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Women Writing in the Long 17th-Century

ENGL 537.401
also offered as: FREN 550, GSWS 550, COML 549
F 2-4:00


This course will be taught in English; writing can be done in French or in English.  The course is open to advanced undergraduates with permission from the instructor.


The 17th century was the formative period for modern French literature, the so-called grand siècle that gave the French tradition the greatest number of works still considered classics of French literature.  The age from 1640-1715 was also the greatest moment ever for women’s participation in French intellectual life.  Women writers, for instance, both invented and dominated the production of the most important genre to trace its origins to the 17th century, the modern novel.  The first fairy tale was published by a woman; during the early decades of that genre’s existence, most of its important practitioners were women.  Women published major works in every significant literary form of the age, from tragedy to memoirs.  During no other century in the French tradition did women know anything like this kind of visibility.


All over Europe, from Italy and Spain to German, publishers took note of the success story of French women’s writing and began to translate best-selling works in French with a speed never heard of before – often the same year as their original publication.  And nowhere was this more true than in England, where even Scudéry’s immense novels quickly appeared in English.  Lafayette’s Princesse de Clèves was available in English and was even adapted for the London stage within a year of its first French edition.  As a result, these works by women writers became basic reading all over the European continent.  Novels by Scudéry and Lafayette were actively promoted all through that formative period for modern prose fiction, the 18th century. 


We’ll read a variety of works fictional and non-fictional – from novels and fairy tales, from memoirs to the periodical press.  And because translation into English was so widespread in the 17th century, students will be able to read all the works in English if they choose.


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