French

Related disciplines

The French program welcomes students of all levels, from beginners to students with several years of French. Our courses in Bronxville are closely associated with Sarah Lawrence’s excellent French program in Paris, and our priority is to give our students the opportunity to study in Paris during their junior or senior year. This may include students who start at the beginning level in their first year at Sarah Lawrence, provided that they fully dedicate themselves to learning the language. 

Our program in Paris is of the highest level, with all courses taught in French and with the possibility for students to take courses (with conference work) at French universities and other Parisian institutions of higher education. Our courses in Bronxville are, therefore, fairly intensive in order to bring every student to the level required to attend our program in Paris. 

Even for students who don’t intend to go abroad with Sarah Lawrence, the French program provides the opportunity to learn the language in close relation to French culture and literature, starting at the beginning level. At all levels except for beginning, students conduct individual conference projects in French on an array of topics—from medieval literature to Gainsbourg and the culture of the 1960s, from Flaubert’s Madame Bovary to avant-garde French female playwrights. On campus, the French program tries to foster a Francophile atmosphere with our newsletter La Feuille, our French Table, our French ciné-club, and other francophone events—all run by students, along with two French assistants who come to the College every year from Paris.

In order to allow students to study French while pursuing other interests, students are also encouraged, after their first year, to take advantage of our Language Third and Language/Conference Third options that allow them to combine the study of French with either another language or a lecture on the topic of their choice.

During their senior year, students may also think about applying to the English assistantship program in France, which is run by the French Embassy in Washington DC. Every year, Sarah Lawrence graduates are admitted to this selective program and spend a year in France, working in local schools for the French Department of Education.

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2020-2021 Courses

French

Beginning French

Open, Seminar—Year

This course is conducted in French. Ellen Di Giovanni will teach this course in the fall semester; Eric Leveau, in the spring semester.

This class is designed primarily for students who haven’t had any exposure to French and will allow them to develop an active command of the fundamentals of spoken and written French over the course of the year. In class and in group conferences, emphasis will be placed on activities relating to students’ daily lives and to French and francophone culture. The course will rely heavily on the the study of French songs, cinema, newspaper articles, poems, and short stories. During the spring semester, students will be able to conduct a small-scale project in French on a topic of their choice. There are no individual conference meetings for this level. The class meets three times a week, and a weekly conversation session with a French language assistant is required. Attendance at the weekly French lunch table and French film screenings are both highly encouraged. Students who successfully complete a beginning and an intermediate-level French course are eligible to study in Paris with Sarah Lawrence College during their junior year.

Faculty

Advanced French: French and Francophone Women Writers From Beauvoir to Slimani

Open, Joint seminar—Fall

This course is taught in English. An additional discussion session will be organized for advanced French students.

This course will focus on French and francophone women writers from 1945 to the present. Whereas women’s writing as conventionally considered in the first half of the 20th century is singularly identified with Colette, the postwar and postcolonial eras produced an explosion of artistic expression by women across a broad range of genres. In this course, we will concentrate primarily on fiction and memoir by women writing in French from locations such as Algeria, Guadeloupe, Senegal, and Quebec, as well as France. We will examine the various ways in which women under certain conditions exemplified aesthetic and social transgression by writing at all, foregrounding the rapport between orality and textuality. The writers studied will allow us to explore how sexual and racial politics figure in language itself, often through formal innovation and experimentation. A critical component of this course will consist of selections by feminist thinkers such as Hélène Cixous, Luce Irigaray, Julia Kristeva, and Monique Wittig, who interrogated the relationship between gender and genre/sex, writing and the (female) body, and language and (feminine) desire. Alongside readings, we will also screen several films by significant women filmmakers, such as Chantal Akerman, Claire Denis, Agnès Varda, and Céline Sciamma. Texts will be read in English translation, students of French will have the opportunity to read texts in the original, and we will analyze the correlation between the works’ translation history and their position in the global literary marketplace. Writers studied could include Mariama Bâ, Simone de Beauvoir, Nicole Brossard, Maryse Condé, Assia Djebar, Marguerite Duras, Annie Ernaux, Linda Lê, Lydie Salvayre, Nathalie Sarraute, and Leïla Slimani.

