Jean-Léon Gérôme, Bonaparte Before the SphinxFrench Colonialism: North Africa and the Middle East

Spring 2022

Course: FREN 1750
Instructor: Aimee Kilbane
Meets: MWF 11:15am - 12:05pm

For centuries, the Middle East and North Africa have held great influence over the French imagination, as evidenced by the literature and art that takes these regions as their subject. Inspired by stories from The Arabian Nights like “Aladdin” and “Ali Baba” (translated into French in the early 1700s), writers and artists from the eighteenth century onwards traveled to the Middle East in search of the world of fantasy and adventure described in these tales, and recorded their experiences and visions in literature and painting. The nineteenth and twentieth centuries brought a different kind of French presence to these regions, when much of North Africa (Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia) was colonized and occupied by the French, and Lebanon and Syria became French mandates after World War I.

In this class, we will explore the rich tradition of literature and art that takes the Middle East and North Africa as its subject matter—before, during, and after colonization, by both French and Arab authors; how some such works created a fictionalized image of Arabs that existed only as a fantasized, exotic “other” to the “enlightened” European subject; and how authors of the postcolonial period have responded to French political and cultural imperialism.