French introductory reading list

The relatively short eight-week terms at Cambridge tend to make for a busy schedule and a prompt start to supervisions and language classes. It is therefore vital that you arrive well prepared. You should do some preparatory work on the following two areas before you start the course:

This preparation is likely to make your first year much more enjoyable and successful, since the Cambridge workload is demanding. The guidance below supplements general course information that can be found on the Department website.

French language

You will need to make sure, before you start your course, that your grammatical knowledge has reached a very good level. Please use one or more grammar books to consolidate what you have covered at school/college, and to learn other major grammar points with which you may have little or no familiarity. You will find recent, helpful, and even enjoyable grammar books listed here: www.mml.cam.ac.uk/frb1 (under 'Course materials').

Ideally, you should purchase at least one of these grammar books, since it will help you throughout your course as well as before it: we’d suggest either the Price or else the Hawkins and Towell (which also has a companion book full of exercises — doing such exercises, in conjunction with studying a grammar book, is a better way to learn grammar than simply to stare at a grammar book). It will also be important for you to buy, if at all possible, two dictionaries — one bilingual (English/French) and one monolingual (French/French).

French literature, thought, film and linguistics

The first-year paper – French 1: Introduction to French literature, linguistics, film and thought– is designed to give you an excellent grounding in French culture. It aims to introduce you to the concepts and practice of literary criticism. It introduces some internationally renowned works, such as Racine’s drama, and others which have made an important contribution to the development of French culture, including its cinema. Don’t be put off if you have relatively little experience of, or reading in, any of these areas; the paper does not assume prior knowledge, and it has been specifically designed to be introductory and stimulating. Since it covers works from the Middle Ages to the present, it will also give you the basis for an informed choice when you come to select the French courses which you'll take in your second and final years (Parts IB and II).

You also have choices within the paper; most of it relates to literature, thought and film, but there is also an optional linguistics component (which you can choose not to do). Moreover, your choices within the paper will not prevent you from studying any of the areas it covers later in your course. This paper will be taught both in college (for literature and film options) and by a range of lecturers in the French Department.

Below is a list of the six primary texts you shall study over the course of the year, and which you should read or watch before you arrive in Cambridge. You can find this list, along with other useful information about the paper, on the Department website.

It is very important that you do this first reading of the books in advance, and view the film, since you won’t have time to do it all once the course starts.

Reading list

It is also very important that you buy the correct editions of the texts, where specified above. This will make it much easier to navigate the texts in supervisions and lectures. If you choose to buy these online, you should find them available at the following stores:

French books can also be purchased easily over the Internet from sites such as:  

Much of this information, and some further details can be found on the MML website. It also provides you with some helpful advice on how to set about reading/viewing the set texts.

Visit the MML website

Reading texts, and viewing French films, becomes much easier with practice. We are sure you will enjoy them more and more as you become more familiar with them. Do email me (in my capacity as first-year Director of Studies) if you have any questions at all about any of the above – otherwise, for the moment I wish you all the best.

— Andrew Webber

Email Andrew Webber

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