FREN 4366

(Non)Conforming in 17th-century France
Autorité et dissidence au Grand Siècle

FALL 2023
TR 2:00-3:15
ICC 210B

Office hours: ICC 427 or REYNOLDS 145
by appointmen
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A significant amount of information pertaining to this course is sent via e-mail to your <> address: please check your mailbox regularly.

It may be modified over the course of the semester. Always refer to the latest on-line version.

> Last updated on August 25, 2023<



Anyone who wishes to promote social justice and combat “enforced inequalities” that proceed from the essentialization of individuals on the basis of group membership (socio-economic status, gender, ethnicity, religion, etc.) needs to first understand how and why such inequalities were originally instituted. Only then can one hope to effectively challenge social constructs so resilient that they have survived a number of revolutions and upheavals.
In Europe, the Early-Modern period (roughly covering the 16th, 17th and part of the 18th centuries) has been called “The Age of Kings” because it was the time when absolutist monarchies solidified to become the dominant model in France and England, but also in Russia and in the vast territories under the rule of the Habsburgs (Austria, Spain, The Low Countries, etc.). Absolutism was not merely a type of political regime: it was a highly hierarchic model of society based on domination, so that the very concept that members of a society might be equals—the keystone of the 1789 French Declaration of Human Rights (Déclaration des Droits de l’homme et du citoyen), and of its earlier American formulations, the 1776 Virginia Bill of Rights and of course the preamble to the Declaration of Independence (“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”)—was then literally unthinkable. In order for this type of society to function properly, parents had to dominate their children, men had to dominate women, aristocrats had to dominate commoners, “civilized” Europeans had to dominate less developed nations, and humans had to dominate animals and nature. Also known as "The Natural Scale" (Scala naturae) or "The Great Chain of Being," this principle can be traced back to Plato and Aristotle (5th century BCE); it was later embraced by the Church and hardly challenged until the Enlightenment movement in the middle of the 18th century.

In the 21st century, we are still very much grappling with this foundational principle, even though we may live in republics with supposedly democratic institutions, in which the belief that social domination and subjection is divinely ordained tends to be receding, if not altogether disappearing.
However, the fact that the "Age of Kings”—or, in the French context, the so-called Ancien Régime —lasted for nearly three centuries, and that its principle of fundamental inequality has, in many respects, endured until now, should not lead us to believe that it was universally and uniformly accepted until the Revolution. The events leading to the fall of the monarchy (1788-1792) had numerous precedents, and myriad forms of resistance and transgression had developed, in the political sphere—uprisings (la Fronde) sponsored or led by members of the Paris parliament and the nobility in 1648-52 nearly cost a young Louis XIV his throne and his life—but even more significantly in the realm of creative expression: literature in all of its forms, drama and the arts.
This course reflects the trend in historical research to revise the standard narrative that monarchic absolutism “triumphed” unequivocally and culminated in France’s “Great Century” (Le Grand Siècle). Such revision rests not on some radical theoretical or ideological platform, but rather on a more complete and impartial examination of the evidence at our disposal. While it remains undeniable that creative works from the Early-Modern period were produced by an extremely narrow social elite, they frequently expressed non-conformist views, usually in a subtle enough manner to avoid serious trouble for the author: dissenters, malcontents and transgressors of all kinds risked not only the suppression of their activities, but exile, jail or worse. >The purpose of this course is to give students a solid grounding on what French culture has enshrined as its works of reference (“les classiques”) but at the same time provide them with an intellectual toolkit for a critical (re)examination. They will learn how to look beyond established categories of “high” and “low,” how to evaluate the cultural impact of social groups that did not enjoy a prominent status—notably women, and how to detect non-conformist views in works that may not appear particularly militant at first glance, such as fairy tales, fables, farcical comedies, “genre” paintings or fanciful travel narratives. Even in some of the “classics” that appear to fully support the reigning social order, such as tragedies, they will learn how to look for evidence of underlying tensions between patriarchal authority and yearnings for emancipation or simply a more equitable distribution of agency.
The goal is to foster a reflective approach to the material, by giving students an opportunity not only to learn something in terms of content, but also to ask questions leading to a better understanding of how a society based on hierarchy and domination was established, how it operated, and why it has proven so difficult to dismantle even after divine absolutist monarchy was abolished. Throughout the course, parallels with be drawn with contemporary practices and situations so as to underline the fundamental differences in interpretation between ourselves and Early-Modern publics, but also avoid anachronism and properly frame works created in a context quite unlike our own from almost all perspectives: political, social, religious, economic, technological, etc. For much of the material under consideration, we will pay particular attention to contemporary retellings and adaptations, in order to analyze how its meaning and effect have shifted, sometimes to the point of a complete reversal—as in the case of French fairy tales reimagined by Disney (Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast), or the transposition of the 1678 novel La Princesse de Clèves into an adolescent love story set in a tony Parisian high-school in Honoré’s 2008 film La Belle personne.
Students will thus gain a firmer grasp of current “enforced inequalities” through a historical perspective, and a realization of their diachronic nature. Such a course will play a significant part in sensitizing students to the fact that the pursuit of social justice may not exclusively focus on the promotion of contemporary works by dominated or marginalized groups, but should also engage in critical examination of a wide range of materials, including “classics” produced by and for dominant groups, yet reflecting deep social tensions and expressing non-conforming stances that can be revealed by judicious scholarly inquiry.

