Introduction to French Literature

You are here

Course Information
Terms offered: 
Fall, Spring
Language of instruction: 
Contact Hours: 

None; This course is for non-specialist students.


This course is an introduction to French Literature, from the 16th century to the 20th century. It is based on the major literary genres (fables, tales, short stories, autobiography, theatre, poetry and novel). In addition, it will explore and cultivate the tools for literary analysis through oral expression and the written word. This course includes visits to conferences and museums (depending on what is available) and a night at the theatre.

Attendance policy: 

Attendance is mandatory. Please note that absences and tardies will prevent you from fully understanding the material of the course and lowers your final grade. In case of illness, please alert your professor and the academics coordinator.

Learning outcomes: 

By the end of this course, students will be able to:

  • Analyze literary texts
  • Comprehend the vocabulary of literary analysis
  • Put into practice literary analysis by confronting various genres (poetry, fables, tales, short stories, theatre, the novel, etc.)
  • Gain confidence in oral and written expression
Method of presentation: 
  • Lectures
  • Group work
  • Student presentations
  • Essays
  • Discussions
Required work and form of assessment: 
  • 3 written works - 20%
  • 2 class presentations - 20%
  • Mid-term exam : based on coursework + an essay - 20%
  • Written exercises and quizzes - 20%
  • Class participation - 20%

The detailed program indicates the required readings for each course. Students must read each text and look up any vocabulary they come across. A comprehensive understanding of the texts is essential. In case of difficulties, students should take notes in order to ask questions at the beginning of class. It is recommended that each student bring a bilingual dictionary to class or even unilingual (French) for further language proficiency.

Written Exercises
Assignments and exercises (indicated in the syllabus) must be written on a computer. Students should respect the following guidelines: wide margin on the left, double-spaced, right-justified text (flush right). Written work should not exceed 4 pages. The exercises indicated in the syllabus must be written in complete sentences and prepared for the required date.

Presentations are freely chosen according to the poetry book’s propositions, or according to students’ interests. Length: 10 to 15 minutes.



Content and Assignments


Lesson 1

Course introduction

Introduction to the notion of literature, to literary genres, and literary analysis

The fable genre, fairy tales

The 17th century

Lesson 2

Structure: verse or prose, narrative and moral of the story

Stylistic devices: personification, comparison and paraphrasing

Direct speech

Verse and meter

Author and narrator

Verb tenses: the past simple, the imperfect and the present

La Fontaine: « La Grenouille qui se veut faire aussi grosse que le Bœuf », « Le Lièvre et la Tortue »
Lesson 3

Characterization, rhymes, playing with verb tenses, rhythm and sounds, alliteration and assonance

Methodology of text analysis et presentation choices

Assignment : Respond to questions 1-5 and 11, page 37

La Fontaine: « Le Chêne et le Roseau », « La Cigale et la Fourmi »
Lesson 4

Course: The story, direct and indirect speech, narrative outline

Assignment: « Le Corbeau et le Renard », respond to questions 3-7c

Assignment: « Le Loup et l’Agneau », respond to questions 1-4 and 9-14

Assignment:« Le Renard et la Cigogne », write a detailed outlined of the fable

La Fontaine: « Le Corbeau et le Renard », « Le Loup et l’Agneau », « Le Renard et la Cigogne »
Lesson 5

Course: Lecture on 18th century history, the genre of the “conte,” Mme Leprince de Beaumont, “le merveilleux,” the incipit, narrative structure, the value of time

Assignment: Prepare written questions 2-7, p. 22 in the edition

Presentation Choices: Individual or group viewing (at IES) of Beauty and The Beast, by Jean Cocteau, to be organized in class. You must have seen the movie before the class.

Madame Leprince de Beaumont: La Belle et la Bête, 1757 (story)
Lesson 6

Characters, context: sources of the story, the monster, the metamorphoses, themes, moral of the story, education

L’apport de Morphologie du conte (1928) de V. Propp; Bruno Bettelheim, Psychanalyse des contes de fées (The Uses of Enchantment) (1976)

Assignment: prepare written questions 9, 10, 11, 14, 15, 16 p. 39 and 40 in the edition

Debate: comparison between the story, Cocteau’s film and the cartoon

Madame Leprince de Beaumont: La Belle et La Bête, 1757 (story) from p.18, line 246 until the end
Lesson 7

Introuduction to Zola through historical texts


Love and passion, social classes, nature paintings and the region around Marseille

Emile Zola Naïs,: Chapters 1 and 2
Lesson 8

Description and role of landscapes and nature in the story

Assignment: Analyse the landscape description at the beginning of Chapter 3, from line 448, p. 120 to line 560, p. 133, with reference to questions 16-20, p. 146-147. (2 to 3 pages)


Emile Zola Naïs,: Chapter 3
Lesson 9

Time, rhythm and action

Points of view

Story climax and outcome

Assignment : Respond to questions 1, 2, 5, 6, 10, 16, 17 and 18, p. 155-157.

