HUMS 201, The Modern French Novel

Meeting Time: 
TTh 1:30pm-2:20pm

Course Description:

A survey of major French novels, considering style and story, literary and intellectual movements, and historical contexts. Writers include Balzac, Flaubert, Proust, Camus, and Sartre. Readings in translation. One section conducted in French.

Led by:

Alice Kaplan | Department of French

Professor Alice Kaplan

Alice Kaplan, John M. Musser Professor of French, is a specialist of 20th century France.  She works at the intersection of literature and history, using a method that allies archival research with textual analysis.  She is also a literary translator. 

Her teaching and research have focused on the Second World War, the Liberation, and the Algerian War, and on the writers Céline, Proust, and Camus.   

Outside Yale, she is a member of the Writers Council of the American Library in Paris, and sits on the board of the French journal Critique as its New Haven correspondent.  She is currently serving as a jury member for the French Voices Book Prize, a translation subvention awarded by the cultural services of the French Embassy in New York. 

Her articles and review have appeared in The Nation, The New York Times, Critique, and Yale French Studies, as well as the online magazine Contreligne.

Maurice Samuels | Department of French

Professor Maurice Samuels

Maurice Samuels specializes in the literature and culture of nineteenth-century France and in Jewish Studies. He is the author of four books. The Spectacular Past: Popular History and the Novel in Nineteenth-Century France (Cornell, 2004), examines new forms of historical representation — including panoramas, boulevard theater, and the novel — in post-Revolutionary France. Inventing the Israelite: Jewish Fiction in Nineteenth-Century France (Stanford, 2010), brings to light the first Jewish fiction writers in French. It won the Scaglione Prize, given by the Modern Language Association for the best book in French studies, and was translated into French (Hermann, 2017). The Right to Difference: French Universalism and the Jews (Chicago, 2016) studies the way French writers and thinkers have conceived of the place of Jews within the nation from the French Revolution to the present. It also won the MLA’s Scaglione Prize for the best book in French Studies. His new book, The Betrayal of the Duchess, a study of France’s first antisemitic affair, was published in 2020 by Basic Books. He also co-edited a Nineteenth-Century Jewish Literature Reader (Stanford, 2013) and edited Les grands auteurs de la littérature juive au XIXe siècle (Éditions Hermann, 2015). A recipient of the Guggenheim Fellowship, he has published articles on diverse topics, including romanticism and realism, aesthetic theory, representations of the Crimean War, boulevard culture, and writers from Balzac to Zola. He has directed the Yale Program for the Study of Antisemitism since 2011, and is currently also serving as the chair of Yale’s Judaic Studies Program.


This course was previously offered in the Spring of 2021, 2017, and 2015, and the Fall of 2018, 2013, and 2011. These testimonials are taken from student course evaluations.

  • This was among the best classes I’ve ever taken at Yale. Lecture is incredible, and the novels are manageable and you haven’t read most of them before but will immediately understand their relevance to your understanding of history and the world.
  • Fantastic course. One of my favorite at Yale. The structure that Professor Kaplan and Samuels thought of was effective - Samuels, the 19th century specialist, teaches the 19th century novels while Kaplan asks questions at the end of lecture; Kaplan, the 20th century specialist, teaches the 20th century novels while Samuels asks questions. The dialogue at the end of each lecture helped ensure that students were asking good questions as they engaged with the texts.