French

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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2019-2020 Courses

French

Beginning French: Language, Culture, and Action

Open , Seminar—Year

Course conducted in French. Students who successfully complete a beginning or intermediate-level French course are eligible to study in Paris with Sarah Lawrence College the following year. 

This class is primarily designed for students who haven’t had any exposure to French. The course will allow them to develop an active command of the fundamentals of spoken and written French over the course of the year, using concrete situations of communication. In addition to the regular use of theatre in the classroom, we will explore French and francophone culture through the study of songs, cinema, newspaper articles, poems, and short stories. This class will meet three times a week; it will not include individual conference meetings, but 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.

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Intermediate French I (Section I): French Identities

Open , Seminar—Year

Course conducted in French. 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 the following 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, and 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.

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Intermediate French I (Section II): Scène(s) de littérature

Open , Seminar—Year

Course conducted in French. 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. Over the course of the year, we will study a series of scenes from French and Francophone literature from its origins to today. From the 11th-century Chanson de Roland and lais of Marie de France to 20th-century works by writers Aminata Sow-Fall and Fatou Diome, we will look at scenes specific to literature. What is it about literary scenes that differs from those created in other media? And what happens when we encounter them as part of a class rather than on our own? Our discussion will include points of comparison with scenes in visual media such as theatre and photography. Readings will include works by Marie de Rabutin-Chantal (Madame de Sévigné), Madame de La Fayette, Aloysius Bertrand, Flaubert, Léon-Gontran Damas. We will also look at the daily press at regular intervals. Becoming familiar with today’s issues will allow us to consider our own culture(s) in light of what we read. In this part of the course, we will look at some of the questions being debated in France today, such as climate change, immigration, transportation, food politics, laïcité, etc. 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.

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Intermediate French II: Fictions of the Self: Writing in the First Person From Proust to Modiano

Intermediate , Seminar—Year

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

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 this course will be devoted to the study and discussion of literary texts in French. As contemporary French fiction is often seen as overly centered on the “Moi,” a thinly veiled account of the author’s personal obsessions, and—as Patrick Modiano, winner of the 2014 Nobel Prize for literature, was acknowledged a few years ago for his unique blend of first-person memoir, fictionalized family narrative, and ruminative historical enquiry—this course will offer an opportunity to go back to the origins of what appears to be a uniquely French way of approaching fiction. While narratives are generally divided between fiction and nonfiction in the English-speaking world, this distinction is not as relevant in the French tradition, allowing for more blurry lines between truth and invention. Questioning this division will be the main purpose of the course, which will explore various forms of first-person writing across a spectrum ranging from traditional autobiography to first-person novels casting the author’s life in a fictional mold—what the French call “auto-fiction.” Starting with Montaigne, Rousseau, and Stendhal, we will move to more challenging first-person narratives, including works by Proust, and new forms of “auto-fiction” in postwar France with authors such as Nathalie Sarraute, Jean Genet, and Samuel Beckett. Beyond our main discussion on the frontiers between fiction and nonfiction and the fictionalization of the self that can be observed in autobiography, we will address the frontiers between autobiography and other forms of first-person writing such as memoirs, letters, and the journal. Students will read excerpts, as well as complete works (for shorter works only). Students will improve their writing skills through regular assignments. They will also develop tools for literary analysis and will be introduced to the French essay format.

Intermediate French III/Advanced French: The Fantastic, the Surreal, and the Eerie

Intermediate/Advanced , Seminar—Fall

This course will be conducted in French.  Admission by placement test (to be taken during interview week at the beginning of the fall semester) or after completion of Intermediate II.

