Skip to main content

Studies in 17th-Century French Literature

This open-topic course offers an in-depth study of a particular aspect of seventeenth-century literature and culture. The course integrates readings of canonical and non-canonical texts, offering an overview of the major genres, authors, aesthetic categories, literary movements and quarrels of the period while also allowing students to explore a particular question, theme, or methodological problem in greater detail. Primarily for graduate students, the course is open to advanced undergraduate students. Taught in French. May be repeated for credit.


Mondays 3:35-6:05pm, sessions held at UNC (Dey 102) & Duke

Co-taught by Profs. Ellen Welch (UNC) & Michèle Longino (Duke)

“News” proliferated in 17th-century French culture. A growing number of periodicals promised to keep readers informed about international affairs, court gossip, literature, and fashion. The monarchy and its critics used print media to shape the public reception of current events in real time. Stronger postal networks allowed news to travel faster and across larger distances than ever before. In this context, French culture became fixated on novelty and the new. The appetite for up-to-date information manifested itself in in social practices, print media, visual culture, theater, and literature. As a widespread cultural phenomenon, it altered French subjects’ experience of time, widened their imaginative geography, transformed their sense of community and identity, and—in some cases—contributed to their self-understanding as “modern.” Through reading and discussion, we will explore: What was the “media landscape” of 17th-century France? How did information circulate; how was it policed? How did periodicals and other news sources shape conceptions of time—immediacy, “actualité,” newness? How did information become newsworthy? What was the relationship between history and news? How did news mediate French subjects’ relationship to distant areas of the globe? How did poetry, drama, and fiction engage with current events? How and why did some writers criticize the desire for news, novelty, and fashion? How did news media shape reading communities or identities (national, social, gendered)? How did the material form in which news circulated affect the experience of that news? How did images, such as engravings, fashion plates, almanac prints, and other kinds of visual art function in the media landscape? Materials to be studied include: 17th-century periodicals and pamphlets, travel literature, correspondence, 17th-century monarchical historiography, and visual materials (engravings, fashion plates, almanac prints), as well as traditional literary works by authors including Bossuet, Donneau de Visé, Lafayette, and Molière. Students from French and from other fields such as History, Art History, and English from both UNC and Duke are very welcome in this seminar.

Students will be able to tailor their individual research topics to their own needs and agendas. The course will be in French, with accommodations as needed and as possible for students from other fields.

Seventeenth-century French writers across disciplines and genres addressed how to be in the world – how to hold oneself, how to move, how to dress, how to speak. This obsession with quotidian behaviors reflected the formalities of aristocratic society and its influence on other domains of culture. But the profound questions raised by seventeenth century writers about the relationship between body, performance, culture, and selfhood continue to fascinate thinkers in our own time: How do nature and culture interact to shape the body and its interactions with the world? How do individuals distinguish themselves or express themselves through posture, gesture, facial expression, and movement? How is culture memorialized and transmitted through the rehearsal of embodied behaviors?
In this reading- and discussion-intensive seminar, we will examine the “arts of the body” as depicted in seventeenthcentury French novels, plays, short stories, philosophical works, and other cultural texts including dance and visual art. We will investigate how literature and its related arts participate in the fabrication of the ideal or sublime body by providing models of gestural eloquence, natural grace, charisma and the “je ne sais quoi.” We will go on to explore narratives of grotesque, maladroit, or failed attempts at gracefulness, considering how standards of performance helped to maintain (or sometimes to challenge) social, ethnic, and gender boundaries, particularly in depictions of bourgeois, peasant, non-French, and non-human subjects.
In addition to studying a mix of classic and lesser-studied seventeenth-century French works, students will also have the chance to discover recent work in Performance Studies (Noland, Roach, Diamond, Schechner) as well as the foundational studies in sociology and anthropology (Goffman, Mauss) that continue to serve as major reference points
in the field.  Course discussions and most of the reading will be in French (with some secondary texts in English). This course is designed primarily for graduate students. Advanced undergraduate students may also enroll.


Prerequisites: FREN 300, and one of FREN 371, 372, or 373

Previously Offered:
Fall 2014, Fall 2016