French MSt/MPhil Programmes

The French Sub-Faculty offers Special Subject options from across the chronological sweep of French literature, giving you the freedom and flexibility to experience works from different periods, or to specialise according to your interests. In addition, research seminars held at the Maison française d’Oxford will bring you into contact with other postgraduates and researchers from other institutions, the UK and abroad.

Please see the MSt in Modern Languages and MPhil in Modern Languages pages for a breakdown of the course structure and details of the theory options on offer.

Further details about applying for courses and funding can be found on the University’s admissions pages.

These are the Special Subject options available in 2019-20. Not all options will be available in all years, and some course content might change.


Women and Medieval Literatures (Hilary Term)

Convenor: Dr Helen Swift

Although most medieval texts were seemingly written by men and some of them with a fairly misogynistic bias, women were absolutely central to Medieval French Literature. The focus of this course will be twofold. In the first place, it will examine gender issues and women’s status in the work of French medieval women writers (such as Marie de France and Christine de Pisan). In the second place, it will envisage the place of women in male-authored texts, whether as characters, patrons or addressees of lyric poems.  Reading List

Brief Encounters: Medieval Short Narratives (Michaelmas Term)

Convenor: Professor Burrows

Short narrative forms have been much less studied than their longer counterparts (the roman or chanson de geste, for example), but are the locus for significant experimentation with and development of storytelling practice. This course considers a range of genres, in both verse and prose, to explore modes of storytelling, and the specificities of their brevity, across lais, fabliaux, exemplary literature (including fables and miracles), and nouvelles. You will also study the presentation and circulation of tales in manuscript compilations. Reading List. 

Early Modern

Renaissance and Baroque: Theorising The Past (Michaelmas Term)

Convenors: Professor Wes Williams and Dr Raphaële Garrod

For this paper we’ll be working on texts from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and alongside them considering the stakes of historical descriptors and the ways in which they have both enabled and constricted our work as scholars of literature. Taking in turn three labels, Renaissance, Baroque, Early Modern, each of which has seen its stock rise and fall from the nineteenth century through to today, we’ll consider how such labels came to be, how debates around them have shaped the sort of work we do, and how the work we look to do today might in turn reshape them. What do these labels say about the past, and what do they say about our contemporary critical moment?

Students can, with guidance from the course tutors, choose to work on their own materials from the period; you can also choose to work on a methodological question about periodisation, or on a textual tradition that allows for a questioning of that methodology. We’ll meet in a mix of seminars (on periodisation) and tutorials (to prepare your own essay[s]).

This option should appeal to those who want to work on the sixteenth or seventeenth centuries either for the first time or to develop their knowledge of it, but also to those working chiefly in other periods who are drawn to thinking theoretically about what we do when we read the cultures of the past.

Early Modern French Drama (Hilary Term)

Convenor: Professor Michael Hawcroft 

This subject allows students to study the perennially popular dramatists Molière and Racine in the context of developments in dramatic practice in France from the 1550s to about 1700. We shall look closely at both better known and less well known plays. The course will serve as an introduction for those unfamiliar with the topic, but also as a means of deepening knowledge of it in the case of those who have already studied plays of the period. The first sessions will include discussion of two or three plays in the light of issues that have preoccupied recent scholars ; the later sessions will be devoted to students’ work as they prepare their submission. Issues to be discussed might include some of: dramatic theory, genre, politics, rhetoric, performance, print, adaptation and translation. Students will be free to adopt their own approach for their submission. Reading List. 


European Enlightenment

This is a Faculty-wide comparative option, and students usually take Special Subject Enlightenment Debates in Michaelmas Term and then either Writing the Enlightenment or Art of the Enlightenment: Image, Text, Object in Hilary Term. For further information on the course, including reading lists, please visit: European Enlightenment Programme.


Modern (1800-present)

Reality, Representation and Reflexivity in Nineteenth-Century Prose Writing (Hilary Term)

Convenors: Professor Jennifer Yee and Dr Tim Farrant

This course of seminars will be concerned with examples of prose writing by a wide range of authors (Chateaubriand, Constant, Balzac, Stendhal, Mérimée, Gautier, Sand, Nerval, Flaubert, Zola, Maupassant, Huysmans, Rachilde) and will focus on a number of interrelated theoretical and literary-historical issues concerning ‘schools’ (Romanticism, Realism, Naturalism), genres (the fictional memoir, the novel, the short story), relationships (fiction and history, fiction and science, literature and the other arts, prose and poetry), thematic preoccupations (the individual and society, the fantastic, etc.), and narrative techniques (narrative structures, narratorial point of view, imagery, tense usage, etc.). The aim will be to explore the many different ways in which prose writers of the nineteenth century represented the world of human experience and reflected in theory and practice on the means and the implications of their representations. Reading List

