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Il ne faut jamais avoir peur d'aller trop loin car la vérité est au-delà.


French 119B: Nineteenth-Century Literature and Culture — Photography and Literature in 19th Century France.


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Course Description:

In our digital age we have grown used to the idea that technology changes how we see. But when photography was invented in France in 1839 (the daguerreotype) it  came as a shock and created a sensation. In the course of the 19th century photo-technologies will develop rapidly, leading up to the invention of the Kodak point and shoot camera toward the end of the century.  These new technologies of vision had an impact on writers and on writing practices.  Lamartine liked to have his portrait taken.  Victor Hugo had hoped to publish a photo- illustrated edition of his poems; he set up a photo studio for his sons while living in exile in Guernsey and staged  numerous photographs. Flaubert will accompany his friend Maxime du Camp on photo shoots in Egypt.  Zola will become an amateur photographer. And then there was the fashion of “spirit photographs,” believed to present traces of the souls of the dead.

In the context of Romanticism the daguerreotype opened up new dimensions of space and time; it made it possible to stay at home and yet see distant places, thereby encouraging an interest in exoticism.   Photography appeared to stop time in images of crumbling ruins or architectural monuments.    It  became associated with scientific observation, setting a new standard for literary  description – “À mon avis,” wrote Zola, “vous ne pouvez pas dire que vous avez vu quelque chose à fond si vous n’en avez pas pris une photographie révélant un tas de détails qui, autrement, ne pourraient même pas être discernés.»   For others, however, photography opened up spaces of fiction and dream; it influenced writers of fantastic tales.

In this course we will consider visual material (early photo albums such as the Excursions Daguerriennes, celebrity portraits by Nadar, images of photojournalism and commercial portrait photography) as well as literary works by authors such as Rodenbach ( “Bruges – la-morte”), Balzac, Zola, Gautier  and Villiers de l’Isle – Adam in an effort to explore relations between photography and literature during the century that invented photography.

French 102 or equivalent or consent of instructor.

Additional information:

This course satisfies 1 French Major course requirement in the “Literature” (112-120) category or 1 French Major course requirement in the Elective category.  Priority enrollment for declared French majors.  Satisfies College of Letters and Science breadth in Arts and Literature.


Section times and locations in the Schedule of Classes