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Unit information: What is an author? Fictions and theories in 2018/19

Please note: It is possible that the information shown for future academic years may change due to developments in the relevant academic field. Optional unit availability varies depending on both staffing and student choice.

Unit name What is an author? Fictions and theories
Unit code FREN30045
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Professor. Harrow
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of French
Faculty Faculty of Arts


This unit will be taught by Philippa Lewis

Focusing primarily on nineteenth-century France, this Unit will explore key literary and critical representations of authorship in a range of forms and genres, from narrative fiction by Balzac and Zola and autobiographical writing by George Sand to prose poetry by Baudelaire. It will examine the way these writers construct the figure of the author in their fictions and how these authors have in turn been fashioned by the critical discourses of their age, and subsequent periods. We will consider how male and female writers, and successful and struggling authors, are differentiated in literary representations, and ask what such images can tell us about nineteenth-century society and the role of literature and its practitioners therein. Comparisons with other creators, notably visual artists, will be made. We shall also engage with a range of twentieth and twenty-first-century theoretical debates in order to assess the way later critical tendencies reacted against and problematised the nineteenth century’s vision of the author.

Intended learning outcomes

Students will have demonstrated on completion of the unit:

  1. critical engagement with a range of nineteenth-century texts relevant to this topic and a nuanced understanding of the literary culture within which these texts were produced;
  2. critical thinking about the formation of the canon, about authorship as a culturally constructed notion that has varied over time;
  3. an ability to compare and contrast nineteenth and twentieth-century conceptions of authorship;
  4. the ability to consider authorship in relation to a range of genres and art forms (the novel, poetry, autobiography, visual art) and supporting practices (literary criticism, journalism, translation, and publishing).
  5. an ability, as appropriate to level H, to describe, analyse, and evaluate both primary texts and the critical responses to these texts; to understand and apply relevant critical concepts and terminology to primary texts in a productive, nuanced and culturally sensitive manner.
  6. independent research, writing, and referencing skills to a degree appropriate to level H (including the use of relevant online and library resources)

Teaching details

1 x weekly lecture

1 x weekly seminar

Assessment Details

3 hour exam (50%) – this will assess ILOs 1-5

3, 000 word essay (50%) – this will assess ILOs 1-6

Reading and References

The primary set texts will be or include:

Balzac, Part II of Illusions perdues: Un grand homme de province à Paris (1839)

Extracts from George Sand, Histoire de ma vie (1855)

Baudelaire, Le Spleen de Paris (1869)

Zola, L’Œuvre (1886).

Critical readings will include:

Barthes, ‘La Mort de l’auteur’ (1967)

Foucault, ‘Qu’est-ce qu’un auteur?’ (1969)

Séan Burke, The Death and Return of the Author (1998)

Margaret Cohen, The Sentimental Education of the Novel (2002)

José-Luis Diaz, L’écrivain imaginaire: scénographies auctoriales à l’époque romantique (2007)

Ann Jefferson, Genius: An Idea and its Uses (2015)