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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.

These are the Special Subject options available in 2022-23. These are indicative of the course offerings for the sub-faculty, so applicants should note that not all options will run in all years, and some course content might change. 


Writing Women in the Middle Ages (Michaelmas Term)

Convenors: Professor Sophie Marnette and Professor Helen Swift 

It is strongly recommended that students choosing this option have a knowledge of French and that they let the course convenor know as early as possible of their intention to choose the topic in order to access background resources in Medieval French Literature.

Whether as patrons, addressees, characters, or even authors, women were absolutely central to Medieval French Literature. The main focus of this course is twofold, considering women as objects of writing, typically in male-authored texts (including writings with a fairly misogynistic bias such as Le Roman de la rose), and women as writing subjects (such as Marie de France and Christine de Pizan). It also considers the issue of gender fluidity in comic and courtly narratives such as Trubert and Le Roman de Silence. Reading List.


Brief Encounters: Medieval Short Narratives (Hilary Term)

Convenor: Professor Daron 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 (1500-1800)

Early Modern Inventions (Michaelmas Term)

Convenors: Dr Jennifer Oliver and Dr Raphaële Garrod 

For this paper, we’ll be working on material from the 16th and 17th Century: books, maps, mechanical instruments and visual arts (drawings and paintings).

Invention, according to the Oxford English dictionary, denotes both the faculty of devising, finding out, as well as contriving and making up, and the products stemming from it. It involves discovery and deceit, creativity and contrivance, inspiration and heresy. Invention was central to the way in which the early moderns reflected on, and assessed, the changes that took place in their times. It is, in historiographical terms, an actor’s category, which means that it played an important part in the way in which the early moderns themselves conceived of their own age.

This seminar takes invention as its guiding thread to make sense of the early modern period, and winds its way through Renaissance literary theories of copia, wit, and wordplay to the rise of the mechanical ‘arts’ (from architecture to warfare) and related emergence of the ‘New Science’ (John Donne) born from new techniques of observation and the rise of the experimental method. 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.

Four sessions of the seminar will take place in the first four weeks of Michaelmas term: 1/Introduction: what was ‘invention’ for the early moderns? 2/ Printing the world 3/Literary inventions, 4/Mechanical inventions.

In addition, you will be supervised individually twice while working on either two short research pieces or a long one (totalling between 5000 and 7000 words) to be submitted on the tenth week of Michaelmas term. The outline of the course and the reading list for each seminar can be found here.


Law and Literature in France, 1450-1700 (Hilary Term)

Convenor: Dr Jonathan Patterson

What is justice and in what sense is it attainable? How does one respond to a perplexing dilemma? What is the role of rhetoric in the courtroom, and how might prevailing narratives about gender and class determine legal judgements? To what degree is criminal punishment morally efficacious? These are some of the questions addressed in this special subject, which will introduce you to a vibrant interdisciplinary research field – the ‘Law and Literature’ movement. Within this field, we’ll be focusing on pre-modern France (c.1450-1700).

Legal-literary inquiries can take many forms. Our study will pursue two major lines of inquiry that will broaden and deepen your understanding of pre-modern French drama, poetry, and prose (a technical grasp of pre-modern French law is not a pre-requisite). Firstly, we shall identify different forms of law at work in literary texts of the period, considering how legal habits of mind are represented, distorted, and even displaced in French literature before 1700. Secondly, we shall look at historical change impacting both law and literature. The French pre-modern period tells a fascinating story of literary developments (texts, genres, and theories used to interrogate them) that coincide with the slow transformation of the justice system in France. If you are interested in long-term cultural shifts, and in their repercussions in current critical debate, this special subject is for you. A course reading list can be consulted here.


There will be four seminars in the first four weeks of Hilary term: 1. Introduction: what is ‘law and literature’?, 2. Judiciary farce and faux-testament in late fifteenth-century France: La Farce de Pathelin and Le Testament Villon, 3. Perplexity and justice in sixteenth-century ‘case narratives’: Rabelais, Montaigne, Marguerite de Navarre, 4. Crime and punishment in le grand siècle: Rosset and Corneille.



Modern (1800 - Present)

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

Convenors:  Professors Tim Farrant and Jennifer Yee

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)

Convenor: Dr Katherine Lunn-Rockliffe

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: Professor Ian Maclachlan and Dr 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)

Convenor: Professor 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

Poetry & Ethics (Hilary Term)

Convenors: Dr Carole Bourne-Taylor and Dr Emily McLaughlin

Poetry & Ethics brings together various strands of poéthique. In the modern period poets have sought to articulate the relationship between poetry and forms of life (in its widest sense) with a view to foregrounding its ethical potential. Experience is the crux of these various poetic practices whose restrained lyricism reveals a far-reaching agenda centred on a commitment to the world. This course investigates how poets such as Jacques Roubaud, Valérie Rouzeau, Madeleine Gagnon, Philippe Rahmy, Michel Deguy, Emmanuel Merle, Philippe Jaccottet, Yves Bonnefoy or Patrick Chamoiseau rethink human relationships in exciting new ways, challenging how we've traditionally defined notions like love or community, or re-evaluating ingrained assumptions about human and nonhuman agencies. This course explores the diverse range of innovative formal practices that these poets use to interrogate and to transform our relationships to ourselves, other people, and the physical world. Students will tackle a diverse range of themes - love, death, the body, the natural world, human and nonhuman beings - and will be introduced to a diverse range of poetic and theoretical movements, from New Elegy to Ecopoetics.


Life Writing (Hilary Term)

Convenors: Professor Marie-Chantal Killeen and Professor 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.


Losing Oneself: Narratives of Alienation (Hilary Term)

Convenor: Professor Ève Morisi and Professor Cecile Bishop

“Alienatio”, in Latin, may signify a transfer of property, a separation, an estrangement. The related adjective “alienus” refers to that which belongs elsewhere (to another individual, place, or thing), and, by extension, to hostility, unfamiliarity, madness or even death. This special subject aims to consider these processes, facts, and experiences in French and Francophone literature from the long nineteenth century to today. From a rethinking of punishment in the late 1700s to nineteenth-century colonization and revolutions, the two world wars, decolonisation, and contemporary socio-economic, cultural, and political upheavals, this extensive period is rife with various forms of violence that have caused individuals or groups to become dispossessed or ostracized subjects. Writers have both analyzed these realities and produced a dense imaginary exploring them. We will examine some of the narratives that result from their critical and artistic work, asking ourselves: how do particular French and Francophone texts understand and problematise alienation and its evolution in the period since 1789? Who do they feature? What constitutes a narrative of alienation? How may it relate to experience, or not? How do such paradigms as class, disability, gender, race, and sexuality intersect with alienation in a range of literary representations? What forms, genres, voices, and figures are called upon to tell stories of alienation, to whom, and to what effects?