Sex, Philosophy, and Politics: Revolutions in French Literature, 1721–1834

In this course, we will explore 18th– and early 19th-century French literature in the context of revolution: the Revolution of 1789, but also the other revolutions – political, philosophical, social, cultural, literary – that take place during the period. Defying the genre definitions familiar to modern readers, enlightenment texts blur the boundaries between philosophy, politics, fiction, theater, history, science, pornography, and art. Accordingly, we will take an interdisciplinary approach to 18th-century French “literature,” examining a range of texts and cultural objects from the period (as well as recent films) as we consider the following questions: is the French revolution a sexual revolution? What is the relationship between sex, knowledge, reason, and power? How should we understand the interplay between enlightenment ideals of liberty, equality, and fraternity and contemporary practices (slavery, colonialism, gender inequalities) that controvert those ideals? How do we read pre-revolutionary texts without retrospectively imposing a narrative of causality, whereby all “enlightened” roads lead to revolution? Finally, how do women writers from the late 18th and early 19th centuries engage with the contradictions and promises of the Enlightenment and the Revolution? Authors, artists, and filmmakers studied include Montesquieu, Marivaux, Voltaire, Beaumarchais, Diderot, Laclos, C. de Duras; Fragonard, Boucher, Watteau; Frears, Coppola, Jacquot.


All course discussion will be in English. Readings will be available in both French and English. Students may take FREN 285 for major or minor credit by completing written assignments in French. Prerequisites: none. This course fulfills the Literary Arts perspective requirement.


Previously Offered:
Spring 2015, Fall 2017