Summer 2007
Fully Enrolled

HUMS 644
Exoticism: Imaginary Geographies in 18th- and 19th-Century French Literature


06/11/2007 - 06/15/2007
Monday-Friday 09:00 AM - 05:00 PM

Off-Campus Site

This travel course held in Paris is designed for students who are interested in French literature, ideas, culture, and perhaps even French travel writing, but who were not necessarily French or literature majors in college. The broad goal will be to provide a survey of an interesting cultural phenomenon--a subgenre within French prose: that of the writer who grapples with the notion of the exotic, be it in foreign landscapes, customs, or mores. The general progression of the class will evolve from a discussion of just what distinguishes exoticism from basic travel writing, into an in-depth analysis of a selection of literary texts chosen as much for their content as for their reading pleasure.

On day one, our initial foray into the topic will involve short segments by the Renaissance philosopher Montaigne ("On cannibalism"); we will then jump abruptly to the twentieth century with Victor Segalen, the French thinker who theorized the exotic quest. Having examined the historical, material, and philosophical context for the exotic, we will move on to the fiction itself on day two.

Our first novel is Paul and Virginia, a best-selling eighteenth-century tear-jerker written by the naturalist and traveler Bernardin de Saint-Pierre, about an idyllic (yet slave-supported) existence on Ile de France (present-day Mauritius). On day three we will move into the nineteenth century by reading Balzac's Girl with the Golden Eyes. This work, which recounts the existence of a curious seraglio, or harem, in the midst of Paris, will allow us to identify the true source of the exotic quest, the ennui of the nineteenth-century writer. We will follow up on this work, still on day three, with a discussion of Baudelaire's celebrated Flowers of Evil, a significant component of which praises the escape and lure of the exotic, particularly the exotic woman. Baudelaire will serve as the transition on day four, where we will discuss Merimee's Carmen and the construction of the exotic femme fatale. On day five we will get to one of my favorite novels, Flaubert's monumental Salammbo, a complex literary reconstruction of Carthage and a violent mercenary revolt, circa 200 B.C.

Students in this class will be expected to read all the texts before arriving in Paris. They should also read "around" each of the authors studied in class so that they have an idea about who these authors were. A typical class day will go from 10-1 and from 2-5. We will spend the mornings in the classroom. Here, I will generally provide a short introductory lecture, but the majority of the class will be an interactive discussion. I will also expect students to prepare numerous class presentations, from short five-minute discussions of a given passage to broader, more thematic 15-minute talks on, for example, Baudelaire and Segalen. Giving presentations often makes students uneasy; I will provide a useful method for preparing such presentations, which can be applied to presentations for other courses as well.

We will spend the afternoons attending either a museum that ties into themes of exoticism or doing another related cultural activity. (Much of this will be determined in the spring as a function of museum exhibitions.)

Enrollment is limited to 15 students.

Additional fee: $350

A syllabus for this course is available at:
Course Syllabus

Andrew Curran (Ph.D., New York University) is a specialist of the French eighteenth century. His work has focused on a variety of topics related to Diderot, physical and moral monstrosity in eighteenth-century French thought, and the early-modern life sciences. He is currently at work on a book on the representation of Africa in Enlightenment thought. Professor Curran has received grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities as well as the Mellon and John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundations. Click here for more information about Andrew.


Consent of Instructor Required: No

Format: Seminar

Level: GLSP Credits: 3 Enrollment Limit: 15

Texts to purchase for this course:

Register for Courses

Contact to submit comments or suggestions. 
Copyright Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut, 06459