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Unit information: The Censor's Scissors, 1750-1830 in 2020/21

Unit name The Censor's Scissors, 1750-1830
Unit code FREN30112
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Dr. Clare Siviter
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of French
Faculty Faculty of Arts


The freedom of expression was a key belief of the Enlightenment but the transition from monarchy to Revolution was a brutal one where speaking your mind could also cost you your life. This Unit examines the constraints to which authors were subjected during the second half of the eighteenth century in France by focusing on five main forms of texts: libertine literature; the press; theatre; the classification of knowledge; the art of the essay. We will consider how censorship shaped literature; how authors, publishers, and booksellers circumvented governmental authority, including the transnational circulation of texts across Europe; how censorship changed with the advent of the Revolution. Finally, we will ask how these censored texts, from the Encyclopédie to pornography, continue to influence our relationship to ‘dangerous works’ even in the twenty-first century.

Each literary form will focus on one main text to be read alongside a selection of further contemporary documents in seminars which will be made available via Blackboard.

The Unit aims to:

  • Familiarise students to a range of illicit texts and the means of publication during the latter half of the eighteenth century;
  • Develop students’ knowledge of the process of authorship and censorship during this time period, as well as of the cultural, political, and social context;
  • Engage with theoretical models of censorship, political engagement, and readership;
  • Introduce students with the appropriate tools to trace eighteenth-century censorship (through police reports, for example).

Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of the init, students will be able to::

  1. Analyse primary sources from different political regimes in French from a variety of media (bibliographical listings to modern databases);
  2. Apply an appropriate range of cultural and political theories to interpret these texts at a depth appropriate for level H;
  3. Present complex arguments clearly using both primary and secondary materials;
  4. Demonstrate an understanding of different cultural (and historical) approaches to censorship;
  5. Write a concise technical report.

Teaching details

Teaching will be delivered through a combination of synchronous sessions and asynchronous activities, including seminars, lectures, and collaborative as well as self-directed learning opportunities supported by tutor consultation.

Assessment Details

1 x 1500-word censorship report (30%), assessing ILOs 3 and 5

1 x 3500-word essay (70%), assessing ILOs 1-5

Reading and References

Diderot, Denis, ed., Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers (1751) – extracts

Mirabeau, Ma Conversion, par M. D.R. C. D. M. F. (1783)

Extracts from the Counter-Revolutionary Press, 1792–1800

Staël, Germain de, De l’Allemagne (1810/1814)

Jouy, Étienne de, Bélisaire, tragédie (1818/1825)