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.

These are the Special Subject options available in 2020-21. 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 (Hilary Term)

Convenor: Dr Charlotte Cooper-Davis

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 (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 (1500-1800)

Early Modern Inventions (Michaelmas Term)

Convenors: Dr Raphaële Garrod and Dr Jennifer Oliver

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.


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: Dr Andrew Counter 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)

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 Ms Marie Chabbert

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)

Convenor: Dr Carole Bourne-Taylor

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.


Conscience and Consciousness in French and Francophone Literature (20th-21st Century) (Hilary Term)

Convenors: Professors Simon Kemp and Ève Morisi

“Conscience and consciousness” examines the manifestations and literary figuration of human interiority in French and Francophone literature, from the early twentieth century until today. Without aiming for exhaustiveness, we will focus on the ways in which the conscience and consciousness of writers and/or their characters have engaged with 20th- and 21st-century realities and experiences at critical socio-historical junctures. The representation of the rational, moral, emotional, partisan, or metaphysical responses of contemporary subjects to events big and small, personal or/or political, will be our object of study, spanning perception, sensation, introspection, resistance, engagement, trauma, and critical judgment, among other modes of awareness. We will consider a wide array of genres and forms that shed light on this active inner life and its relation to an outside world shaped by major upheavals (such as the world wars, colonization and decolonization) but also by norms, customs, ideologies, and fields such as science, religion, and philosophy: the novel, automatic writing, epistolary fiction, poetry, testimonies, essays, the polyphonic novel, the nouveau roman and/or autobiography.
Syllabus available here.


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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