France is often thought of as a nation of reason, the intellectual birthplace of Descartes’s philosophical method and the Enlightenment project of the 18th-century philosophes. Yet there exists an equally strong tendency in French literature toward the shadows, the irrational, and the occult. This seminar will explore that underbelly of French thought by focusing on three different periods. First, we will trace how a strain of “romantisme noir”—characterized by dreams, hauntings, ruins, and vampires—emerged in the 19th century as a reaction to the turmoil of the French Revolution and Industrial Revolution. The genres of the fantastic and cruel tales will be studied in depth as crucial counterpoints to realist fiction. Second, our attention will turn to the early 20th century and the Surrealists, who transformed the exploration of dreams and the unconscious into a revolutionary artistic project. Here, students will read manifestos, poems, and narrative works that contested the reign of rationalism by seeking out the aesthetic and political potential of madness and desire. Finally, we will read works by contemporary French writers who have revived the fantastic tradition in order to better understand how and why a literature of the strange and irrational persists to this day. Authors to be studied could include Maupassant, Gautier, Balzac, Nerval, Villiers de l’Isle-Adam, Lautréamont, Breton, Aragon, Eluard, Ndiaye, Darrieussecq, and Echenoz. Secondary readings will be drawn from feminist criticism, psychoanalysis, and narrative theory. In this course, students will also review the finer points of French grammar, improve their writing skills through regular assignments, and develop tools for literary analysis and commentary.

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Lift Up Your Hearts: Art and Architecture of the Baroque—Europe and Its Colonies, 1550–1700

Open , Lecture—Year

In Annibale Carracci’s painting of St. Margaret (1609), an Early Christian martyr, an altar is inscribed: Sursum Corda (Lift Up Your Hearts). This course explores what that meant in the 17th century—for the arts to be a vehicle of uplift and salvation, a challenge to the supremacy of nature, an analysis of history, and a site of contention, paradox, and pride for artists and architects. Using PowerPoint presentations, class discussion, and papers focusing on works in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the course will cover the art of 16th-century Italy—as that art frames the questions that painters, sculptors, and architects pursued throughout Europe in the 17th century, commonly called the Age of the Baroque. Included will be studies of major movements in religion, politics, and society (Catholic reform and the founding of the Jesuits Order, the evolution of academic art, the creation of papal Rome, the importance of private patronage); issues in aesthetics and art theory (the transformation of classical models, theories of the reception of nature, the links to poetry, and the dynamics of style); the emergence of the varying national traditions (the sweet style and Bel Composto in Italy, Calvinist naturalism and the power of light in The Netherlands, and high classicism and Bon Gout in France). Focus will also be on careers of artists like Titian and the erotics of the brush; Michelangelo and transcendent form; Caravaggio and naturalism as the death of painting; Artemisia Gentileschi, biography and exemplum; Bernini and the beautiful whole; Rubens and the multiple ways of transforming; Rembrandt and the rough style; Vermeer and the discipline and technique of light; and Poussin and the modes of expression, among others. Group conferences in the first semester will focus on the art of Michelangelo as practice and problem and theories of the Baroque; in second semester, theories and problems in 17th-century architecture.

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Paris: A History Through Art, Architecture, and Urban Planning

Sophomore and above , Seminar—Spring

In this course, we will trace the history of Paris—from its founding through World War I—using the arts that both defined and emanated from this remarkable city. We will use works of art, architecture, and urban design as documents of history, of social and cultural values, and as the history of ideas. Student projects will chart these relationships graphically and construct a cultural history of Paris from Roman Lutetia to the City of Lights.

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Postwar: Europe on the Move

Open , Lecture—Spring

When World War II ended, Europe was a continent of displaced peoples. It was a continent on the move: returning POWs, emigrating Displaced Persons, refugees, and arriving occupation soldiers. The postwar period is sometimes dubbed a history of the unwinding of populations, the return or resettlement following the logic of nation states. Yet the assumption that, once that was done and the Cold War started, populations stayed put until 1989 is misleading. Successive attempted revolutions in the East begot more political refugees. Decolonization and industrialization resulted in the immigration and recruitment of non-native European populations, as well as the return of European colonial settlers. In addition, Europeans moved to the cities, turning the continent from one in which almost half the population lived in the countryside in 1950 into a predominantly urbanized one within the span of 30 years. Political crisis abroad, Europeanization, the fall of the Iron Curtain, and globalization led to still more mobility. The so-called migration crisis of 2015 is thus but one of a series of migratory events—and by far not the largest. This lecture introduces students to the history of Europe, both Eastern and Western, since 1945. The movements of peoples and borders will provide students with insight into political, cultural, and social developments of the continent following the defeat of the Third Reich. In order to avoid an undue Euro-centrism and remain critical of the language that we use to talk and think about migration, the lectures will be twinned with a number of group conferences that are conducted jointly with Partibhan Muniandy and his class on Lexicons of (Forced-)migrations.

