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French Studies

Alexis de Tocqueville was born in 1805 into an eminent Norman aristocratic family, with ancestors who had participated in the Battle of Hastings and the conquest of England in 1066. This was a family and social milieu that was to be deeply scarred by the French Revolution of 1789–99. His parents were Hervé, Comte de Tocqueville, formerly an officer of the personal guard of Louis XVI, and Louise Madeleine Le Peletier de Rosanbo, a relative of the powerful political figures Vauban and Lamoignon. The couple married in 1793; the following year they barely escaped the guillotine. Louise’s grandfather Malesherbes (Louis XVI’s minister and defence lawyer at his final trial) and both of Louise’s parents were condemned to death, as were her elder sister and her husband.

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Interventions 2020 by Michel Houellebecq, translated by Andrew Brown

July 2022, no. 444

Michel Houellebecq has never been one to hide his light under a bushel. Since the publication of his second and best-known novel, Atomised, in 1998 (the same year some of the pieces included in Interventions 2020 were originally published in French), Houellebecq has established himself as the enfant terrible of French letters, primarily through his provocative and at times incendiary remarks. Indeed, there is a certain expectation that Houellebecq will live up to his reputation, something he notes in his reflections on paedophilia: ‘Through the wording of your questions, I feel I am subtly being asked to say something politically incorrect.’ Rarely does he disappoint.

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The French Dispatch 

Searchlight Pictures
06 December 2021

Devotees of Wes Anderson know what to expect, and they certainly get it in spades in The French Dispatch. Those who sensed that the American director lost his way with The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014), may feel he has strayed even further from the simplicity of the works that made him famous, such as the understated Bottle Rocket (1996), the quirky and endearing Rushmore (1998), and that masterpiece of whimsy, The Royal Tenenbaums (2001). The Grand Budapest Hotel, Anderson’s homage to Stefan Zweig set in a European alpine resort, has much in common with his latest film; an episodic, phantasmagorical, excessive, and, at times, indulgent work.  It met with mixed reviews and was described as ‘kitschy’ and ‘curiously weightless’, epithets which might apply equally to his The French Dispatch, largely for its overlong zany scenes which appear arbitrary in relation to the action.

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Serotonin by Michel Houellebecq, translated by Shaun Whiteside

December 2019, no. 417

Serotonin is Michel Houellebecq’s eighth novel and appears four years after the scandalous and critically successful Submission (2015), a dystopian novel that depicts France under sharia law. In Serotonin, we are again presented with the standard Houellebecquian narrator: white, middle-aged, and middle class, seemingly in the throes of some mid-life crisis of a predominantly – but not exclusively – sexual nature.

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Have the French thought themselves to death? This is the question that Sudhir Hazareesingh poses in this erudite and stimulating book. His concluding chapter is a piece of diplomatic fence-sitting, but, notwithstanding the claim of the subtitle's affection, much of the analysis points to a national culture in terminal decline, inward-looking, nostalgic for past glor ...

Selected Poems from Les Fleurs du mal by Charles Baudelaire, translated by Jan Owen

January-February 2016, no. 378

The Flowers of Evil (Les Fleurs du mal, 1857) is the most celebrated and most influential collection of verse in the history of modern French poetry. Its author, Charles Baudelaire (1821–67), is seen as the embodiment of a sensibility we regard as 'modern'. T.S. Eliot called him 'the greatest exemplar of modern poetry in any language'.

Ba ...

'It is hard to imagine a more challenging scholarly task than composing, in under three hundred pages, an introduction to a field as vast and variegated as French literature. From the fabliaux, mystery plays and chansons de geste of medieval times to such figures as the present-day Nobel Prize-winning novelists Le Clézio and Modiano, it embraces n ...

Patti Miller has written four books of or about memoir, one of which, The Mind of a Thief (UQP, 2012) won the New South Wales Premier’s History Award, and she has taught life writing for more than twenty years. Yet her most recent publication, Ransacking Paris, while enjoyable at one level, is disappointing at another. There is a serious mismatch bet ...

In 1798, during the revolutionary wars on the European mainland, the Irish rebelled. Though they were supported militarily by the French Republic, it was the ideas heralded by the Revolution that gave real strength to their cause. A decade later, in Dublin, William Hallaran argued in his An Enquiry Into the Causes Producing the Extraordinary Addition to the Number of Insane that much of the increase should be attributed to the rebellion. Fifteen per cent of cases where causes could be identified were linked directly with the rebellion, but its effects were writ large in the rest of the catalogue: loss of property, drunkenness, religious zeal, disappointment, and grief.

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This number of the Australian Journal of French Studies has been superbly guest-edited by Sydney University’s Margaret Sankey, a world authority on French voyages of discovery in the southern hemisphere. In addition to her own work, there are contributions by several French and New Zealand colleagues.

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