Preparation for Week 1
- Read Beauvoir’s ‘Introduction’ to Le Deuxième Sexe. You will also find it useful (for all three of this term’s texts) to read Jean-Paul Sartre’s lecture L’Existentialisme est un Humanisme, either in French (available in the library) or English (trans. by Philip Mairet or by Carol Macomber; the Mairet translation can also be found on Marxists.org).
Do some individual research on the (political and social) historical background to the text: France 1939–1948/9, especially, but not exclusively, relating to women (of all social classes). You should come prepared to discuss how women are viewed and treated by society: for example, what kind and level of education they received; what kinds of jobs/careers/professions they might aspire to; what their social functions are, their place in the family, how they are treated in law and viewed by religion. Other elements you might want to address: what are women’s daily lives like; what are their domestic responsibilities and how are they carried out; how are women addressed and/or presented by the media, and targeted in advertising?
- Week 1 slides
Preparation and classwork
You will focus, in the weekly slots and in your preparation for them, on examining the texts in terms of content, purpose, audience and reception, and explore the social background against which the works were written, through individual research and group work (workshops and presentations), supported by lectures and informal talks. You should be carry out regular secondary reading both on the critical reception of the texts and on the socio-historical background. This will help to place the texts in their socio-political context, and will aid your understanding of the changing perceptions of the texts from time of original publication to the present. Showing some appreciation of the historical and critical context will strengthen your essays, too. (See the published Marking Criteria.) Both longer (book-length) and shorter (articles, essays) secondary sources are listed in the Further Reading list; you should read at least one piece of criticism each week.
Some matters to think about (both separately and in comparison of the works):
Purpose and method
- What is the author’s purpose in writing the text(s)?
- What does the author hope to achieve in publishing the text? How does the author go about this?
Audience and reception
- Who is the author’s intended audience? Do the author’s previous published works affect the readership (intended or otherwise) of the texts?
- How were the author’s works received critically and socially? How have critical perceptions altered between initial reactions and the present?
- What aspects of the social context are relevant for each author?
- How do world events (such as World War II, the continuing development of the feminist movement, the Cold War and development of nuclear weapons) inform the texts?
- How do scholarly disciplines (philosophy, medicine, psychoanalysis) inform the authors’ approach and texts?
- How, if at all, are class, race and nationality addressed?
- How do political institutions (law, religion, government, education) influence the texts?
The writer as individual
- How do the works reflect the author’s background, education and political interests, or demonstrate how they have shaped the author’s beliefs?
- How does the author use personal experience to inform the content of the text?
- What effect does the author’s personal, public or publicised life have on how the text is conceived or received?
- What are the genres and nature of the texts?
- What is the relationship between the form of the text and its purpose, argument and reception?
- How does the original form of publication affect understanding of the present form of the text and the author’s purpose?
- Is there any interaction and/or overlap between the texts or their audiences?
- What effect does the changing socio-historical background have on content, approach, purpose, readership and reception?
- How (if at all) concerned are the authors with language, words and meaning, with the vehicle of their argument? Do the authors use key terms (such as mythes and mythologies) in the same way?
You can access a list of recommended texts here.
List of original publication data for the essays in Barthes's Mythologies.
Luce Irigaray interviewed in 2013.
Roland Barthes in 1957.
- Tony McNeill, ‘Women in Postwar France’