Essays French Literature

French Language, Literature and Culture

The M.A. Program in French – Language,Literature and Culture

I. Program Requirements

  • Students in the Literature and Culture Emphasis will complete their coursework by taking the Core Courses (12 units) and Electives (18 units) as outlined below; substitutions may be approved (subject to DGS approval). 
  • Up to three thesis units (FREN 910) may count toward the total of 30 units in all MA options.  Thesis units (FREN 910) may not be combined with Internship units (FREN 593) or Independent Studies units (FREN 599) as part of the total of 30 units (they may be taken in addition).

1. Core courses in Cultural and Literary History (12 units):

FREN 550, French Cultural & Literary History: Renaissance to Revolution
FREN 551, French Cultural & Literary History: Revolution-World War II
FREN 552, French Cultural & Literary History: Contemporary France (20th-21st)
FREN 553, Literature in Context: Focus on a Historical period  

(In French)
(In French)
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(In French)

2. Electives in French (9 units) from:

FREN 532, French Translation
FREN 540, Topics in French Literature
FREN 542, French Narratives and Film
FREN 543, Contemporary Francophone Literature and Cinema
FREN 544, Topics in French Culture
FREN 545, Francophone Cultures and Traditions
FREN 547, Topics in Francophone Studies

(In French)
(In French)
(In French)
(In French)
(In French)
(In French)
(In French)

3. Electives in English or French (9 units) from:
FREN 525, Paris: Capsule/Capital of French Cultural History (Paris program only )
FREN 533, Business French 1
FREN 534, Business French 2
FREN 554, French Theory
FREN 555, French Cinema
FREN 556, Topics in the Maghreb and the Near East—Peoples and Cultures
FREN 557, Topics in Sub-Saharan Africa—Peoples and Cultures
FREN 558, Topics in the Francophone Caribbean—Peoples and Cultures
FREN 561, French Linguistics
FREN 562, Linguistics and the Study of Literature
FREN 567, Topics in French Linguistics
FREN 563, Simultaneous and Consecutive Interpretation
FREN 573, Semiotics and Language
FREN 578, Literacy in L2/FL Classroom: Theory, Research, and Practice
FREN 579, Issues/Methods in Post-Second Foreign Language Teaching/ Learning
(required for GATs)
FREN 581, Technology and Foreign Language Learning  
FREN 583, Materials Design
FREN 584, Second/Foreign Language Learning and the Web
FREN 586, Language Learning in Study Abroad Context
FREN 593, Internship (1-3 units)
FREN 599, Independent Study (1-3 units)
FREN 910, Thesis (up to 3 units)

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(In French)
(In French)
(In English)
(In English)
(In English)
(In English)

(In French)
(In French)
(In French)
(In English)
(In English)

(In English)
(In English)
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(In English)

II. Completing the M.A. 

Preparing for Your M.A. Exams

No later than the beginning of the semester of the expected graduation date, the candidate and DGS should agree upon  the Exam Committee members, whose chair will be formally appointed by the DGS. The candidate is responsible for:

  • checking Graduate College deadlines and submitting the Master/s/Specialist Committee Appointment Form through GradPath; 
  • meeting with the Exam Committee members and providing (e-mailing) each of them (+ the DGS) copies of all course syllabi covered in the MA program
  • alerting the Exam Committee members to the proposed date of the written examination, ascertaining their times and dates of availability for the Oral Exam, and communicating these times and dates to the DGS, who will schedule a provisional time, date, and classroom for the Oral Exam; 
  • clearing all fees with the Bursar's Office.

The M.A. Written Examination

The M.A. examination is given twice a year, usually in October-November and March-April.  It consists of two parts, written and oral. The M.A. written examination will be based on the candidate's coursework in French and/or Francophone literature, culture, and/or theory, as well as related areas of the graduate curriculum when appropriate. The written component of the examination will consist of three take-home exams (sent via e-mail) in French that typically take the following form: 

  • a textual or cinematic analysis; 
  • an essay based on a specific work of literature (to be chosen by the candidate and the faculty member in charge of this part of the examination); 
  • an essay on a wider, more general topic in literary and/or cultural studies. 

