Panorama of the French Novel


This course is aimed at students with an upper intermediate level of French.

Since a Frenchwoman wrote what is widely regarded as one of the earliest and greatest modern novels in 1678, the genre of the novel has both reflected and shaped French cultural and social history. This course examines desire in fiction at key moments in French history – from Henri II’s royal court in La Princesse de Clèves; to the Naturalism of the Belle Époque (“Un Cœur simple”); to the experimental “New Novel” of the turbulent mid-twentieth century (Djinn); and to the contemporary postmodern novel, Biographie de la faim. All these novels (and one short story) challenge and transform existing literary conventions, just as they offer us invaluable insights into French society through their close engagement with the theme of desire.

Guided readings will assist to develop your reading skills in French, while comparative studies of film versions of the first texts will help with comprehension and reveal the different ways in which these stories have been read across time and place. Desire written by both male and female authors will allow us to examine gendered perspectives of desire and the obstacles it meets at various times in French history.

Course Objectives

It will give you the opportunity to explore the works of critically acclaimed French writers, whilst practising and improving your French through the reading, analysis and discussion of selected novels and a short story. In particular, you will:

  • develop critical reading skills, in French
  • consolidate both oral and written French skills, particularly through discussions in tutorials and through the writing of essays
  • acquire the basic terminology of French literary criticism as applicable to the novel
  • explain and contextualize different forms of the novel in French
  • develop analytical skills as they pertain to the study of literary form and meaning
  • expose writing as a tool for social commentary
  • develop research skills

Availability 2024

Not taught in 2024


Coordinator(s) Dr Trudy Agar


  1. Madame de la Fayette. La Princesse de Clèves. (Extracts). Download the PDF here (Links to an external site.) (extraits)
  2. Flaubert, Gustave. “Un Cœur simple”. Download the PDF here (Links to an external site.)
  3. Alain Robbe-Grillet. Djinn. Paris: Minuit, 1970. (some copies will be available to borrow; check with the course convenor).
  4. Amélie Nothomb. Biographie de la faim. Paris: Librairie Générale Française, 2006. (Students must obtain their own copy).


Delannoy, Jean (réal.) La Princesse de Clèves, 1961.
Laine, Marion (réal.). Un Cœur simple. Rezo films, 2008.


Coursework only


FRENCH 341: 15 points




FRENCH 279, 741