Faculty

Intermediate French I: French Identities

Intermediate, Seminar—Year

Admission by placement test (to be taken during interview week at the beginning of the fall semester) or completion of Beginning French. The Intermediate I and II French courses are specially designed to help prepare students for studying in Paris with Sarah Lawrence College during their junior year.

This course will offer a systematic review of French grammar and is designed to strengthen and deepen students’ mastery of grammatical structures and vocabulary. Students will also learn to begin to use linguistic concepts as tools for developing their analytic writing. More than other countries, France’s identity was shaped by centuries of what is now perceived by the French as a historically coherent past. In this course, we will explore the complexities of today’s French identity—or, rather, identities—following the most contemporary controversies that have shaken French society in the past 20 years while, at the same time, exploring historical influences and cultural paradigms at play in these débats franco-français. Thus, in addition to newspapers, online resources, recent movies, and songs, we will also study masterpieces of the past in literature and in the arts. Topics discussed will include, among others, school and laïcité, cuisine and traditions, immigration and urban ghettos, women and feminism in France, France’s relation to nature and the environment, the heritage of French Enlightenment (les Lumières), devoir de mémoire, and the relation of France with dark episodes of its history (slavery, Régime de Vichy and Nazi occupation, Algerian war). Authors studied will include Marie de France, Montaigne, Voltaire, Hugo, Flaubert, Proust, Colette, Duras, Césaire, Djebar, Chamoiseau, Bouraoui. In addition to conferences, a weekly conversation session with a French language assistant(e) is required. Attendance at the weekly French lunch table and French film screenings are both highly encouraged. This course is open to first-year students as a First-Year Studies course, as well as to sophomores, juniors, and seniors. For those first-year students, three to four years of French prior to college is expected, as well as a strong interest in going to Paris during junior year. There will be biweekly conferences in French and a mandatory additional weekly 1.5 hour class on “Theory for Reading Literature” during the fall semester. This additional weekly class will be optional for spring semester and will be entitled “Readings in Ecocriticism: The Idea of Nature in the Western Tradition.”

Faculty

Intermediate French II: The Writing of Everyday Life in French 20th-Century Literature

Intermediate, Seminar—Year

Course conducted in French. Admission by placement test to be taken during interview week at the beginning of the fall semester or by completion of Intermediate French I (possibly Advanced Beginning for outstanding students).

This French course is designed for students who already have a strong understanding of the major aspects of French grammar and language but wish to develop their vocabulary and their grasp of more complex aspects of the language. Students are expected to be able to easily read more complex texts and to express themselves more abstractly. A major part of the course will be devoted to the study and discussion of literary texts in French. In a challenge to his readers,“Question your soupspoons,” Georges Perec summed up, in his unique manner, a particular strain of 20th-century French letters—one that seeks to turn literature’s attention away from the extraordinary, the scandalous, and the strange toward an examination of the ordinary makeup of everyday life. This course will examine some of the aesthetic and theoretical challenges that the representation of the quotidian entails. Does the everyday hide infinite depths of discovery, or does its value lie precisely in its superficiality? How do spaces influence our experience of everyday life? How can (and should) literature give voice to experiences and objects that normally appear undeserving of attention? How does one live one’s gender on an everyday basis? Can one ever escape from everyday life? We will review fundamentals of French grammar and speaking and develop tools for analysis through close readings of literary texts. Students will be encouraged to develop tools for the examination and representation of their own everyday lives in order to take up Perec’s call to interrogate the habitual. Readings will include texts by Proust, Breton, Aragon, Leiris, Perec, Queneau, Barthes, the Situationists, Ernaux, and Calle. The Intermediate I and II French courses are specially designed to help prepare students for studying in Paris with Sarah Lawrence College during their junior year.

Faculty

France Through Film

Intermediate, Seminar—Year

Admission by placement test to be taken during interview week at the beginning of the fall semester or by completion of Beginning/Advanced Beginning French.

