Notre Dame


The course introduces students to French culture from the Middle Ages to the eve of the French Revolution. It addresses culture in the widest sense, encompassing not only masterpieces of French literature, architec­ture, and visual art but also the habits, customs, and general practices of everyday life. While the course approaches these matters in the first place through discussion of exem­plary artworks, it envisages these works less as monumental ends in themselves than as documents promoting an understanding of how French people imagined their world and their own natures as active inhabitants of that world. Getting to know and appreciate key French works of literature, painting, and architecture is indeed indispensable to grasping who the French were, how they lived, and the social and cultural spaces in which they constructed their evolving identities. Understanding France and the French demands familiarity with epics like La Chanson de Roland, comic tricksters like Renard the Fox, the royal as well as biblical ima­gery built into the fabric of Gothic cathedrals, or Marie de France’s courtly reinvention of the violent heroes of the chanson de geste. However, beyond using such works to docu­ment French social and cultural history and the changing sense of Frenchness that accom­panies it, the course explores them as the means by which the French communicate these things to each other. All French school children make the ac­quaintance of the petits rusés, the “crafty little guys” who stalk the pages of the Roman de Renard, the fables of La Fontaine, or the philosophical dialogues of Rabelais and Diderot. Part, then, of being French is knowing these figures and the stories in which they appear. But what French people learn from them is not simply the tradition they claim as their own; they learn what it means to be French and how someone called to that estate ought to go about do­ing it. The French not only prize the crafty little guy as a figure of irreverent fun; he forms an indelible part of the national self-image, as vividly present in the streets of modern Paris as in the villages of medieval Normandy. In studying the monuments of the French literary, artistic, and architectural heritage, students will ac­cordingly learn what the French learn—how to be French. In the process, they will also gain a deeper understanding of why even modern day French non-believers reacted so strongly when the great medieval cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris caught fire.

MWF 1:00-1:50

CLRE 208