Events Calendar
Oct 4 - Nov 15
10:30 - 12:30
Zola and Maupassant: Sex, Scandal and Squalor in Nineteenth Century France
short courses

Dates: 4, 11, 18, 25 October; 8, 15 November 2018

Thursdays: 10.30 – 12.30

Course code: 18TON358

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The worlds of Therese Raquin and her lover Laurent and other characters on this course are unremittingly gloomy.  Emile Zola and Guy de Maupassant were not afraid to address the dark side of the human condition, laying bare the games people play to get what they want in life.  Writing just before and during the Franco-Prussian war, these writers depict the France of that time as a place of unrest, poverty, class prejudice and hypocritical behaviour.

Emile Zola was the master of naturalism.  His writing explores a world governed by scientific principles, a world where people follow their basic desires like animals and lives are predetermined by forces of nature.  His friend and disciple, Guy de Maupassant's tales are realistic depictions of human relationships often with violent or ironic endings.  Both authors describe sexual acts, sometimes in graphic detail, giving a pessimistic and disillusioned view of the world at the time.

We start the course with Zola's first successful novel, Thérèse Raquin (1867).  We go on to study three contrasting stories of Maupassant: 'Boule de Suif', a famous story about hypocrisy, class prejudice and cruelty set against the background of the Franco-Prussian War; 'The Necklace' (Maupassant's famous short story about vanity) and 'Le Horla' – a story concerning the Fantastic – a departure from his usual style. We finish with an overview of another Zola novel, the ninth installment in the 20-volume Les Rougon-Macquart series, concerning the life of a prostitute and her conquests.

Required reading in weekly order

Emile Zola, Therese Raquin, London: Penguin, 2004

Emile Zola, Nana, Oxford University Press, 1998

Guy de Maupassant, 'Boule de Suif', 'The Necklace'  'Le Horla'

The tutor will be working from the above editions, but please note that any editions are fine.  Please allow for different translations.

Handouts of the Maupassant short stories will be available on request.  All the texts are available online.

            Week 1: Introduction/ Zola's Therese Raquin

            Week 2: Emile Zola, Therese Raquin

            Week 3: Guy de Maupassant, 'Boule de Suif'

            Week 4: Maupassant, 'The Necklace' and 'Le Horla'

            Week 5: Zola, Nana

            Week 6: Zola, Nana and Conclusion

Additional information

No prior knowledge needed.

The course is suitable for beginners, as well as students with some prior knowledge.

This course allows you to spend time exploring a subject for interest, among like-minded people, without formal assessment.

There will be discussion activities during the course or between sessions.

Intended learning outcomes

By the end of the course students will be able to:

  • understand what the term 'naturalism' in literature implies, and be able to identify the use and significance of naturalism in the works of Zola and Maupassant
  • be able to put the work into historical context
  • be prepared to present carefully considered arguments and be able to defend a point of view based on textual evidence
  • enjoy group discussion and lively debate.

About the tutor

Denyse Straker studied for her BA through the University of Kent's part-time programme at the Tonbridge Centre. She went on to do a research MA on depictions of child abuse in literature at the School of European Culture and Languages in Canterbury. She has been teaching Comparative Literature at Kent since 2001, and has taught a wide range of topics on the short course programme at Tonbridge as well as on undergraduate courses at Canterbury.  She is particularly interested in American Literature and Women's Studies as well as specialising in Travel Literature.


United Kingdom



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