Course description

  It is impossible to understand France—even France of the 21st century—without grasping omnipresent, countless references to a Golden Age (Grand Siècle), when French arts, thought, fashion, taste and politics served as a model for much of the rest of the world, circa 1650-1750.
In this era emerged a new socio-political system, absolute monarchy, which progressively replaced the medieval feudal system. In France, the change was primarily engineered by the Bourbon dynasty, notably kings Henry IV, Louis XIII and Louis XIV.
While society at large remained bound to strict hierarchies, according to the principle of the "Great Chain of Being" (or scala naturae), the individual, in the modern sense of the term, began to come into its own, which created all kinds of tension. Although social organization was built around the family, through marriage – upon which individuals had little control – myriad voices made themselves heard in contesting this model, proposing alternatives or, conversely, in proclaiming its unquestionable necessity.
This course explores how the arts of the time reflected the struggle between the dictates of social order and individual choice, including non-conformity, which could only be manifested openly through subtle and often coded forms of expression.

   Impossible de comprendre la France—même la France actuelle—sans saisir les innombrables et constantes références au «Grand Siècle», où les arts, la pensée, la mode, le goût et la politique française constituèrent un véritable modèle pour le reste du monde (vers 1650-1750).
   Cette époque voit l'émergence d'un nouveau système socio-politique, la monarchie absolue, qui se substitue progressivement à l'ordre féodal hérité du Moyen-Âge. Cette mutation reste attachée à la dynastie des Bourbons, notamment ses trois premiers représentants, les rois Henri IV, Louis XIII et Louis XIV.
   La société qui se construit alors reste fortement hiérarchisée, mais on constate néanmoins l'apparition de l'individu au sens moderne, qui suscite toutes sorte de tensions. Alors que l'organisation sociale reposait sur la famille, fondée par le mariage, sur lequel l'individu avait très peu de prise, diverses voix s'élevèrent pour contester ce modèle, proposer des alternatives, ou au contraire affirmer son impérieuse nécessité.
Notre cours étudie comment l'expression artistique du temps reflétait la tension entre l'ordre social et les choix individuels, y compris les moins conformistes, qui ne pouvaient se manifester que de manière subtile, et souvent codée.


Course goals

  In this course, students are expected to
• Develop a good understanding of the Grand Siècle from a political, social, economical and cultural perspective, with particular attention to the role of the family and marriage;
• Develop a good general understanding of neo-Aristotelian literature and drama, “baroque” art and other major currents of the Early Modern era
• Develop an understanding (and appreciation) of Early Modern literary and artistic forms, including the socio-economic context in which they developed.
• Develop an understanding (and appreciation) of how non-conformity could be expressed at a time when any deviance from the norm was regarded as suspicious by the authorities, and could lead to severe consequences (charges such as "blasphemy" or "sodomy" might means being burnt at the stake; women resisting patriarchal authority were routinely locked up in convents, etc.).
• Learn to work independently on authentic, original documents (written texts, film, images).

Course objectives

In this course, students will
• Learn about various aspects of society and politics in seventeenth-century France ;
• read and analyze a variety of texts
in verse and prose (tragedies, comedies, novels, tales, essays, etc,) as well as engravings and paintings;
• Acquire analytical and critical strategies towards the study of various types of textual and non-textual documents;
• Develop their capacity for reading, understanding and analyzing full-length, complex texts in French;
• Improve their capacity for understanding cultural and social systems radically different from their own;
• Improve their formal and informal oral expression capabilities in French.

Teaching methodology

  This course follows a variant of the "flipped classroom" format, which means that class time is devoted to activities in which students take a central role, with the teacher as moderator. There are four main activity modes:
Brainstorming and discussion moderated by the teacher on selected aspects of the themes listed below, based on students' readings and preparatory work outside of class.
Screenings of film excerpts and critical discussion by the students,
with the instructor moderating.
Collective analysis and discussion of documents (texts, images, film excerpts) assigned as homework ;
Student Oral Class Presentations (Exposés) on a variety of selected topics related to course documents or themes.