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First-Year Studies: Modern Myths of Paris

Open , FYS—Year

No knowledge of French is required for this course.

This course will explore the powerful hold that Paris exerted on literature in the 19th and 20th centuries, the period when the city became a world capital of artistic, intellectual, and political life. Our guiding focus will be on how writers use the geography of Paris—its streets, monuments, markets, and slums—to depict the complexities of modern life, posing the urban landscape as a place of revolution and banality, alienation and community, seduction and monstrosity. We will pay particular attention to the ways in which the representation of the city allowed writers to question the form and function of literature itself. We will begin with the 19th-century French novelists and poets who made Paris the site of epic literary struggles, including Honoré de Balzac, Charles Baudelaire, Victor Hugo, Guy de Maupassant, and Émile Zola. We will see how the city provided fertile ground for the aesthetic experimentations of 20th-century literature in works by Guillaume Apollinaire, André Breton, Colette, and Georges Perec. Our study will explore writers who have recorded the often violent and traumatic history of modern Paris, such as Marguerite Duras, Leïla Sebbar, and Patrick Modiano. Finally, we will analyze how Paris is experienced as a cosmopolitan space in works about expatriates, immigrants, exiles, and travelers from authors as varied as Henry James, Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, James Baldwin, Alain Mabanckou, Faïza Guène, and Enrique Vila-Matas. Beyond our focus on close readings of literary texts, students will have the opportunity to read some historical and theoretical considerations of Paris. We will also watch several films where Paris features prominently. This class will alternate biweekly individual conferences with biweekly small group activities, including writing workshops, screenings, and field trips.

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Comparative Literary Studies and Its Others

Open , Seminar—Fall

As a discipline that defines itself as an inherently interdisciplinary, cross-cultural, and transnational enterprise, comparative literature occupies a distinct place in the humanities. Many locate the origins of “comp lit” in Goethe’s conception of Weltliteratur, according to which the literary imagination transcends national and linguistic borders even as it views every work of literature as historically situated and aesthetically unique. Since its beginnings, comparative literature has foregrounded the dynamic tensions between text and context, rhetoric and structure—comparing different works within and across genre, period, and movement in their original language. By balancing theoretical readings in/about comparative literature with concrete examples of close textual analyses of poems, short stories, and novels, this course will also expose students to the ways in which comparative literature has expanded from its previous classically cosmopolitan and fundamentally Eurocentric perspectives to its current global, cultural configurations. Comparative literature is continually reframing its own assumptions, questioning its critical methodologies, and challenging notions of center and periphery—therefore, subverting traditional definitions of the canon and which writers belong in it. Today, it is impossible to study comparative literature without engaging its relation to translation studies, postcolonial and diaspora studies, and globalization, as well as to the ongoing concerns and various approaches of language-rich literary criticism and theory.

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The Occupation and Its Aftermath in French Literature and Film

Open , Joint seminar—Spring

This course will explore the fraught relationship between representation and memory by focusing on French literature and film produced during and following World War II. After the fall of France in 1940, the country was divided into two parts: one half under German occupation; the other half ruled by a collaborationist regime headquartered in Vichy. Every aspect of life, including cultural and artistic production, was subject to authoritarian control. Means of political expression and dissemination came up against laws instituting surveillance, censorship, rationing, roundups, and deportations to internment and concentration camps. We will focus on the unique position of writers and filmmakers as witnesses to, and interpreters of, national humiliation, personal catastrophe, and collective shock. Artists, under both the occupation and the Vichy government, were forced to choose whether to speak out, join the resistance, collaborate, or keep silent. During the decades that followed liberation, writers proved integral to the (re)appraisals of France’s conduct during the war. The first half of this course will be devoted to texts and films produced from 1940-1945, while the second half will address postwar efforts to reconcile, contextualize, and, in some cases, justify a political and historical narrative that framed France as both heroic and resistant to Nazi oppression. Interspersed with primary texts and films will be secondary materials drawn from testimony, trauma theory, and memory studies. Texts will be read in English translation; students of French will have the opportunity to read texts in the original. Among the authors to be studied are Sartre, Duras, Beauvoir, Camus, Vercors, Némirovsky, Semprun, Céline, Modiano, Perec, and Salvayre. Filmmakers could include Truffaut, Malle, Lelouch, Melville, Chabrol, Carné, and Ophüls.

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