This course will offer a systematic review of French grammar and is designed to strengthen and deepen the student’s mastery of grammatical structures and vocabulary. Students will also begin to use linguistic concepts as tools for developing their analytic writing. Through a variety of French films, we will combine the study of language with the investigation of aspects of French history and culture. We will review the history of French cinema through classics by George Méliès, Jean Renoir, Marcel Carné, Jean-Pierre Melville, Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut, and others. We will also draw on other media and literary texts to enable students to develop their language proficiency, cultural awareness, and appreciation of 20th- and 21st-century France. The Intermediate I and II French courses are specially designed to help prepare students for studying in Paris with Sarah Lawrence College during their junior year.

Faculty

First-Year Studies: The Urban Century: How Cities Shaped and Were Shaped by Modern European History

Open, FYS—Year

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, life in cities, including European ones, has changed dramatically. For weeks, almost all of urban life came to a halt. As European cities, both small and large, slowly emerge from the lockdown, the pandemic effects on urban life are difficult to predict. While the current moment is certainly historic, it is not without precedent. Urban life from its outset was also a history of pandemics and illness. Even the period of rapid urbanization on which this course will focus has been shaped by disease, from cholera outbreaks in the 19th century, to the “Spanish” flu in the wake of World War I, to the coronavirus today. And yet, amidst those diseases, Europe became increasingly more urban and its cities produced, adopted, and promoted many of the things, both positive and negative, that we consider hallmarks of modernity. In the middle of the 20th century, only 16 percent of Europeans lived in cities. On the eve of World War I, that number had roughly doubled. In Western Europe, already half of the population was urban. Though many of the cities were small, with fewer than 20,000 inhabitants, the European metropoles grew, too. In Germany, for example, by 1910, 21 percent lived in cities over the size of 100,000 inhabitants—up from only five percent in 1871. Berlin, Paris, London, St. Petersburg, and Vienna all had several million citizens. This urbanization shaped, and was shaped by, European history. Industrialization and advances in agriculture, sanitation, and transportation played a vital role in that process. Wars and Europe’s changing borders shaped cities’ fate. Much of what we today think of as modern originated in cities, which often set political and cultural trends. The “Roaring 20s” or the student movements of 1968 were fundamentally urban phenomena. Yet, precisely for that reason, cities also inspired vitriol and opposition—from nationalist back-to-nature advocates afraid of the negative consequences of their “cosmopolitan nature” to health care professionals worried by the detrimental effects on their inhabitants’ health. Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s chief propagandist, railed against “Jewish Berlin.” To this day, conservative French politicians extol “la France profonde,” the true France to be found in its provincial towns rather than in Paris, Lyon, or Marseille. Through the lens of the city, this course investigates major developments in modern European history: from the birth of mass politics and the modern welfare state that included sanitation and public health, across the effects of World War I and World War II, to the emergence of modernist art and environmentalism. Students will not only be introduced to European history but also to the historian’s craft. Making use of online archives and tools, we will work with a variety of primary sources—from government documents to literature, from movies to propaganda speeches, from city maps to diary entries. We will tour cities virtually and model urban landscapes. In addition, students will learn to read secondary sources and analyze historiographical arguments. During the fall semester, students will have an individual conference every other week and a group conference on alternating weeks. In the group conferences, we will discuss the nature of academic work in general and practice research, reading, writing, and editing skills; but we will also, on occasion, use the time for movie screenings related to the course or other shared and, if need be, virtual activities.

Faculty

Europe’s Civil War: 1914–1945

Open, Lecture—Fall

In 1909 Norman Angell wrote The Great Illusion, a book that went on to become a bestseller. Its premise: Industrialized countries had become so interconnected that war between them did not make sense and would not happen anymore. Five years later, Europe’s industrialized countries were at war with each other. The Great War, as it was called then, lasted from 1914 until 1918 and would change the course of the 20th century. But Angell was not entirely wrong. Precisely because European economies were so interconnected, the war and its aftermath were particularly devastating. After 1918, they were entangled through an additional layer of massive loss of life, devastation, and the resulting resentment and hostility from which Europe struggled to extricate itself until 1945. This period now is sometimes called “Europe’s civil war.” Not all of this, however, was war. Beyond earnest struggles for a new peacetime order, much of what we consider modern, from entertainment to consumption but also new modes of politics, has its origins in this period. The course will investigate the cultural, social, economic, and military causes and reverberations of the conflict, from the war itself to the revolutions that followed it, the enfranchisement of women and expansion of democratic government, but also the rise of Communism and Fascism and ultimately war again from 1939 to 1945. The impact of these developments was not contained to Europe alone but, rather, extended to the rest of the world—not least, the United States. In this course, we will look, on occasion, beyond the continent’s border. Through a variety of sources to be read and discussed in the group conferences, students will also be introduced to the craft of history. Making use of the rich online collections created in the wake of the centennial of World War I and 75th anniversary of the end of the World War II, we will read diary entries and private letters, government documents and poetry. We will watch movies and investigate (pop)cultural memory of the period. We will discuss the importance of smell and sound, of technology and medicine, for shaping and advancing history. In order to have sufficient time for discussions, the course meets for weekly 90-minute lectures, which will include a Q&A session following the lecture itself and weekly 90-minute group conferences.

