Revolution and Social Upheaval: France 1789-1939 

--unit one
--unit two
--unit three
--unit four
--unit five


image banks
--l'assiette au beurre
 --La Vision de Hugo
 --Zola au Pantheon
 --Les Quatre Saisons de la Kultur 
The Course

This civilization course will examine through literary and historical texts, and via artistic representation, the experience and consequences of social change in France over a century and a half of upheaval. Beginning with the outbreak of revolution in 1789, we will study the effects on French culture of the long and tormented path leading to the establishment of Republicanism. The course will pay particular attention to the trials and tribulations of the Third Republic during the Dreyfus Affair and in the period between the World Wars, in order to discern the evolution of cultural tendencies over time. Taught in English under the FL designation.

Required Readings

Readings required for this course are available at the Skidmore Shop, as follows:

  • Simon Schama. Citizens
  • Victor Hugo: Ninety-Three (excerpts)
  • Charles Dickens: A Tale of Two Cities
  • Honore de Balzac: Colonel Chabert
  • Gustave Flaubert: Sentimental Education
  • Emile Zola: The Belly of Paris  or  Germinal 
  • L.-F. Céline: Journey to the End of the Night
  • Sébastien Japrisot: A Very Long Engagement
Additional excerpts from:
  • Flaubert: The Dictionary of Received Ideas
  • Zola: J’accuse, and other political texts from the Dreyfus Affair
  • Barbara Tuchman: The Guns of August
The Web Site
The site provides a visual compliment to the readings in the course. Emphasis will be placed less on canonical works of art, but rather on depiction’s of people, places and events. Where possible, the images shown were produced in the same period in which events occurred,  in order to facilitate consideration of the ways in which social upheaval was represented to and understood by contemporary audiences. Cartoons and caricature occupy an important place in this dynamic, as does book illustration, so these fields are well represented here.  Brief excerpts from texts relevant to the course appear in each section. Finally, web-links suggest other sites for exploration which browsers are encouraged to consult in conjunction with serious bibliographies and critical studies in the library.

Unit One: The Revolution of 1789:Special emphasis on the nature of the three estates of pre-Revolutionary France and their transformation into a modern class structure. Readings from historians of the Revolution such as Simon Schama or J.-C. Martin. Special attention to representations of the Terror: Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities, and excerpts from Quatre-vingt-treize  Victor Hugo's novel about the Terror and its portrayal of religion  during the Revolution as a means for discussion of the opposition of the Church and the new secular state that emerges from the ashes of Revolutionary radicalism.

Unit Two: From Napoleon to the Restauration to 1848 : Focus areas: Napoleon and his legacy (Balzac, Le Colonel Chabert)  rise of the bourgeoisie; development of a critical, satirical press (study of prints by Daumier,  Gavarni, et al.); attempts at censorship of the press (rebellion of 1830); establishment of a pattern of restlessness among the young and the workers culminating in periodic upheavals (1830, 1848). Special attention to Flaubert's Sentimental Education and its depiction of the1848 uprising and early French socialism.

Unit Three: From Empire to Republic: 1848-1872 : Focus areas: Naploeon's coup d'état. Victor Hugo in exile: text: Napoleon le petit; Modernization of Paris under Hausmann. The Commune and the polarization of lower and upper classes.  The Workers and their plight. Evolution of the satirical journals. The rise of the German threat and the beginning of the cycle of Franco-German wars. Principal text:s: Zola: The Belly of Paris, or Zola: Germinal

Unit Four: Rise of the Third Republic, its early triumphs, its fragility:: The Dreyfus Affair. Text: Zola, J'accuse. Antisemitism: the problem of the enemy within, and the racist paradigm. 

Unit Five: From Revanchism to the Great War: reiterated emphasis on Franco-German relations, France as a player in the world political alliances (selections from Barbara Tuchman: The Guns of August.). The War to End All Wars:  L.-F. Céline: Journey to the End of the Night. and Sébastien Japrisot: A Very Long Engagement.

Conclusions: From Peace to the Great Collapse: Effervescence and enervation in the period between the Wars. Recrudescence of Anti-Semitism, the Socialist experiment (Leon Blum, The Popular Front) and the rise of fascism; Principal films: Jean Renoir's Rules of the Game. Marcel Carné, Le jour se lève, as exemplary respresentations of the moods of anxiety and despair prevalent just before WW II.

Image Banks:

L'Assiette au Beurre
La Vision de Hugo
Zola au Pantheon
Les Quatre Saisons de la Kultur

Skidmore College Foreign Language Department layout design by Jennifer Conklin '98
web site created by Jin Feng
revised 1999