Christine Roulston hopes teaching sex, seduction and romance – as manifested in French novels – will teach students a little more about French history and culture.
It’s an appealing avenue, she will admit, noting it was intentional to draw more students to the Department of French Studies where she will, come next Winter Term, teach a new half-course in English, Sex and Seduction in the French Novel.
“The title is a bit provocative,” she said with a laugh. “We’re trying to get a broader range of students, students interested in French literature or culture but maybe those who can’t write or read (in French).”
And for the enticed students, the class experience will go far beyond provocative texts and explore the subjects of sex and seduction as a means of cultural analysis, she noted.
“French literature is anchored in that idea of seduction, more so than the English tradition which has that Arthurian tradition. It’s always about romance and often the theme of sex is alluring to the reader, but is often used as a form of social critique,” Roulston said.
“Every literary tradition has sex in it, but I think the French tradition was shaped in particular ways by that theme. It is a stereotype but I will be talking about how these novels undercut that stereotype as well. All of them use sex and seduction in a critical way. They’re not about romance being a way to fulfillment and happiness – they’re about romance being impossible or destructive. They’re dark themes.”
Covering classics such as Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary and Mme de Lafayette’s Princesse de Clèves, she added the class will look at women in history and how they acted as lightning rods for social rules.
“These narratives are about adultery, wives that are unhappy or unfaithful and basically about the inability of the woman to have any kind of autonomy in her life. She has to get married, and then go against the rules of society, and if she does that, she gets destroyed.”
Other texts include History of the Marquise-Marquis de Banneville (1695) by Choisy, Héritier, Perrault; Mademoiselle Giraud, My Wife (1870) by Adolphe Belot; The Lost Estate (Le Grand Meaulnes) (1913) by Henri Alain-Fournier and A Lover’s Discourse (1984) by Roland Barthes.
Noting one text deals with a cross-dresser who openly presents himself in a French court, while another deals with a man whose wife takes on a lesbian lover, Roulston added the texts will allow students to see ways in which history has progressed and regressed, showing them the liberal times of today existed once in France as well.
“In my class, I do a lot of contextualization and the culture surrounding the text, so hopefully that will get students interested in the French tradition. Once they’re in, we will be expanding into a broader social critique,” she said.
Using the class and its subject matter, then, is a fitting tool for drawing students in.
“Telling a story is the act of seduction itself – you’re asking the reader to keep reading.”