Please do check it out, and let us know what you think.

Oxford Undergraduate wins French Studies Essay Prize

An Oxford undergraduate, Dulcie fforde (SEH), has won the prize in the 2013 R.H.Gapper Undergradute Essay Competition for the Society of French Studies. The subject of her essay was ‘“L’image n’a pas de sens propre” (Compagnon). Discuss the pertinence of this claim in relation to Renaissance poetic practice.’ This is the second year in a row that an Oxford undergraduate has won this prize, for which essays are judged anonymously.

Dr Aït-Touati wins MLA Prize for Comparative Literary Studies

The Modern Language Association of America has awarded its twentieth annual Aldo and Jeanne Scaglione Prize for Comparative Literary Studies to Frédérique Aït-Touati, of the University of Oxford, Saint John’s College, for her book Fictions of the Cosmos: Science and Literature in the Seventeenth Century, published by the University of Chicago Press. The prize is awarded annually for an outstanding scholarly work that is written by a member of the association and that involves at least two literatures.

More information can be found here.


Arc de triomphe

Oxford’s French department is the biggest in Britain, with 31 permanent members of staff covering all areas of French literature and language. The quality and range of the department’s research has been recognised by outstanding results in the last two Research Assessment Exercises. In 2001 the department received the top grade of 5*. In 2008 it performed better than any other French department in the UK. 65% of its research activity was graded 4* (world-leading in terms of originality, significance and rigour) or 3* (internationally excellent in terms of originality, significance and rigour). In terms of the teaching it provides, French at Oxford was ranked top of all UK University French departments in the league tables published in the Times newspaper in May 2010.

We have an intake of about 200 students a year. Our course reflects the diversity and richness of both the language and the culture of France, which has been one of the most influential nations in the world. Its impact in numerous areas, ranging from gastronomy to science, has been huge, and its literature has influenced numerous others, including English (Shakespeare read the essayist Montaigne; the nineteenth-century novelist George Eliot took her pen-name George as a tribute to France’s most famous woman writer of the time, George Sand).

France produced, in the eighteenth century, four great political thinkers (Voltaire, Rousseau, Diderot and Montesquieu) whose ideas shaped the modern political outlook of Northern Europe and the United States of America. It was the home of Impressionism, and it was to Paris that painters flocked in the early twentieth century from all over Europe to practise their art and to share ideas that led, for example, to Cubism. The cinema was invented in France in the nineteenth century (the first ever public film screening took place in Paris in 1895).

We train all students thoroughly in the language all through the course, and offer papers for those whose particular interest is in Linguistics; our core first-year course introduces you to the complete range of French literature, and if you want to study French on its own, you can take a French cinema paper in your first year (those studying French in combination with another language or subject can do our European Cinema paper a little later in the course).

You can also, if studying French on its own, take a first-year paper in French thought , which will introduce you to the sheer intellectual strength (both past and continuing) of this culture. In your second and final years, whether studying French on its own or with another language or subject, you can take a paper in Literature and the Visual Arts, and our very flexible course allows you to make a specialist study of the greatest French writers, from Rabelais to Proust, as well as choosing particular centuries for wider-ranging study.

Why choose French?

French is among the most widely-spoken modern languages in the world, with over 120 million speakers worldwide. It is an official language in such diverse places as Louisiana, Martinique and Belgium as well as France itself, and the many different kinds of French that exist ensure that the language remains central to a thriving variety of cultures. The literature, art and cinema of France are among the richest and most influential in the world.

Why Oxford?

Oxford has the largest French department in Britain, with experts in all areas of French language, literature and culture. The libraries and learning facilties in Oxford are second to none: The Taylor Institution, the Modern languages library and the Language centre (which offers a range of free materials and classes) have first-rate resources, as well as materials for independent study. Well-stocked college libraries ensure that set books are readily available. Oxford is also fortunate to have the Maison Française, a French cultural centre with a termly programme of films and conferences. The Oxford French course can be studied in a number of combinations (with other languages or subjects), and the department offers an exceptionally wide range of options, such as: French literature, cinema, art, linguistics, advanced translation, literary theory and many others.

Joint Schools (French with another subject)

French can be studied with any other modern language offered by the Oxford faculty of modern and medieval languages, e.g Spanish, German, Italian, Greek, Portuguese,Russian, Arabic, Czech and Slovak, Hebrew, Turkish and Persian. It can also be studied with: English, Philosophy, History and Classics. (NB some colleges have restrictions on combinations – do check that the college you wish to apply to takes the combination you hope to study.)

Year Abroad

The year abroad is one of the most attractive aspects of a modern languages course. Students have a range of options: e.g. they can study at a foreign university, do voluntary work, work in a foreign company or follow training courses in the country of their choice. The department and several colleges have schemes with French universities, which students are encouraged to take advantage of. We also find teaching assistantships in schools and universities for our students, guaranteeing them a living wage while abroad. In practice most our students take this option. However, tutors are flexible and always ready to help, even with the most unusual year abroad plans.

More information

What if I’ve done no literature at school?

It doesn’t matter. Most of our students have not studied literature as part of their school courses, and we do not expect you to have read widely in French literature when you apply. Most students arrive here and find that the literature fascinates them – it is after all part of the culture which feeds the language. However, we are looking for applicants who are interested in the literature and culture of the French-speaking world, and who have the potential to get the most from a challenging language and literature course. It will be helpful if you have read and enjoyed literary texts (in French, English or any other language) independently.

Other sources of  information

French Outreach Blog: Adventures on the Bookshelf

Undergraduate prospectus

Faculty Open Days

University Admissions site



Related Websites

French sites and resources from the Taylor Institution Language/Country Resources page

French Weblinks from the Language Centre

Voltaire Foundation

The TORCH Enlightenment Programme

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