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Unit information: French Fiction: from Realism to the 21st Century in 2018/19

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Unit name French Fiction: from Realism to the 21st Century
Unit code FREN20048
Credit points 20
Level of study I/5
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Stephens
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of French
Faculty Faculty of Arts


This unit examines the development of French fiction from the nineteenth century to the present day. Beginning with the rise of the novel as the dominant literary genre in nineteenth-century Europe, the unit examines the importance of narrative fiction to the modern French cultural consciousness by considering its status as both critical device and commercial object. Students will explore how and why writers in France have used the novel as a means of engaging with the artistic and ideological changes of the modern period. Particular focus will be given to the novel’s wide-ranging capacity for commentary within various contexts (socio-historical, political, psychological, and philosophical) and across a range of genres, notably Realism, Modernism, littérature engagée, and postmodernism. This focus is sharpened through a series of thematic lenses, including gender, ethics, authorship, and consumerism, so as to stress the French novel’s interest in experiment and innovation. In these respects, the unit aims to:

  • Examine the novel’s significance as a literary form in the cultural history of modern France
  • Highlight the different artistic and socio-historical contexts in which writers have developed and experimented with fiction since the nineteenth century
  • Draw on key critical and conceptual approaches towards the study of narrative
  • Increase student confidence when reading French and analysing its stylistic feature

Intended learning outcomes

Students will, at the end of the unit, be able to:

  1. Demonstrate an understanding of the novel’s moral and historical importance within French culture as a vehicle for both artistic experimentation and social commentary.
  2. Understand and use key critical terms associated with narratology and cultural studies, such as Realism, Modernism, and Postmodernism.
  3. Better understand the French language by engaging in detailed analysis of French prose fiction through both close reading and thematic discussion.
  4. Select and effectively synthesise relevant critical material and theoretical approaches for analysis.
  5. Respond to questions or problems by presenting their independent judgements in ways that prepare them for other working environments as appropriate to level I.

Teaching details

1x 1-hr commentary seminar per week (workshopping approaches to close reading of select passages for linguistic and stylistic analysis) and 1x1-hr thematic seminar per week (discussing key themes and wider contexts of understanding). Both will be taught in English, although each week students will be asked to deliver 10-minute group presentations (unassessed) in French followed by a Q&A in French. Introductory lectures in French to each of the five set texts will be podcasted via Blackboard in advance.

Assessment Details

One 2000-word essay (50%), For this students will compose the title testing ILOs 1-5,

one 2-hour examination (50%) testing ILOs 1-5,

Reading and References

The set novels for study may vary from year to year, depending on staff research interests, but the following list is illustrative of the range that will be on offer.

Primary Reading:

Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary (1857)

François Mauriac, Thérèse Desqueyroux (1927)

Simone de Beauvoir, Le Sang des autres (1945)

Sébastien Japrisot, L’Été meurtrier (1977)

Michel Houellebecq, Plateforme (2002)

Secondary / Introductory Reading :

Best, Victoria, An Introduction to Twentieth-Century French Literature. London: Duckworth, 2002.

Farrant, Tim, An Introduction to Nineteenth-Century French Literature. London: Duckworth, 2007.

Motte. Warren F., Fiction Now: The French Novel in the Twenty-First Century. Champaign, IL: Dalkey, 2008.

Pasco, Allan H., Inner Workings of the Novel: Studying a Genre. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.

Schaeffer, Jean-Marie, Pourquoi la fiction? Paris : Seuil, 1999

Unwin, Timothy (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to the French Novel: from 1800 to the present.

Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997.