Deadline: 1st Written Assignment (~4 pages): analysis of Belote et Laidronette OR Riquet à la houppe.

Emile Zola Naïs,: Chapters 4 and 5
Lesson 10

Finish analysis of Naïs, Emile Zola

Correction of 1st Written Assignment and review for the mid-term

Assessment: how to find a text’s structure (the map, narrative outline), how to analyse the value of verb tenses (stories in the past, imperfect/past simple/present), how to recognize character traits/characteristics, begin to analyse style: vocabulary, phrases, how to determine the principle aspects of style, how to identify the narrator, how to analyse a subject, create a “map,” organize ideas and construct an argument.

Questions from the course and texts 1 and 2, questions on Nais


Lesson 11

Structure of the text, phrasal rhythm, the climax

Assignment: Analyze the story (provide the text outline, comment on the style according to different parts of the text), 2 pages

Maupassant La Parure
Lesson 12

The world of fantasy (seting, characters, objects), “la mise en abîme,” the voice of the narrator, the title, writing and madness

Text analysis: June 2-July 6

Assignment: Comparison of the two versions with help of questions given to you in class. 2-3 pages

Maupassant Le Horla 1886 and 1887
Lesson 13

Quick biography of Colette in relation to the texts, the autobiography, metaphor and symbolism in Les Vrielles de la vigne and being to analyse Rêverie de nouvel an

Colette Les Vrilles de la vigne and Rêverie de nouvel an
Lesson 14

Assignment: Rêverie de nouvel an: from the beginning of the text to page 28, until the phrase « suavité de sorbet vanillé et poussiéreux » : study the style and themes within the passage, in particular the vocabulary that characterizes humans and animals, as well as the landscape. Find the most frequent types of style. 3 pages

Choice of the final work to read in class (a novel) and planning of the readings

Colette Rêverie de nouvel an
Lesson 15

Structure, dialogue, plot and action

Assignment: Comment on the title and Scene 1: is it an exposition scene? 2 pages

Deadline: 2nd Written Assignment (stories of Maupassant)

Collection of texts on theatre, p. 88-102, Scenes 1-5
Lesson 16 Anti-play and comedic drama, stage directions, rewriting the fable Eugène Ionesco, La cantatrice chauve, 1950, Scenes 6-8
Lesson 17

The heat of the moment, time and clocks, comedic forms

Assignment: Rank, analyse and comment on word play, proverbs and distorted words in Scene 9. 2-3 pages

Excursion to La Cantatrice au théâtre de la Huchette, 18h30-20h

Eugène Ionesco, La cantatrice chauve, 1950, Scenes 9-11
Lesson 18

End of the analysis of Ionesco

The evolution of theater, words, poetic and comedic material

Eugène Ionesco, La cantatrice chauve, 1950

Beckett et Sarraute, p. 114 and 115-6

Lesson 19 Deadline: 3rd Written Assignment on Ionesco Raymond Queneau, Exercices de style, poésie, chansons « Si tu t’imagines » & Ronsard « Mignonne. », fables, début de Zazie dans le métro
Lesson 20 Reading novel decided upon in class  
Lesson 21 Reading novel decided upon in class- Excursion  
Lesson 22 Reading novel decided upon in class  
Lesson 23 Reading novel decided upon in class- Course conclusion  


Required readings: 
  • Jean de La Fontaine, Fables, 1668-1694 (photocopies)
  • Madame Leprince de Beaumont, La Belle et la Bête, 1757, conte, Biblio collège, n°68, Hachette. (2008)
  • EMILE ZOLA, Naïs, 1877, nouvelle, in L’Attaque du moulin et autres nouvelles, classique Hatier, collection Œuvres & thèmes, n°102, Hatier. (2011)
  • GUY DE MAUPASSANT, La Parure, 1884, nouvelle (photocopies)
  • Le Horla, 1885-1887, nouvelles fantastiques, Les Classiques d’Aujourd’hui, n°13646, Livre de Poche. (1994)
  • Colette, Les Vrilles de la vigne et Rêverie de nouvel an, 1908-9, nouvelles autobiographiques (photocopies)
  • Eugène Ionesco, La cantatrice chauve, 1950, pièce de théâtre, Classicolycée, n°20, Belin Gallimard. (2010).
  • Raymond queneau, extraits de : Exercices de style, Zazie dans le métro, poésies, chansons (photocopies)
  • FRED VARGAS, L’Homme aux cercles bleus, 1996, roman policier, Classiques et contemporains, n°78, Magnard. (2006)
  • Daniel Pennac, Des Chrétiens et des Maures, 1996, roman, Folio, n°3134, Gallimard. (1998)