Courses available in French




French 250A: Studies in 19th Century French Literature — “Milieux” in Life and Literature


See Description

Course Description:

“The notion of milieu is becoming a universal and obligatory mode of apprehending the experience and existence of living beings; one could almost say it is now constituted as a category of contemporary thought” writes Foucault’s teacher, the historian of science Georges Canguilhem.

It was during the nineteenth century that  “milieu” emerged as a  concept in the field of biology and then became  a philosophical, social, and literary critical  term. “Milieu” is a central notion in the ambitious literary projects of Balzac and Zola. It was also important in the development of experimental literary forms such as the prose poem, which Baudelaire ties to the milieu of the modern city. In this seminar, we will investigate the emergence of the concept “milieu” and examine its impacts on literary practices. This will lead us to examine literary works from the perspective of   boundaries between personal and social identity (questions of type and class, of language – who can say what and how? — of  character development and its limitations),  as well as of relations between  character and ambiance (physical, social and historical)  all of which will require consideration of formal practices of literary  description  and narration.

Readings will include works by Balzac (short works such as “La Femme Abandonnée” as well as one novel from the Comédie humaine), Baudelaire (Le Spleen de Paris),  Zola  (short works such as Le Colonel Chabert,  L’Assommoir, critical writings about Naturalism), Georges Sand (Le Meunier d’Angibault ), Sainte Beuve (Volupté) , Maupassant (Le Horla)  as well as  short selections  from the writings  Claude Bernard,  Auguste Comte and Hippolyte Taine.

Section times and locations in the Schedule of Classes