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Sensibility and Sociability in the Eighteenth-Century French Novel


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

Module description

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

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

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.