   Attendance is compulsory and will be recorded; preparedness and participation count for 30% of the grade. In class, some of the work will be conducted in small groups; you will also have to prepare short individual analyses at home, from which you may have to deliver brief in-class presentations. These will not be graded as such, but your involvement will influence your participation grade.
Students are strongly advised to take notes . Taking notes efficiently is part of your work in this class (and, more generally, in college), as your instructor an class discussions will provide original insights not easily available from any textbook or other source. If you are unsure about note-taking strategies, consult with the Writing Center. (

   A deadline indicates the absolute last day and time when assignments should be turned in. Unless otherwise specified, the cut-off time is the end of class on the day of the deadline, whether you bring in a hard copy of your paper or e-mail it. It is not advisable to start working on an assignment on the day it is due. Give yourself enough time to allow for unforeseen delays or problems (printer running out of ink, e-mail bugs, network access down, etc), which cannot be used as excuses for not meeting a deadline. Acceptable excuses are acts of God, system-wide server outages and documented medical emergencies.

  As a rule, this class will follow official university guidelines as to whether sessions are to be held in a physical classroom or remotely. Circumstances may lead to the following alternate formats:
— Class is held in a physical classroom and in the presence of all involved (default setting)
— Class is held in a physical classroom and in the presence of some of the students, while others attend through videoconferencing (in case some students are Covid-positive or in quarantine, but without severe symptoms—this must be documented and the teacher must be notified at least two hours before class starts)
— Class is held in a in a physical classroom and in the presence of students, and is recorded (in case some students are Covid-positive or in quarantine, and with severe symptoms that make active participation impossible—this must be documented and the teacher must be notified at least two hours before class starts)
— Class is held exclusively
through videoconferencing (this would be a last resort as mandated by the university)
— Exceptionally, instruction may be provided as a recorded lecture available on line on the day of a schedule live session. Teacher will notify students
at least two hours before class starts.

   For greater authenticity, we will only use materials originally produced for a French speaking public: Only purely administrative matters (such as this syllabus) will be handled in English. In all other circumstances, including discussion and critique of your work in class or during office hours, French will be used exclusively orally and in writing, by you and by the instructor. You will never be asked (with rare, very precise exceptions) to translate anything, nor are you expected to use translation ever as a means to accomplish your work in this class. Bilingual dictionaries and electronic translators are not allowed in class. Use of a monolingual dictionary is strongly encouraged, however. I suggest the on-line Trésor de la langue française at

Attitude and Behavior
  This is a class held in a university classroom. Please dress and behave accordingly!
When class is held in person
- No eating or snacking during class (drinking is OK)
- Cell phones, smartphones and other mobile communication devices must me turned off and stored away in a pocket or a bag (except for emergency situations, with prior notification to the instructor)
- No chit-chat unrelated to class matters
- Use of computers is class is strictly limited to working on relevant tasks matters. Anyone found using a computer in class for anything else (checking e-mail, Facebook status, stock prices, playing games) will be issued a warning the first time, and, the second time, banned from using a computer in class altogether for the rest of the term.
When class is held remotely through videoconferencing
- Log on and be ready to be admitted by the set time (I activate the waiting room function for classes).
- Your camera must be turned on for the duration of the class. If for some overwhelming reason you must turn it off, you may do so for a maximum of three minutes. Any longer interruption will be treated as an absence.
- In case of a technical interruption beyond your control, let me know ASAP that you have been cut off—you may text me at (571) 277-7421—and try to reconnect as quickly as you can.
- Your audio must be off unless you are talking. However, always remain ready to go on as I may call on you at any time.
- Preferably use the "raise hand" function of the software to intervene; you may also raise your actual hand (when there are fewer than 12 students in the class)

Preparation and Participation
   You must prepare for class by going over assigned material, and by formulating questions, remarks and comments for class discussion. Each hour spent in class should be matched by about 45 minutes of preparation before class, and another 45 minutes of follow-up work afterwards. Every evening, review what was done in class that day to verify that you understand it; if necessary, use books and on-line resources for clarification. Bring up unresolved items in class, or discuss them with your instructor during office hours.
  Each and every student is expected to participate in every class, not only by responding to prompts and questions by the instructor (or to other students' comments), but also by volunteering comments and questions without being prompted
(see the "Total Commitment Policy").

