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French 161A: A Year in French History — Literature and Politics under Cardinal Mazarin (1656-1659)


Robert Descimon et Christian Jouhaud, La France du premier XVIIe siècle (1594-1661) (Paris, Belin, 1996) ; Blaise Pascal, Les Provinciales (1656-1657) ; Cyrano de Bergerac, Les États et empires de la Lune (1657) ; Jean de La Fontaine, Adonis et Le Songe de Vaux (1658) ; Pierre Corneille, Œdipe (1659) ; Mlle de Scudéry, Clélie, histoire romaine, extraits (1658-1659) ; Molière, Les Précieuses ridicules  (1659).

Course Description:

This class offers an in-depth investigation of four years in French history, from a perspective that closely intertwines literary history, political history and social history. As the conflicts of the Fronde (1648-1652) — which seriously threatened royal authority — died down, the French monarchy was consolidated, but remained fragile because Louis XIV (1661-1715) was not yet old enough to rule. Under the Queen’s regency, the country was governed by cardinal Mazarin and the Superintendant of France’s finances, Nicolas Fouquet. During this period, heterodox works find their way into print such as Cyrano de Bergerac’s États et empires de la Lune (1657) and far-ranging theological polemics spread, as evidenced by the success of the Provinciales, the stakes of which are as much literary as they are religious and political. New literary figures emerge (Pascal, La Fontaine and Molière) and others return to the foreground (Pierre Corneille), while the status of the author evolves rapidly. As such, the period is particularly interesting from the point of view of the study of literary patronage: protecting La Fontaine and Corneille, as much as Madeleine de Scudéry and Molière, Nicolas Fouquet dominates the literary field. By analyzing the writings of those authors working under his patronage, as well as the literary productions of those who shun it, it is therefore possible to closely observe the interactions between literature and politics before Louis XIV’s personal reign begins. The years 1656-1659 can thus be studied as a laboratory in which new genres, new ideas and new forms of writing were experimented with by a number of writers whose role would become predominant under Louis XIV, while new understandings of the role of literary productions in the public sphere were also being tested.


French 102 or consent of instructor.

Additional information:

This course satisfies one “Culture” or one “Elective” requirement in the French major. Course also satisfies one Historical Period Requirement in French Major.  Satisfies College of Letters and Science breadth in Social and Behavioral Sciences or Historical Studies. Priority enrollment for declared French majors.


Section times and locations in the Schedule of Classes