Courses available in French


Tout est dit, et l’on vient trop tard.

— La Bruyère

French 120B: Twentieth-Century Literature – Wars, Revolts, Literatures. “Minuit” in the 20th Century


Vercors, Le silence de la mer (1942)

Samuel Beckett, En attendant Godot (1952)

Henri Alleg, La question (1958)

Alain Robbe-Grillet, Pour un nouveau roman (1963)

Monique Wittig, Les guerillères (1969)

Robert Linhart, L’établi (1978)

Jean-Philippe Toussaint, La salle de bain (1985)

Antoine Volodine, Le nom des singes (1994)

Marie NDiaye, Papa doit manger (2003)

Course Description:

This course will explore the relationships between aesthetic innovations and political writing from the 1940s onwards. Throughout the course of the semester, we will read literary works (novels, narratives, theater plays) by some of the most important French writers of the 20th and 21st century, watch a few film excerpts, and bring these novels and films into dialogue with the main artistic movements and political conflicts that have shaped the second part of the century, in particular WW2 and its aftermaths, the Algerian War and May ‘68.

We will mainly focus on writers published by Les Éditions de Minuit, between the 1940s and 2012, using this famous publishing house as a guide through the history of the 20th century. We will start when “Minuit” was clandestinely founded, in 1941, in the midst of the Resistance. We will read the first novel Minuit ever published (Vercors’s Le silence de la mer, later adapted for film by Melville), and follow the publishing house through its golden age—the 1950s, when its director Jérôme Lindon started publishing Beckett’s “absurdist theater” and the “nouveaux romanciers” (Robbe-Grillet, Sarraute, Duras). We will then move to the 1960s and the 1970s—a time of social transformations in France and for Minuit—and read novels and “documents” that directly engaged with the political events and issues of their time, such as torture during the Algerian war (Alleg), the Mouvement de Libération des Femmes (Wittig) and radical leftist militanism (Linhart).

We will end with contemporary novels and plays written by the most recent generation of “Minuit authors” and writers who at some point transited through by Minuit (Echenoz, Toussaint, Volodine, NDiaye) and consider what becomes of formal innovation, anti-imperialist struggles and political writing when wars, revolutions and vanguard movements have seemingly disappeared altogether from the French contemporary landscape.


French 102 or consent of Instructor.

Additional Information:

This course satisfies 1 “Literature/Genre” or 1 “Elective” course requirement in the French major. Satisfies College of Letters and Science breadth in Arts and Literature; Priority enrollment for declared French majors.

Section times and locations in the Schedule of Classes