Figures of Alterity in the Nineteenth Century

Module code: FR3043

Module co-ordinator: Dr Marion Krauthaker

This module deals with ideologies and articulations of alterity in the nineteenth-century novel and short story, at a time when French fiction was largely preoccupied with describing the dominant figures, structures, and norms of contemporary society. It examines the ways in which writers represent the marginal, foreign, exotic, and subversive.

The texts and films studied will reveal how the encounter between individual experience and the nineteenth-century public sphere fostered conflict, resistance, and potential transgression. The module will concentrate on four marginal and isolated identities in context: an oppressed bisexual female, a romantic foreigner, a cross-dresser whose real sex has been hidden, and a hermaphrodite. In different ways, these figures aim for an ideal that transcends utilitarianism, bourgeois conformity, and a restrictive binary system of gender identification.

In our examination of racial, social, cultural, and sexual otherness, specific themes for discussion will include gendered power relations; freedom, constraint, and fate; the destructive forces of desire; love, death, revenge, and the exotic; magic, mystery, myth, and demystification. Above all, the motif of alterity will permit an appreciation of the ways in which perspective is a major thematic as well as technical matter in nineteenth-century literature.

Set texts are likely to include:

  • Balzac, La fille aux yeux d'or
  • Stendhal, Mina de Vanghel
  • George Sand, Gabriel
  • Mystère Alexina (dir. René Féret, a film based on Les Souvenirs d'Herculine Barbin)


  • One small-group seminar presentation (15%)
  • One literature review (15%)
  • One coursework essay (2,500-3,000 words) (70%)