Undergraduate Course Descriptions

01:420:230 - The French Enlightenment

French 01:420:230 Cross-Listed with Comp. Lit.: 01:195:233

Language of Instruction: English

This course fulfills Core Requirements AHp, WCd

Course Description

This course is an opportunity to discover and appreciate the innovative thoughts and writings of five of the most important writers of the French Enlightenment: Voltaire, Rousseau, Diderot, Laclos, and Beaumarchais. We will explore what makes these 18th-century French writers “great” and accepted as major expressions of French literary culture. In their own lifetimes, these writers were celebrities and, even today, the graves of Voltaire and Rousseau, located opposite one another, are visited by millions of tourists every year.

What is it about Voltaire, Rousseau, Diderot, Laclos, and Beaumarchais’s discussion of civil society, political institutions, nature, morality, artistic creation, scientific progress, religion, and changing notions of selfhood that has given them such a broad and lasting appeal? Was there something truly innovative and unique in their writings that set them apart from their contemporaries and is still relevant to our modern lives?

We will also work on film and musical adaptations of these canonical writings, with the view toward understanding what they may mean for different audiences across different time periods and cultural contexts. 

Understanding the French Enlightenment is intended for first- and second-year students; more advanced non-majors are welcome as well. No previous college-level experience with literary or historical analysis is required. The course will be taught in English and all readings will be in translation, though students who have the ability to read French are invited to consult the original texts.

 This course fulfills Core Requirements AHp, WCd