Honors | Recent Writing in French by Women (HON)
H234 | 29003 | Michael Berkvan


TuTh 11:15am-12:30pm
HU 111

Since Simone de Beauvoir published The Second Sex in 1949, French
literature has increasingly been dominated by the unique and
personal voices of women. From the early novels in the 1950s, 1960s
and 1970s by Françoise Sagan, Françoise Mallet-Joris, Christiane
Rochefort and Beauvoir herself, to the new generations of women
since 1980, these writers have created a body of work that touches
on some of the most deep-seated personal and societal issues
concerning women. What is perhaps most interesting is that all but
one (Annie Ernaux) of the writers we will read and discuss in this
course were born outside of France – thus the title of the course in
which I did not say “recent writings by French women”.

To read these novels is to take a tour of the French-speaking world
as it is viewed by women, as well as a tour of the physical and
mental landscape of women on three continents. Among the writers we
will read is Assia Djebar from Algeria whose works all discuss
aspects of women’s independence and freedom, with a particular
emphasis on the role of women in the Muslim world today. Fatou Diome
and Ken Bugul are from Senegal and describe the difficult issues of
immigration, post-colonialism, the worlds of the haves and have-
nots, and what happens to a woman’s identity when she leaves her
native Africa to live in Europe. In their works and in many others
colonial oppression and patriarchal society are synonymous.  In her
two novellas, Maryse Condé, from the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe
analyzes race and gender and in so doing sheds light on the
experiences of women of color in the African diaspora. Anne Hébert,
from Québec, focuses on relationships when an older couple befriends
a young Québécoise woman in Paris. Belgian writers Amélie Nothomb
and Jacqueline Harpman employ an almost science fiction and bitingly
comic style of writing as they strive to understand issues of gender
and gender roles in contemporary society. Nina Bouraoui, the
daughter of an Algerian father and a French mother, reflects on
questions of identity – personal, national, sexual.

Many of these novels are autobiographical. The authors dig deeply
into their own lives in  order to illuminate the situation and
experiences of women in general. Nothomb writes about her birth in
Japan in The Character of Rain and the fact that she refused to
speak for three years. In Happening Ernaux writers about the
abortion she underwent when she was a university student, and then
brutally displays her feelings of jealousy as an older woman when a
relationship ends in The Possession. In all of these works the
authors present a wide range of topics: the body, self-image,
identity, sexuality, gender, mother-father-family relationships,
male-female relations, race, feelings of belonging and exclusion, to
name but a few of the issues we will discuss.

In addition to the readings and discussions we will watch and
discuss two recent films. Inch’Allah Dimanche (2001) [Thank God for
Sunday] by the Algerian-French director Yamina Benguigui depicts the
lives of North African women arriving in France in the mid 1970s. La
Vie rêvée des anges (1998) [The Dreamlife of Angels] is by Erik
Zonca and depicts the lives of two young working-class women in

NOTE: a quick glance at the reading list for the course will
indicate that this class is intended for students who love to read
and to discuss what they read. The course will be based almost
entirely on discussions of readings. Final grades will be based on
class participation and on three 12 pp. papers written on topics the
student will determine based on her/his interests and ideas about
the works and discussions. The course will be conducted in English
with all discussions, readings and assignments in English. If you
purchase any of these books in advance, please note the ISBN number
and buy that edition so we all have the same one.

Reading list:
Bouraoui, Nina. Tomboy.  2007. Bison Books.
ISBN 978-0-80326-259-1

Bugul, Ken. The Abandoned Baobab. The Autobiography of a Senegalese
Woman. 2008. University of Virginia Press.
ISBN 978-0-8139-2737-4

Condé, Maryse. Land of Many Colors & Nanna-Ya . 1999. Bison Books.
ISBN 978-0-8032-6395-6

Diome, Fatou. The Belly of the Atlantic. 2007. Serpent’s Tail.
ISBN 978-1-85242-903-8

Djebar, Assia. Sister to Scheherazade. 1993. Heinemann.
ISBN 0-435-08622-7.

Ernaux, Annie. Happening. 2001. Seven Stories Press.
ISBN 1-58322-256-1

Ernaux, Annie. The Possession. 2008. Seven Stories Press.
ISBN 978-1-58322-855-5

Harpman, Jacqueline. Orlanda.  1999. Seven Stories Press.
ISBN 1-58322-011-9

Hébert, Anne. Am I Disturbing You? 1999. House of Anansi Press.
ISBN 0-887-84640-8

Nothomb, Amélie. The Chronology of Rain. 2003. St. Martin’s Griffin
Books. ISBN 0-312-302-487

Nothomb, Amélie. Hygiene and the Assassin. 2010. Europa Editions.
ISBN 978-1933-372-778