The Birth of Modern Poetry (Michaelmas Term)

Convenors: Professors Seth Whidden and Ève Morisi

The nineteenth century constituted a period of intense and innovative activity in the field of verse poetry, and this course of seminars will focus on selected works from a diverse group of poets, including Desbordes-Valmore, Lamartine, Musset, Vigny, Hugo, Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Verlaine, and Mallarmé. The century also witnessed the emergence of ‘prose poetry’, and during its last three decades in particular the time-honoured conventions of versification — together with the very distinction between poetry and prose — were subverted and overturned. The aim of this course will be to examine and debate, on the basis of close textual readings, the various ways in which poets sought to find a new language and new poetic structures with which to express an increasingly varied and disturbing spectrum of conscious and unconscious perceptions. Reading List. (Please note this list is a sample of what will be covered and there may be some changes and updates which the Convenor will issue to students in due course) 

Contemporary French Thought: Paths of Deconstruction (Michaelmas Term)

Convenors: Professors Ian Maclachlan and Emily McLaughlin

This course on key strands in French thought of recent decades focuses particularly on paths to and from the notion of deconstruction associated with Jacques Derrida. Besides Derrida, we will examine texts by Georges Bataille, Maurice Blanchot, Emmanuel Levinas, Gilles Deleuze, Jean-Luc Nancy and Catherine Malabou, and these readings will raise fundamental issues relating to language, subjectivity, alterity, community, embodiment, materiality, and affect. Reading List

Francophone Literature (Michaelmas Term)

Convenors: Professors Jennnifer Yee and Jane Hiddleston

French colonialism profoundly altered perceptions of national and cultural identity, while decolonization was one of the most momentous upheavals of the twentieth century. In this course, you will explore the impact of France’s changing relationship with her colonies and ex-colonies, as envisioned by writers and intellectuals of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Exoticist works by writers such as Segalen, Loti and Gide will be compared with postcolonial literatures emerging from Africa, North Africa and the Caribbean (possible authors for study include Djebar, Chraïbi, Chamoiseau, Condé, Sembene). Emphasis will be placed both on the interaction between literature and history, and on the aesthetic originality of the works themselves. Reading List

Life-Writing (Michaelmas Term)

Convenors: Professors Marie-Chantal Killeen and Ian Maclachlan

Through the pioneering theoretical work of Philippe Lejeune and others since the 1970s, autobiography has come to be regarded as a fully-fledged literary genre. The autobiographies of twentieth-century writers such as Gide, Leiris, Sartre, and Beauvoir stand beside those of Rousseau and Stendhal, while the innovative approaches of later writers, including Barthes, Perec, Sarraute, and Duras, took the genre in new directions. More recently, a range of literary practices focused on individual or collective life-histories, and exploring issues of gender, sexual identity, ethnicity, trauma, and social memory, have blurred the distinctions between autobiography, biography, the diary, and the récit intime, producing hybrid works that make ‘life-writing’ one of the most fascinating areas of recent literary production and critical enquiry. The seminars on this course will reflect the strength and diversity of life-writing in French, from the Second World War to the present. Reading List. 

The Power of Literature: Representation, Perception and World-Making in Modern and Post-Modern French Poetry (Michaelmas Term, Hilary Term)

Convenors: Professors Carole Bourne-Taylor and Emily McLaughlin 

This course of seminars will focus on the modern poetic tradition from Apollinaire and Cendrars, whose poetry reflected the impact of new technologies including aviation and cinema, to Portugal and Alferi, contemporary poets whose work reflects cyber culture and computer games. In between, we will look at Ponge’s focus on the world of objects, Michaux’s imaginary universes, Bonnefoy’s poetry of being and presence, and Jaccottet’s variations on landscape. A guiding theme will be the construction of textual worlds and the relation between language and reality. Close textual study of individual poems will feature throughout the course. Reading List. 


Research Seminars

To complement Special Subject teaching in the Medieval, Early Modern, and Modern periods, research seminar series in each of these periods run throughout the academic year at the Maison française d’Oxford. With 4 sessions per term, they feature research papers given by scholars and research students from within Oxford, as well as by invited speakers from other institutions, the UK and abroad. The Medieval seminar series also offers sessions discussing topics such as paleography, text editing, and authorship.

These research seminars offer an ideal setting for engaging with other postgraduates and researchers to exchange ideas and gain an understanding of the broader research landscape.

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