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Sensibility and Sociability in the Eighteenth-Century French Novel


  • Credit value: 30 credits at Level 6
  • Convenor: Ann Lewis
  • Lecturer: Ann Lewis
  • Prerequisites: French 3
  • Assessment: a 2500-word essay (60%) and a 1.5-hour exercise under exam conditions, either an essay or commentary (40%)

Module description

This module will introduce you to four key novels from eighteenth-century France. ‘Sensibility’ and sympathy are central notions in Enlightenment thought and inseparable from contemporary theories on social relations and sociability.

How important are emotions such as pity in moral conduct? Is ‘une âme sensible’ a universal disposition, or the exclusive quality of a happy (or unhappy) few? What is the place of family feeling and/or sexual passion in moral behaviour and in the pursuit of happiness? These are some of the moral and philosophical questions that are explored in the set texts which we will examine over the course of this module.

You should be able to read the set texts in French.

Indicative module content

  • Introduction
  • Prévost, Manon Lescaut (1731)
  • Marivaux, La Vie de Marianne (1731-42)
  • Reading Week
  • Diderot, La Religieuse (1797)
  • Bernardin de Saint-Pierre, Paul et Virginie (1788)
  • In-class commentary

Recommended reading

Primary texts will be selected from the following. (Any modern edition in French is fine. Folio classique or Flammarion editions are recommended.)

  • Bernardin de Saint-Pierre, Paul et Virginie (1787).
  • Diderot, La Religieuse (first published 1797).
  • Graffigny, Lettres d’une Péruvienne (1747, revised edition 1752).
  • Laclos, Les Liaisons dangereuses (1782).
  • Marivaux, La Vie de Marianne (1731-42).
  • Prévost, Manon Lescaut (1731).
  • Rousseau, La Nouvelle Héloïse (1761).

Indicative secondary reading list (one or two chapters in each):

  • Henri Coulet, Le Roman jusqu’à la Révolution (1967).
  • John Cruikshank (ed.), French Literature and its Background 3: The Eighteenth Century (1968).
  • Ann Lewis, Sensibility, Reading and Illustration: Spectacles and Signs in Graffigny, Marivaux and Rousseau (2009).
  • David Marshall, The Surprising Effects of Sympathy: Marivaux, Diderot, Rousseau and Mary Shelley (1988).
  • Anne Vila, Enlightenment and Pathology: Sensibility in the Literature and Medicine of Eighteenth-Century France (1998).