Sexual Politics: Gender Dynamics in Early Modern France (MLF3081)

StaffDr Helena Taylor - Convenor
Credit Value15
ECTS Value7.5
NQF Level6
Pre-requisitesMLF2001 or MLF2152 or equivalent
Duration of Module Term 2: 11 weeks;

Module aims

This module aims to introduce you to a varied selection of four short seventeenth-century texts.. You will trace how gender is represented in these texts, and will examine the social implications and literary uses of such representations. We will investigate ideas of masculinity; performance, , the body, and sexuality; women’s self-determination and desire; marriage and the family; authority and power; and authorship.

You will learn to read critically and comparatively by developing close reading skills and a refined understanding of the particular social, historical and cultural context in which these texts were written. You will also become familiar with theoretical approaches to gender and practise assessing their value for the analysis of early modern works. Was gender thought about differently in the past and, if so, how do we tackle this difference? By exploring the continued literary and critical resonance of these seventeenth-century works, the module will refine skills useful for other modules. 

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. Recognise the place of the set texts in the historic, literary and cultural context of seventeenth-century France and, if appropriate, identify points of comparison with modern perspectives.
  • 2. Analyse how the set texts represent gender and its complexities and evaluate French verse and prose (seventeenth-century French has been modernized in prescribed editions)

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 3. With some guidance from the tutor, evaluate and apply a range of critical approaches to the material covered.
  • 4. Mount a detailed argument in the appropriate register, drawing upon a range of textual or other evidence in its support.
  • 5. Access and use printed and, where appropriate, electronic learning resources identified as useful by the course tutor, and, to a limited extent, discover other useful materials independently.

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 6. Undertake defined learning activities with a measure of autonomy, asking for guidance where necessary.
  • 7. Adopt a critical approach to the selection and organization of material in order to produce, to a deadline, a cogent and sustained written argument.

Syllabus plan

This module looks at the representation of gender in four very different short seventeenth-century French texts: a theatrical comedy by Molière about women’s education; a tragedy by Corneille which examines relationships between gender, power and motherhood; a short story by Madame de Lafayette about marriage and societal expectations; and a novella featuring characters who explore the limitations and possibilities of gendered norms and identities. We will explore how these rich, subversive and diverse texts represent gender, analysing the literary and social implications of such representations. You will also become familiar with different modern perspectives on gender , and be challenged to consider questions relating to the body and the state; social norms and identity. 

An introductory lecture will briefly present the historical and literary context, and sketch out key theoretical approaches; this will be followed by four lectures looking at each of the set texts in detail. The five lectures will be supported by ten seminars (one introductory, two on each text, and a final concluding round table). In the text-based seminars, we will focus on passages from the set texts and from critical works (encouraging comparative analysis if appropriate).

Whilst the content may vary from year to year, it is envisioned that it will cover some or all of the following topics:

  • Introduction – Concepts of Gender in Early Modern France
  • Women in Society: Molière, Les Femmes Savantes (1672)
  • Gender and Power: Pierre Corneille’s Médée(1635)
  • Authorship, Authority, Adultery: Madame de Lafayette’s La Comtesse de Tende (posthumous, 1724)
  • Gender, Performance and the Self: ’: Abbé de Choisy et al., Histoire de la Marquise-Marquis de Banneville (1695)

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled learning and teaching 5Lectures Tutor-led presentation of key ideas/introductions to set texts (5 x 1-hour)
Scheduled learning and teaching 10Seminars Material to be prepared in advance on guidance from course tutor; short presentations on prepared material will be required on occasion (10 x 1 hour)
Scheduled learning and teaching 1Tutorial
Guided Independent Study134Private Study (reading of set texts; preparation for seminars; preparation of formative and summative assessment).

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Short essay750 wordsAllWritten and oral feedback

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay1003000 wordsAllWritten

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Essay Essay AllReferral/Deferral Period

Re-assessment notes

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 40%) you will be required to submit a further assessment as necessary. If you are successful on referral, your overall module mark will be capped at 40%.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

• Abbé de Choisy et al., Histoire de la Marquise-Marquis de Banneville (1695). Provided online.
• Corneille, Médée (1635) (any edition with numbered lines)
• Madame de Lafayette, La Comtesse de Tende (Livre de Poche, 2009)
• Molière, Les Femmes Savantes (1672) (any edition with numbered lines)

Selected secondary sources:
• Greenberg, Mitchell. Subjectivity and Subjugation in Seventeenth-Century French Drama and Prose: The Family Romance of French Classicism (Cambridge: CUP, 1992)
• Harris, Joseph. Hidden Agendas: Cross-Dressing in 17th-Century France (Tübingen: Gunter Narr Verlag, 2005).
• Rivkin and Ryan (eds). Literary Theory: An Anthology, ed. by, 2nd edition (Oxford: Blackwell, 2004). Extracts will be provided online.
• Seifert, Lewis. Manning the Margins: Masculinity and Writing in Seventeenth-Century France (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2009).
• Stanton, Domna. The Dynamics of Gender in Early Modern France: women writ, women writing (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2014).
• Wiesner-Hanks, Merry. Women and Gender in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993, multiple reprints).

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Key words search

Gender, France, Early Modern, Literature, Sexuality, Women Writers, Authority