Honors | Recent Writings in French by Women (HON)
H203 | 25361 | Michael Berkvam
Since Simone de Beauvoir published The Second Sex in 1949,
French literature has increasingly been dominated by the unique and
original 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
writers since 1980, these writers have created a body of writing
that touches on some of the most deep-seated personal and societal
issues. What is perhaps most interesting is that the majority of the
writers we will read and discuss in this course were not born in
France and are not French – 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. Among the writers we will
read is Assia Djebar from Algeria whose works all discuss aspects of
freedom with a particular emphasis on the role of women in the
Muslim world today. Fatou Diome is from Senegal and looks at the
difficult issue of immigration, 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 France. Maryse Condé from the island of
Guadeloupe takes as her heroine the young black woman Tituba,
accused of witchcraft in Salem, in order to reflect on race, gender,
religion and freedom. Anne Hébert from Québec discusses mother-
daughter relations in the context of a mother who is ageing and
trying to recapture something of her youth and her past and the
place from which she came. Belgian writers Amélie Nothomb and
Jacqueline Harpman enter into an almost science fiction writing to
try to understand issues of gender and place in contemporary
society. Nina Bouraoui, the daughter of an Algerian father and a
French mother, reflects on questions of identity – personal,
Among the writers born in France, Annie Ernaux and Marie
Cardinal look closely at issues relating to the body and analyze in
detail what it means to grow up female. In so doing they focus on
mother-father-daughter relations, wife and husband, mother and
children, and on the different expectations one has for a girl and
for a boy, for a woman and a man. Marie Darrieussecq writes about
what happens to a woman whose husband goes out one day and never
comes home. Leïla Sebbar, born in France of Algerian parents, asks
herself who she is as a Franco-Algerian woman in a France that
systematically rejects the children of Arab parents.
In all, these women discuss a wide range of topics: the
body, self-image, identity, sexuality, gender, mother-daughter
relations, male female relations, race and belonging, to name but a
few of the issues we will discuss.
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
course participation and on three 1-12 pp. papers written on topics
the student will determine based on her/his interests and ideas
about the works. The course will be conducted in English with all
discussions, readings and assignments in English.
Bouraoui, Nina. Tomboy. Bison Books.
Cardinal, Marie. The Words to Say It. Van Vactor and Goodheart.
Condé, Maryse. I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem. Ballantine Books.
Darrieussecq, Marie. My Fantom Husband. Faber and Faber.
Diome, Fatou. The Belly of the Atlantic. Serpent’s Tail.
Djebar, Assia. The Tongue’s Blood Does Not Run. Seven Stories Press.
Ernaux, Annie. A Frozen Woman. Seven Stories Press. Happening.
Seven Stories Press. Harpman, Jacqueline. I Who Have Never Known
Men. Seven Stories Press .Orlanda. Seven Stories Press.
Hébert, Anne. The First Garden. Anansi Press. Nothomb, Amélie. Fear
and Trembling. St. Martin’s Griffin Books. Sebbar, Leïla. Sherazade.