Faculty

French and Francophone Women Writers From Beauvoir to Slimani

Open, Joint seminar—Fall

This course is taught in English. An additional discussion session will be organized for advanced French students.

This course will focus on French and francophone women writers from 1945 to the present. Whereas women’s writing as conventionally considered in the first half of the 20th century is singularly identified with Colette, the postwar and postcolonial eras produced an explosion of artistic expression by women across a broad range of genres. In this course, we will concentrate primarily on fiction and memoir by women writing in French from locations such as Algeria, Guadeloupe, Senegal, and Quebec, as well as France. We will examine the various ways in which women under certain conditions exemplified aesthetic and social transgression by writing at all, foregrounding the rapport between orality and textuality. The writers studied will allow us to explore how sexual and racial politics figure in language itself, often through formal innovation and experimentation. A critical component of this course will consist of selections by feminist thinkers such as Hélène Cixous, Luce Irigaray, Julia Kristeva, and Monique Wittig, who interrogated the relationship between gender and genre/sex, writing and the (female) body, and language and (feminine) desire. Alongside readings, we will also screen several films by significant women filmmakers such as Chantal Akerman, Claire Denis, Agnès Varda, and Céline Sciamma. Texts will be read in English translation; students of French will have the opportunity to read texts in the original; and we will analyze the correlation between the works’ translation history and their position in the global literary marketplace. Writers studied could include Mariama Bâ, Simone de Beauvoir, Nicole Brossard, Maryse Condé, Assia Djebar, Marguerite Duras, Annie Ernaux, Linda Lê, Lydie Salvayre, Nathalie Sarraute, and Leïla Slimani.

Faculty

The French Novel Since Camus

Open, Seminar—Spring

This course is taught in English, with readings in translation. Students who read French may read the works in the original and do conference projects in French.

The object of this course is to give students a critical overview of the major developments in the novel written in French since World War II. Our guiding question will be how and why certain writers and movements come to shape both the form of the novel and various notions of “Frenchness” itself. Our point of departure will be Albert Camus’s The Stranger, a work of stylistic innovation and philosophical exploration that continues to serve for many readers as perhaps the emblematic French novel of the 20th century. Our eventual endpoint will be a contemporary text written in French by an Algerian writer: Kamel Daoud’s The Meursault Investigation, which grapples with the legacy of Camus’s novel in postcolonial Algeria. In between those two bookends, we will explore a number of aesthetic, political, and philosophical questions crucial to the development of the postwar novel. How and why did authors continually seek to subvert traditional notions of plot, character, psychology, and genre? How did the traumas of World War II and France’s colonial past and present lead to a reconsideration of the relationship of fiction, history, and memory? How did the rise of consumer society affect the status of the novel and its attempts to represent everyday life? How did new voices for the novel emerge alongside political theories and practices? Finally, how might the novel provide us with different avenues for understanding contemporary French culture and society? Students will read works in their entirety in translation, alongside relevant theoretical texts. Additional authors to be studied could include Marguerite Duras, Alain Robbe-Grillet, Nathalie Sarraute, Georges Perec, Marguerite Yourcenar, Monique Wittig, Annie Ernaux, Maryse Condé, Patrick Modiano, Patrick Chamoiseau, Jean Echenoz, Marie NDiaye, and Michel Houellebecq.

Faculty