FR40340 Proust: The Writer in Society

Academic Year 2015/2016

This course explores the coming to adulthood of the narrator of Proust's great novel A la recherche du temps perdu. That narrator's evolution from child to writer in full possession of his vocation is the subject of this monumental work of twentieth-century literature. In this module, we shall join the narrator as he enters the social world of the young, upwardly mobile bourgeois Parisian male, a world where power and prestige are shifting between aristocracy and bourgeoisie, where the Dreyfus affair is creating its own cleavages and solidarities, and where desire continues to guide or misguide the narrator's path. The course will focus principally on the second and third volumes of the novel, that is A l'ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs and Le Côté de Guermantes, with some attention to the final (seventh) volume, Le Temps retrouvé. All three should be bought in the Folio edition.

Although this course can be taken by students who have not previously studied the first volume of A la Recherche (Du Côté de chez Swann), you are strongly encouraged to familiarise yourself with it in advance.

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Curricular information is subject to change

Learning Outcomes:

On successful completion of this module, students will be able to:

demonstrate an in-depth knowledge of key elements of one of the greatest works of modern world literature as well as considering major critical responses to the work;

analyse the encounter of a transcendent, even idealist vision of artistic creation with modern ideas of subjectivity and sexuality and how this encounter evolves through Proust's novel;

explain the social and political context of late nineteenth-century France: class politics, anti-semitism (the Dreyfus affair); aesthetics (art, music, fashion);

negotiate sophisticated and complex French in a range of modes: literary and aesthetic reflection; social critique; philosophical discussion;

produce a sophisticated and complex extended discussion (4000-5000 words) of a question raised by the work, the topic to be chosen by the student in consultation with the lecturer, and the essay to be accompanied by a relevant and extensive critical bibliography.

Student Effort Hours: 
Student Effort Type Hours
Seminar (or Webinar)


Specified Learning Activities


Autonomous Student Learning




Requirements, Exclusions and Recommendations
Learning Requirements:

Degree-level proficiency in French language (written and oral)

Degree-level proficiency in literary / humanities studies

Learning Recommendations:

Familiarity with volume 1 of A la Recherche du temps perdu: Du côté de chez Swann

Description % of Final Grade Timing
Essay: 4000-5000 words on agreed topic


Coursework (End of Trimester)
Presentation: 15-minute exposé in French


Varies over the Trimester


This module is not passable by compensation

Resit Opportunities

In-semester assessment


If you fail this module you may resit, repeat or substitute where permissible. The resit consists of a 4000-5000 word essay on a topic agreed with the module co-ordinator, to be submitted at the end of the following semester.