Attendance and Punctuality
   Every student is expected to be present for every class and arrive on time (repeated tardiness will be penalized). If an absence is anticipated, the instructor must be notified beforehand by e-mail or by text message
(571) 277-7421 (also Signal and WhatsApp).
  An absence may be "excused" if it was caused by an unforeseen event or accident that made it impossible or extremely difficult for a student to attend class, and which can be documented. If you feel sick enough to miss class, then you should also seek medical attention and obtain a certificate from the health care provider who treated you. If you suffer from a chronic mental or physical condition that occasionally flares up to the point of incapacitating you, you need to be registered with the University health services in order to be granted accommodations.
   A student who was absent (justifiably or not) remains responsible for finding out what was done or assigned during the missed class(es), and for turning in assignments on time. Unjustified absences will result in a reduction of the portion of the final grade allotted to "Presence, Preparedness and Participation."
  You must come to class prepared by having completed readings and other assignments as indicated by the instructor, in an appropriate manner (see the "Total Commitment Policy"). Manifest lack of adequate preparation and voluntary participation (i.e., without being individually called upon) will result in a reduction of the portion of the final grade allotted to "Presence, Preparedness and Participation."


   Because FREN 4366 introduces mostly material that students are not likely to have encountered before, there are no strict prerequisites other than having completed FREN 3350 and/or 3351 (the "Gateway" courses). Dispensation requests will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Honor system

  All aspects of this class fall under Georgetown University's honor system. If you are not thoroughly familiar with its provisions, please review them at A point of particular concern is using source material appropriately and avoiding plagiarism: "Plagiarism, in any of its forms, and whether intentional or unintentional, violates standards of academic integrity. Plagiarism is the act of passing off as one’s own the ideas or writings of another (…). While different academic disciplines have different modes for attributing credit, all recognize and value the contributions of individuals to the general corpus of knowledge and expertise. Students are responsible for educating themselves as to the proper mode of attributing credit in any course or field. (…) Note that plagiarism can be said to have occurred without any affirmative showing that a student’s use of another’s work was intentional.

Diversity and scientific integrity
  This class welcomes a diversity of approaches to the topic, materials and methods involved.
Debate and disagreement are considered an integral part of the process of scientific inquiry, as long as scientific integrity remains the most important value in what we say and write; this means that all claims and propositions must be supported by evidence or creditable scholarly sources, i.e., not manifestly rooted in faith or ideology.  If and when their opinion is solicited, students are welcome to express whatever point of view they happen to hold, even if does not align with that of the teacher or their classmates.




By the end of the semester, all students will have
— been acquainted with the main features of Early Modern French and European society;
— been acquainted with all major types of literature and art in Early Modern France;
— acquired a palette of critical strategies allowing them to independently analyze documents (texts and images);
— read and analyzed French literary and dramatic texts in all major genres: tragedy, comedy, novels, essays, fables, tales, etc.;
— prepared and delivered a formal presentation in French on a topic germane to course themes;
— written short essays about 
literature and art in Early Modern France, requiring both content knowledge and critical thinking.


— Presence, Preparedness and Participation to class discussions: 35%.
— Oral presentation (exposé): 15%
2 written tests (essay questions): 25% each

Course attributes: SFS/CORE Humanities & Writ II, SFS/CULP Humanities, SFS/RCST Western Europe



All documents are available on line and/or on Canvas

Déclaration des droits de l'Homme et du citoyen (1789), préambule à la constitution de 1792.

Recueil d'édits, déclarations et arrêts concernant les esclaves nègres de l'Amérique (dit « Code Noir »), 1685.

Contes du temps jadis de Charles Perrault (1697): « La Belle au bois dormant » - « Le Petit Chaperon Rouge » - « Le Chat Botté »

Fables de Jean de La Fontaine: « Le Chien et le loup » - « Le Loup et l'Agneau » - « Le Savetier et le financier »  - « Les Animaux malades de la peste » - « Les Grenouilles qui demandent un roi » - « Le Mal Marié » - « La Mort et le bûcheron »

• extrait de Clélie, roman de Madeleine de Scudéry (avec la « La Carte de Tendre »)

La Princesse de Clèves, roman de Madame de Lafayette (1678)

Cinna (Extraits), tragédie de Pierre Corneille • Bérénice (Extraits), tragédie de Jean Racine

Les Précieuses ridicules (Extraits) - Les Femmes savantes (Extraits) - Georges Dandin (Extraits), comédies de Molière

• Le Favori (Extraits) tragi-comédie de Marie-Catherine-Hortense de Villedieu

Discours de la méthode (Extraits) de René Descartes

• « Ménalque », Les Caractères (Extraits) de la Bruyère - Le Distrait (Extraits), film de Pierre Richard

• Sélection de Maximes de La Rochefoucauld

• Sélection de lettres de de Mme de Sévigné (Marie de Rabutin-Chantal) à sa fille

Empires de la lune et du soleil (Extraits) roman de Cyrano de Bergerac