FYS Section A14. Tales from France
The experiences of our shared human story are often enshrined in fictional tales that explore the most basic ideals and longings, the hopes and fears of the race. Yet, except perhaps for musical adaptations like Leonard Bernstein’s Candide and, more recently, the hugely popular Les Misérables, how many literary works from France have had any significant impact in the English-speaking world? Even Charles Perrault’s fairy tales have been eclipsed by what some see as more “child-friendly” versions by the Brothers Grimm. What might explain the apparent limited appeal of writings from France? What Gallic delights are we Anglophiles missing as a result? We will read, discuss, and write about a number of French stories, both old and new, and mostly short; among these will be: the legend of Tristan and Isolde; short stories by Marie de France, Flaubert, and Maupassant; bawdy tales from Rabelais; selected essays by Montaigne; Racine’s tragic account of the consequences of incestuous desire; and more amusing studies of religious hypocrisy and matrimonial strategizing by the comic genius Molière. We will try to figure out whether these tales, like certain wines, do not travel well in English translation, or whether, in fact, they do prove to have universal appeal.
Professor of French Studies