Gavarni. Frontispiece to Le Diable à Paris, 1844-46. Reproduced in Lerner, Jillian Taylor. “A Devil’s Eye View of Paris: Gavarni’s Portrait of the Editor.” Oxford Art J (2008) 31 (2): 233-250. doi: 10.1093/oxartj/kcn012 First published online: May 22, 2008, consulted January 28, 2011.

Paris Through its Books


Whether they conquered Paris, got lost there, or found themselves on the banks of the Seine, writers have been committing Paris to the page ever since Caesar did so in the first century BCE.  The perspectives they have taken to do so have often corresponded to their political and aesthetic agendas, making the life of the city both the subject of their writing and, on occasion, its organizing principle.  This course will examine literary representations of Paris at a variety of points in its history, taking advantage of the range of expertise represented within the faculty of Comparative Literature to consider ways of defining and being defined by Paris, the advantages of examining the city from below, the transmissibility of street-level experience of the metropolis, and the promise and risk of enacting ideals. We will begin with moments of political and literary redefinition, considering how Julian and Caesar used Lutetia to shape their own images, how the literature of La Fronde changed the role of the monarchy and the location of the court in the 17th century, and how ideas about French society shifted with the Paris Commune in 1871.  Moving underground, we will read Villon and Rabelais’ rowdy, contestatory versions of the city with Hugo’s later use of the sewers of Paris in Les Misérables.  At street level, consideration of Baudelaire and Haussmann will be followed by Breton’s surrealist wanderings in Nadja, Perec’s Parisian puzzles, and Charef’s negotiation of the language and the geography of Paris and its banlieues.  Finally, to explore Paris, not only from above, but also in its ideal forms, we will retrace the events of 1848 with Flaubert, and consider forms of spectatorship and physical interaction in Baroque theater and in May of 1968.  The class will conclude with discussion of current projects for Le Grand Paris, and reflections on its potential literary implications.


Villon, Selected Poems

Breton, Nadja

Flaubert, Bouvard and Pécuchet with the Dictionary of Received Ideas

Charef, Tea in the Harem

All other readings for the course will be available in a coursepack and/or via Blackboard.

Recommended (also available on reserve):

Hollier, A New History of French Literature

Hazan, The Invention of Paris, A History in Footsteps

Ferguson, Paris as Revolution


Class participation          20%

Midterm paper                   20%

Group project                      20%

Final paper                            20%

Final exam                             30%

Defining, Conquering, and Defending Paris

Note: An * indicates that one of the classes of the week will be taught by a guest speaker. ** means that the speaker will use both periods.

Week 1

Overview: limits of Paris over time, physical Paris, organization of the course, discussion of Gavarni image.

Week 2

**”Conquest and Self-Defense in Roman Paris” Jula Wildberger, Starting at the Crypte archéologique de Notre Dame, and finishing at the Arènes de Lutèce

Readings from Julian, “Beard Hater” and Caesar, On the Gallic War

Week 3

La Fronde and Versailles

Readings: selections from Jouhaud, Mazarinades, La Fontaine and Perrault

Week 4

*The Paris Commune, Geoff Gilbert teaches selections from Rimbaud

Additional readings from Vallès

Paris from Below, Political Paris

Week 5

Villon, Selected Poems

Selections from Rabelais, Gargantua and Pantagruel

Week 6

**Anne-Marie Picard-Drillien teaches selections from Hugo, Les Misèrables. With visit to Les Égouts de Paris

Week 7

The Grotesque

Bakhtin on Rabelais and the novel

Paris in the Street-The  Puzzle of Paris

Week 8

*Daniel Gunn teaches Perec, Species of Spaces and selections from Life: A User’s Manual

Week 9

(Overview of physiologies and flânerie: Benjamin and Baudelaire)

*Alice Craven teaches Breton, Nadja

Week 10

*Geoff Gilbert and/or Anna-Louise Milne teaches Charef, Tea in the Harem

Paris from Above- Staging Ideals

Week 11

Selection from Flaubert, Sentimental Education, with visit to scenes of 1848

*Dan Medin teaches Dictionary of Received Ideas

Week 12

18 48/1968 connections

*Adrian Harding teaches Baroque theater

Week 13

Debates surrounding Le Grand Paris, La Maison de l’histoire de France