All three essays should be written in French, typed, double-spaced, and 4-6 pages in length. The student has one week to complete all three exams and return them to the DGS, who will distribute them to the committee members for evaluation.

The M.A. Oral Examination

The candidate is not permitted to undertake the oral component of the MA Examination until s/he has performed satisfactorily on the written part. (Satisfactorily is defined as a passing grade on the written part from at least two of the three committee members). A student required to retake one or more parts of the written examination (normally in the semester following the one in which the original attempt was made, but not sooner) must do so before proceeding to the oral examination. The Oral Examination (1-2 hours maximum) will cover works on the candidate’s course syllabi as well as areas considered in the written examination. The M.A. oral examination is usually scheduled within a week to ten days of the written examination. The Graduate College sets deadlines each semester for the completion of this examination; students are responsible for knowing these deadlines and scheduling their exams accordingly. The examination committee shall be composed of the three committee members for the written examinations. The examination committee shall meet prior to the oral examination to determine time limits and questioning sequences. It shall meet once more after the completion of the oral examination to determine if the candidate has:

1. Passed.

2. Failed (in which case the student must wait until the following semester before retaking the oral examination). A second oral examination will take place no sooner than four months after the initial one.

Note: Two adverse votes result in failure. An abstention counts as a vote for failure. Results are tallied by the committee chair, who informs the candidate only as to whether the vote was Pass or Fail.

The M.A. Thesis:

In lieu of the written exam, students may present an M.A. thesis, written in French, which demonstrates proficiency in concepts and methods of literary and cultural studies, criticism, and theory. For students presenting an M.A. thesis in lieu of a written examination, the oral examination will consist of 1) a defense of the thesis, and 2) questions on works and topics covered in the candidate’s course syllabi.

See the checklist of requirements and the formatting guide from the Graduate College. 

ll-updated and approved by the faculty on Dec. 2, 2016

Modern French Literature

The history of French literature is closely linked to the state of French politics, ideology, and culture, often reflecting and shaping these realities in France. Equally important is the place given to the French language; language has often been perceived in both French literature and critical study as being instrumental in creating the order and hierarchy of society. The political and social dimensions of the French literary canon, therefore, are central to the study of modern French literature.

French writers have consistently used their work to expostulate political and philosophical ideology, and thus, the relationship between literature and social and political attitudes has been acutely important in French society. Many scholars of French literature have remarked on the importance the French place on literary figures in their society, including electing a number of them to political power. And often, French opposition literature has had enormous influence with the citizenry of France as well as intellectuals throughout Europe. Although politically motivated literature has seen a decline in France in the latter half of the twentieth century, primarily due to the increasing popularity of other media, the French literary scene continues to experiment with new forms and techniques, now focusing more consciously on the development of form rather than content.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, however, the French literary scene was dominated by the popularity of naturalist writers and their mode of realistic, mostly linear narratives, reflecting the social and political realities of their time. A significant change to this legacy began in the works of such authors as Marcel Proust, and his novel À la recherché du temps perdu (1954; Remembrance of Things Past), published posthumously, is considered one of the seminal works marking the departure from naturalist thinking. With its examination of the nature of literature in the narrative, as well as its themes of the search for permanence and coherence in human identity, Proust's writing, note critics, is a blend of realism, philosophy, and psychology, and ultimately represents the struggle between reality and experience versus the primacy of art. The advent of World War I, the most violent and widespread conflict in human history at the time, had engendered in many French intellectuals the feeling that the entire European cultural tradition had been dishonored. Many writers saw the slaughter of thousands as deeply disheartening, final proof of the negative impact of the culture of rationalism on which the common language and culture of the time was based. This disillusionment was in part what led to the creation of the Dadaist movement. Although it originated in Zurich, Switzerland, in 1916, the main activity of this movement took place in France, involving such authors as Tristan Tzara, André Breton, Louis Aragon, and Benjamin Péret. The movement eventually evolved into the Surrealist philosophy, focusing on an agenda of literary and political revolution.

