Spring 2016

Correspondences: Letter Culture in the Enlightenment

Listed in: French, as FREN-472


Jay L. Caplan (Section 01)


The eighteenth century in Europe was the high point of both personal letter-writing and novels presented as correspondence between real people, epistolary novels. At the same time that, thanks to improvements in postal service, a new "Republic of Letters" took shape through the exchange of real letters, readers thrilled to the passions of the heroes and heroines of epistolary novels. Rousseau's Julie: ou la Nouvelle Héloïse (1761) was probably the biggest best-seller of the century: readers became invested in the lives of its characters to an extent that was previously unknown in fiction, turning its reclusive author into a literary celebrity. Later in the century, readers of Goethe's The Sufferings of Young Werther started to dress like its hero, and this epistolary novel triggered the first known wave of copycat suicides.

We shall read excerpts from both real and fictional correspondence of the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in order to discover how letters established relationships of love, friendship, interdependence and power, as well as how letters can make us feel as though we are gaining access to private lives. We shall also devote some attention to how the post actually worked at this time.

We shall read excerpts from the correspondence of Madame de Sévigné, Diderot, Voltaire and Rousseau, among others, along with epistolary novels such as Montesquieu's Les Lettres persanes, Rousseau's Julie: ou la Nouvelle Héloïse, and Les Liaisons dangereuses of Choderlos de Laclos. Conducted in French.  (Offered only once.)

Requisite: One of the following--FREN 207, 208, 311 or equivalent. Spring semester. Professor Caplan.

Cost: 45.00 ?


Attention to Research, Attention to Speaking, Attention to Writing, Languages Other Than English


2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2016