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 consider 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.


French 2022-2023 Courses

Advanced Beginning French

Open, Seminar—Year | 10 credits

This course is designed for students who have studied some French in the past but wish to review the fundamentals of French language and grammar before venturing into the study of complex literary texts in French. The course has two objectives: First, students will pursue an intense, fast-paced, and thorough revision of the fundamentals of French grammar, composition, and conversation; students will be encouraged to write multiple short essays and participate in oral class activities and will be exposed to various kinds of documents in French (songs, movies, paintings, etc.). Second, we will work on techniques of literary study and discussion in French; our focus will be on reading short texts from the French and francophone worlds—a selection of fables, tales, short stories, prose poems, journalistic essays, and one-act plays written in French. By the end of the course, students will be able to discuss these texts, using basic tools and concepts in French. Conferences will be individual, allowing students to pursue their interests in any area of French and francophone literatures and cultures. 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.

Beginning French

Open, Large seminar—Year | 10 credits

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. We will use grammar lessons in order to learn how to speak, read, and write in authentic French. In class, emphasis will be placed on activities relating to students’ daily lives and to French and francophone culture. The course will rely heavily on the study of songs, cinema, newspaper articles, poems, and short stories from various French-speaking locations, including France, Senegal, Algeria, Quebec, and the Caribbean. 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(e) is required. Attendance at the weekly French lunch table and French film screenings are both highly encouraged.


Intermediate French II

Intermediate, Seminar—Year | 10 credits

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. We will review the fundamentals of French grammar while also stressing nuances and special cases in order for students to speak and write in a more authentic French. This course is designed to prepare students to do advanced work with the SLC study-abroad program in Paris; students will be introduced to different forms of French academic writing. Students are expected to be able to easily read more complex texts and to express themselves more abstractly. A major component of the course will be the study and discussion of literary texts in French. We will read both short texts and longer works in their entirety in order to develop skills of reading comprehension and analysis. Recent courses for this level have focused on the literature of the everyday in French, on existentialism, and on French and francophone autobiographies. 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. The Intermediate French I and II courses are specially designed to help prepare students for studying in Paris with Sarah Lawrence College the following year.

Intermediate French I

Intermediate, Seminar—Year | 10 credits

This intermediate course will offer a systematic review of the most fundamental aspects of French grammar. The aim of this course is to give students greater fluency in French and to prepare them for possible study abroad with the SLC in Paris program. The class will emphasize developing oral proficiency by working on specific grammatical structures and conjugations, as well as idiomatic expressions. We will also focus on writing skills through in-class short essays and exercises with the primary goal of strengthening students’ grammatical agility and technical vocabulary. Students will also be introduced to modern French and francophone culture by studying short texts (articles, short stories, poems, excerpts from novels), visual media, music, and film. Recent courses for this level have focused on French and francophone identities in the 20th and 21st centuries, French film and theatre, and education and childhood in the modern age. 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. 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.


Intermediate III/Advanced French

Intermediate/Advanced, Seminar—Year | 10 credits

This seminar serves as an advanced study of literature in French, in which students will read relevant texts by French and francophone authors while also consolidating and perfecting their language skills. A major component of the course will be the discussion of literature in French. Students will read both excerpted texts and works in their entirety and will also build skills of reading comprehension and literary analysis in French. The course is aimed at both students planning on studying abroad during their junior year and those returning from SLC in Paris. Recent courses for this level have focused on nature in French literature, on fantastic and surreal literature, on women writers, and on Paris in modern literature. 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.

Arcades, Trains, and Hysterics: 19th-Century Foundations of Film

Open, Seminar—Fall

This seminar will examine film history and analysis through a proto-cinematic lens inspired by the Arcades Project, Walter Benjamin’s montage-style compendium of Parisian modernization. With this canonical academic experiment as catalyst, we will excavate the 19th-century techno-cultural foundations of film, placing a particular emphasis on the train, department store, factory, metropolis, and mental life. How did these modern developments shape the materiality and content of early films? And what do they have to tell us about film today? Alongside weekly screenings, we will read classic texts of critical theory (Marx, Freud, Simmel, Benjamin, Kracauer, Adorno); modern/modernist fiction (Poe, Baudelaire, Zola, Pirandello, Keun, Du Bois); and new cultural history on hysterical performance, shell shock cinema, human motors, spectacular realities, and slapstick modernism. We will also watch films directed by Charlie Chaplin, René Clair, Jacques Tati, Chantal Akerman, Boots Riley, and Bong Joon-ho. In this class, students will get an overview of European modernity studies and learn to read films media-archaeologically, tying them to the major industrial shifts, perceptual transformations, and hybrid forms from which cinema emerged as a dominant mass medium.


