Challenging Perspectives: Conflict and Relations in French Culture

Module code: FR2042
Module co-ordinator: Dr Marion Krauthaker

This module focuses on the challenges posed to human relationships and interactions at a time of conflict. We will not look at history as such, but rather explore works of fiction and autofiction and analyse how social and political tensions affect people in different ways. For instance, how does the context of a given time – such as war or invasion by enemy forces – affect people’s encounters and connections? Does the pressure of allegiance or hostility to the authorities in place force them into interactions or choices they wouldn’t have otherwise made? How do the characters react to political or peer pressure? How do writers and artists represent these conflicts and dilemmas? 

We will examine the experiences of prostitute figures who sacrifice themselves to free their fellow citizens and their country; explore how a repressed French woman reacts to the German soldier occupying her home; observe how innocent children can be brutally exposed to the cruel truth of war. Collaboration, resistance, social and moral order and love will be key themes of study. We will also consider the notions of irony and absurdity as the primary sources expose the apparently gallant as inherently cowardly, the outwardly virtuous as innately corrupt and the otherwise fragile as unsung heroes. In different ways, these narratives all use a series of themes and representational techniques which defy our perceptions and challenge social norms and stereotypes.

Topics covered

Set texts will include:

  • Guy de Maupassant: ‘Boule de Suif’ (Gallimard-Folio, 1995)
  • Vercors: ‘Le Silence de la mer’ (Livre de Poche, 1967)
  • Louis Malle: Au revoir, les enfants (Gallimard-Folio, 1995) [screenplay]


  • 10 hours of lectures
  • 10 hours of seminars
  • 180 hours of guided independent study


  • Group seminar presentation (30%)
  • Essay, 2,000-2,500 words (70%)