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You are here: Home / Graduate Studies / Graduate Degrees / Specialization in Literature

Specialization in Literature


The Specialization in Literature offers numerous courses in the different periods and genres of metropolitan and non-metropolitan literature. Candidates also choose electives in French and related subjects to ensure breadth of training as well as depth.


The study of literature is the humanistic discipline that seeks to understand certain aesthetic achievements through the interpretation and analysis of works of oral, written, and dramatic art. It requires a sound knowledge of literary languages, styles, genres, and themes; a familiarity with the history of literary movements and ideas; and an awareness of the range of critical and theoretical approaches to literary works. Moreover, students of literature must acquire and develop the critical skills necessary to analyze and interpret literary texts.

The goals of the Specialization in French Literature are:

  1. To provide students with a broad knowledge of French and Francophone literatures and of their general relationship to other literatures, together with a specialized knowledge of a particular literary period, genre, or movement.
  2. To provide students with a sound historical basis for the study of literature and introduce them to the insights that other disciplines can bring to an understanding of the relationships between literature and the society for which it was written.
  3. To introduce students to a variety of theoretical approaches to literature, such as semiotic, thematic, feminist, narratological, philological, sociological, and phenomenological approaches.
  4. To develop in students the linguistic and analytical skills that will enable them to read literary texts with full understanding and to develop the critical skills that will enable them to interpret works of literature with insight and perception.
  5. To teach students the techniques of literary research and to develop the skills required to communicate the results of their research to others in the classroom, at professional meetings, and in publications.


Students are required to take 30-36 credits of coursework.  FR 571, Literary Theory and Criticism, and FR 580, Approaches to French and Francophone Civilization, are required.  Other courses will be selected in consultation with the advisor.

To increase the candidate's employment opportunities, it is recommended that a minor be developed. A minor gives special visibility to a substantial secondary interest of the candidate within French Studies. The minor can be another literary specialty, another field, or an interdisciplinary topic with courses taken outside the Department. The minor is defined as a minimum of three courses in the specified area. Note that a minor taken entirely outside the department will increase the number of credits hours for the degree.


Candidacy Examination

At the beginning of the semester of the exam, and in no case later than four weeks before the exam, the candidate chooses a faculty member from the Department of French and Francophone Studies to serve as the Chair of the Ph.D. Candidacy Examination committee. With the help of the Chair, two additional members who are knowledgeable about the student’s field of specialization are selected and asked to serve on the committee. When appropriate, a fourth committee member from another department may serve in a consultative capacity. At the time of the constitution of the committee, if not before, the student will select two additional texts to prepare for the exam (see below), in conjunction with the committee chair. The Chair will submit the two texts to the other committee members for their approval.

The candidacy exam is expected to last approximately two hours but may end up being longer or shorter. The exam will consist of two parts. One part is a review of the candidate's past record (courses taken, requirements fulfilled, etc.), of his/her plans for additional courses, and of the dissertation area and subject, insofar as they can be defined at that time. This portion of the exam is based on a document of about ten pages prepared in advance (and in French) by the candidate. Roughly three pages should document courses taken and those that, if available, the candidate will yet take; requirements still to be satisfied (and by what means); and other plans and needs. About five to eight pages should be devoted to the dissertation area and, to whatever extent possible at the time, to the specific subject. This section of the exam will be considered to be in part an advising session, though more formal and rigorous than are the usual discussions between students and their advisors.

The other portion will be an exam based on six theoretical texts read in advance by the student. The intent is to determine the student's ability to deal with theoretical concepts and texts in a sufficiently knowledgeable and sophisticated way. Four of the texts will be selected from the list below; two will be chosen, in consultation with the advisor, by the student and will be specific to his/her field. The committee members will devise four questions related to one or several of these texts, and the student will have one hour to prepare responses to two of the question(s) prior to the oral exam. In the exam itself, the student will be expected to present and discuss responses orally; it is assumed that he/she will have made notes on the question(s) but will not read a prepared response.  Students will be provided with unmarked copies of the texts at the time of the exam.

A student who does not pass the exam will be terminated from the program unless the committee recommends that he or she be given the opportunity to retake the exam.  The examining committee may also request that the student rewrite the portion of the candidacy document related to the dissertation research area.

A student who does not pass the exam may retake it once.

The following eight texts, chosen by the faculty, will be part of the exam for the next two years or more. (The list may be revised thereafter; adequate notice will be given to students.) Photocopies of the texts will be made available.

  1. Derrida, "La structure, le signe et le jeu dans le discours des sciences humaines."
  2. Foucault, "Qu'est-ce qu'un auteur?"
  3. Jakobson, "Linguistique et poétique” from “Essais de linguistique générale”
  4. Wittig, “On ne naît pas femme” from La pensée straight
  5. Roger Chartier, “Le monde comme représentation” in Annales
  6. Pierre Bourdieu, “Le point de vue de l’auteur” in Les règles de l’art
  7. Michel de Certeau, “Marches dans la ville”, in L’Invention du quotidien 1
  8. Tzvetan Todorov, “Vers un humanisme tempéré,” in Nous et les autres

The two texts chosen by the student in consultation with his/her advisor should be primarily theoretical in nature, of moderate length (i.e., a section or chapter, not a book), and related to the student's area or subject of specialization.

Comprehensive Examination

The candidate, in consultation with the advisor, will draw up a reading list in each of the following three areas:  one literary period (chosen from medieval through 20th/21st century, including non-metropolitan); one genre (poetry, narrative, theater); and theory and criticism.  The fourth area will be identified as the primary area of specialization and will be the final form of the doctoral dissertation proposal.  The proposal will include, but not be limited to: 1) a clearly defined problematic, 2) a description of the project, 3) a background, 4) a description of the approach and the methodology, 5) an anticipated outcome, and 6) a bibliography.  The Comprehensive Examination is based on the reading lists inherent to the above-mentioned three areas and the approval of the dissertation proposal.

Written Component

The candidate will take a written examination on each of the three areas for which adequate reading lists have been developed.  A typical reading list is expected to feature about twenty-five items.  The examinations include the option of a take-home in only one of the three components.  Exams taken in-house are four hours in length and must be scheduled within a period of two weeks.  The candidate will be given a choice of three questions and will respond to one.  The dissertation proposal will be developed in consultation with the chair of the doctoral committee and distributed to all members of the committee two weeks before the beginning of the comprehensive examination.

Oral Component

Two weeks after the completion of the Written Comprehensive Examination, a Comprehensive Oral Examination will be scheduled, lasting approximately two hours.  The purpose of the Oral Examination is both to probe further the comprehensiveness of the candidate's preparation in each of the three areas and to evaluate the dissertation proposal.