Radical Strategies: Experimental Documentary

Open, Seminar—Spring

In this course, we examine the experimental documentary form as political/social/personal discourse and practice. We take as a starting point avant-garde documentary production and explore this in the manner that theorist Renov defines as “the rigorous investigation of aesthetic forms, their composition and functionm,” and in which, “poetics confront the problematics of power...” Throughout the semester, students will produce a series of experimental film exercises while simultaneously researching and producing a single, short, experimental documentary film for conference work. This class acquaints students with the basic theory and purpose of experimental film/video, as compared to narrative documentary formats. Instruction will include critical methodologies that will help establish aesthetic designs for a student’s own work. In the class, we will survey a wide range of avant-garde documentary films from the 1920s to the present, with the central focus being student’s options for film production in the context of political and cultural significance. The various practices inherent in experimental documentary film speak to a range of possibilities for what a movie might be. Within these practices, issues such as whose voices are heard and who is represented become of crucial Importance.


The Edgy Enlightenment

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Fall

Between the triumph of the Enlightenment in the mid-18th century and the rise of Romanticism in the 1790s lies a span of time, extending roughly from 1760 to 1800, populated by a variety of writers who foreshadowed the end of the Enlightenment without being truly “Romantic.” Many of the most exciting and influential works of literature and thought produced in the 18th century were products of this ambiguous period. For want of a better name, scholars have labeled some of these works “pre-Romantic.” It might be more useful to think of them as products of an “edgy Enlightenment”—a late, adventurous phase of the Enlightenment whose representatives had begun to question the Enlightenment’s own cherished beliefs and, in some cases, to discard them. In this course, we will read a number of the most famous texts produced by writers of the “edgy Enlightenment.” Some were originally written in French: Rousseau’s path-breaking autobiography, The Confessions; Diderot’s comic experimental novel, Jacques the Fatalist and His Master. We also will look at works by Scottish writers: Adam Ferguson’s prophetic Essay on the History of Civil Society and the racy poetry of Robert Burns. Finally, we will read a number of German classics of this period: Goethe’s pioneering novel of an actor’s personal development, Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship; several plays by his close collaborator, Friedrich Schiller; short treatises by the brilliant philosopher Immanuel Kant; and selections from the writings of the renowned explorer and naturalist Alexander von Humboldt. Students may undertake conference projects on a broad range of topics in European history.


First-Year Studies: Crime and Mystery in Modern French and Francophone Fiction


Exploring the history of the modern novel in French is often an investigation into the scene of a crime. Since the advent of modernity, authors have repeatedly turned to criminal acts in order to tell stories—using the framework of the detective hunt to construct and subvert narrative forms and exploring the motives of the actors involved to pose questions of morality and justice. By depicting modern techniques of policing and punishment, the representation of crime also serves as a way for authors to comment on the social, economic, and sexual politics of their day. At the same time, the recent global success of the Netflix series Lupin—an updating of the exploits of a popular, early 20th-century, French fictional master thief—testifies to the endless adaptability of these stories, as well as to their enduring appeal to their consumers. In this course, we will pursue an inquiry into the literature of crime by focusing on works of fiction from the 19th century to the present day. We will consider a variety of different types of criminal activity, from petty theft and shocking murders to conspiratorial plots and terrorist attacks, in order to examine the aesthetic, moral, and political implications of the representation of crime. Authors studied might include Honoré de Balzac, Albert Camus, Emmanuel Carrère, Maryse Condé, Virginie Despentes, Marguerite Duras, Jean Genet, André Gide, Alain Mabanckou, Patrick Modiano, Alain Robbe-Grillet, Albertine Sarrazin, Georges Simenon, Leila Slimani, and Emile Zola. Alongside our narrative readings, we will screen several films by prominent French and francophone filmmakers. Class will entail close readings of primary texts in English translation, and we will work on how to offer critical analyses of works in seminar discussions and class essays. This course will alternate biweekly individual conferences with biweekly small-group activities, including writing workshops, screenings, and field trips.