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Unit information: The Alchemy of Influence: Imitation, Translation, and Creativity in 2021/22

Unit name The Alchemy of Influence: Imitation, Translation, and Creativity
Unit code FREN30131
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Tomlinson
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of French
Faculty Faculty of Arts

Description including Unit Aims

In his radically irreverent Essais, Michel de Montaigne repeatedly plunders ideas and turns of phrase from other writers’ works, sometimes acknowledging his borrowings, sometimes disguising them. The result is not, as we might imagine, a mishmash of plagiarised passages, but, as Montaigne proudly declares, a work of extraordinary originality, ‘the only book in the world of its kind’. Modern culture prizes originality. Yet, as Montaigne so vividly shows, this cult of the new is a recent phenomenon and it hides a universal truth: that all forms of creation are indebted to the alchemical forces of influence.

In this course, you will develop your agility as a reader and a writer in ways that acknowledge and are inspired by the cultural theory of imitation. This is an approach to composition that has its roots in classical culture and that took on new vigour during the Renaissance. It found a particular, powerful, and political expression in France, where vernacular writers sought to assert their autonomy and modernity by imitating, and then surpassing, the cultural habits of the past.

You will discover how French cultural institutions – whether radical schools, canny publishing houses, or fashionable literary coteries – endorsed imitation as the cornerstone of learning and creativity. You will examine 15th and 16th-century theories and practices of style and ask what status the authorial voice gains in a culture in which writers made their mark not by chasing a fantasy of ex-nihilo originality but by playing subtly yet distinctively with inherited conventions. Once au fait with these histories of creation, you will examine a selection of 20th and 21st-century writings on influence, intertextuality, and style, will research what practising writers have said about translation, and will develop a working knowledge of the specialist languages and codes used by editors and proof-readers today. Armed with this understanding and analytical toolkit, you will undertake your own acts of creation in the shape of both formative and summative exercises of collaborative translation and individual composition.


  • To introduce students to a significant body of knowledge of a complexity appropriate to final- year level by exploring the history of translation and style during a foundational period in European and French cultural history
  • To enable students to develop a nuanced understanding of the ways classical culture was appropriated and reworked by French writers to foster new and radical modes of expression, translation, and creativity
  • To enable students to develop further their skills of analysis, translation, creation, and composition
  • To give students the opportunity to respond actively to tutor feedback on assessed assignments, making student response to feedback part of the assessment
  • To equip students with the skills to carry out accurate proof-reading and copy-editing, on their own and others’ written productions.

Intended Learning Outcomes

On successful completion of this unit, students will be able to:

  1. Understand and appraise, selecting and synthesizing relevant critical scholarship, how early modern culture approached and practised translation and composition
  2. Examine, interpret and apply to practical translations and compositions key concepts in the history of translation and style.
  3. Differentiate, in theory and practice, between imitation, composition, and translation,
  4. Invent, produce, and present original translations and compositions
  5. Collaborate effectively by working in small groups on a joint project and assess and respond to peers’ work, applying the vocational skills of proofing and editing gained during the course

Teaching Information

Teaching will be delivered through a combination of synchronous and asynchronous sessions, including group seminar-style discussion and self-directed exercises.

Assessment Information

1 x 20-minute group presentation (40%). [ILOs 1-5]

1 x 3000-word individual imitative composition in English (60%). [ILOs 1-4]


If this unit has a Resource List, you will normally find a link to it in the Blackboard area for the unit. Sometimes there will be a separate link for each weekly topic.

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How much time the unit requires
Each credit equates to 10 hours of total student input. For example a 20 credit unit will take you 200 hours of study to complete. Your total learning time is made up of contact time, directed learning tasks, independent learning and assessment activity.

See the Faculty workload statement relating to this unit for more information.

The Board of Examiners will consider all cases where students have failed or not completed the assessments required for credit. The Board considers each student's outcomes across all the units which contribute to each year's programme of study. If you have self-certificated your absence from an assessment, you will normally be required to complete it the next time it runs (this is usually in the next assessment period).
The Board of Examiners will take into account any extenuating circumstances and operates within the Regulations and Code of Practice for Taught Programmes.