By the 1930s, however, there was growing tension between writers and political figures, symbolized most clearly by the relationship between the Surrealists and the French communists, leading to an acute polarization along political lines among French intellectuals. André Malraux, disheartened by the decline of western culture in the face of western bourgeosie individualism in the colonies, wrote La Condition humaine (1933; Man's Fate), a novel that reflects his perception of the struggle between these opposing forces. The beginning of World War II forced a new strain of French literature to emerge, where the writing mainly became a branch of political and military activity of collaboration or resistance. At the end of the second World War, the French literary scene was dominated by Existential activity and the work of such authors as Jean-Paul Sartre, who aimed to establish existentialist values as a replacement for the bankrupt values of prewar France. Sartre explored issues of commitment in such works as L'Être et le néant (1943; Being and Nothingness) and L'Âge de raison (1945; The Age of Reason). Another major literary figure of the time was Albert Camus, whose L'Etranger (1942; The Stranger) epitomized his philosophy of revolt. Camus rejected the possibility of an afterlife, believing only in the certainty of death.

While the idea of the French Resistance remained an integral part of French popular literature well into the 1960s, several writers began to question the myth of French national unity and sacrifice as exemplified by the Resistance, and works of such authors as Roger Nimier offered an alternative, disillusioned view of the bond forged during the war. However, it is Samuel Beckett who is often regarded as the most serious challenger to the humanist ideals of the postwar years. In works such as En attendant Godot (1952; Waiting for Godot) Beckett put forth the challenge to the existing novel tradition, facilitating the move away from Existentialist literature. Now concern focused on language and narrative technique and not political and ethical ideology, and a new phase of experimentation emerged. Based on the narrative techniques of American authors such as William Faulkner and John Steinbeck, the nouveau roman (new novel) created a new relationship between author and reader.

Equally relevant in the development of modern French literature is the growth of French theater, which in many ways paralleled the development of French fiction. During the early half of the twentieth century and even up to the Second World War, French theater was mainly based in Paris. A major change occurred at the end of the war, when performances moved away from Paris and into the rest of the country. Evolving from an austere and elite literary style to a more diverse mixture that allowed for a wider selection in performance and production, French theater in the 1930s, led by such directors as Jacques Copeau, saw a revival of the classics as well as staging of quality contemporary plays. Copeau, along with Louis Jouvet, Charles Dullin, and others formed what became known as the Cartel, the objective being to promote respect for the text, simplicity in staging, and poetic impact in contrast to spectacular effect. After the 1940s, theater activity focused in Paris again, with new writers emerging, showcasing complex dramas of multiple viewpoints. The period between the 1930s and the 1940s, led by the Cartel, is often referred to as one of the best in French theater, with both new and established authors writing. Major authors of the time included such established playwrights as Camus, Sartre, Henry del Montherlant and Marcel Aymé, as well as newcomers to the literary scene such as Eugène Ionesco, Vauthier, Beckett, and others. In the 1970s, French theater had evolved again, with playwrights now used more as literary consultants rather than creators of the script that actors then produced. Instead, as David Bradby notes in his book on modern French theater, the writer became almost secondary to the production and actors.

A major trend in the critical study of modern French literature has been the marginalization of women authors. Much of this rejection is traced to the dominance of fascist and other right-wing political influences in France in the early twentieth century. In their book discussing fascism and French politics, Richard Golsan and Melanie Hawthorne discuss the role of women in fascist ideology and psychology as well as in the history of fascist movements, parties, and regimes. They suggest that male sexuality and misogyny form crucial building blocks of the fascist male psyche that dominated France through the early twentieth century, shutting out the feminine perspective in both political and intellectual arenas. The postwar years, however, have seen a revival of female writing as well as interest in critical study of female authors who continued to write during the war years, including Simone de Beauvoir, Nathalie Sarraute, and others.

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