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Study information

Sex, Subversion and Censorship: Libertine Literature in Seventeenth-Century France

Module titleSex, Subversion and Censorship: Libertine Literature in Seventeenth-Century France
Module codeMLF3079
Academic year2024/5
Module staff

Dr Adam Horsley (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Module description

For many, seventeenth-century France conjures images of the sumptuous palace of Versailles, its neo-classical and baroque aesthetics, and its refined literature and performing arts. Yet, to a large extent, this image is the result of a conscious attempt to sanitise le grand siècle. In this module you will have the chance to peel away this façade, and to explore the more audacious and unpolished underbelly of the seventeenth century. Through pornographic poetry, daring satires of religion on stage, and the long-hidden memoirs of a sharp intellect who pushed scientific enquiry to the brink of depravity, this module presents a less traditional seventeenth century that has often been consigned to the margins of literary history. As well as society and thought of the time, you will study a range of themes that you may find surprisingly modern, and learn about the strategies used by free-thinking authors in order to avoid censorship or worse. 

Module aims - intentions of the module

  • You will explore a long-neglected area of seventeenth-century French studies covering poetry, prose and theatre
  • You will consider the commentaries made in these texts on their political and social contexts, and develop a keen eye for recognising and interpreting covert writing strategies.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Demonstrate a sound understanding of the set texts, including their place in the historic, literary and cultural context of their time
  • 2. Recognise and evaluate the subversive writing strategies deployed in the set texts
  • 3. Situate these texts within a wider historical evolution towards modernity

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 4. With some guidance, evaluate and apply a range of critical approaches to the material covered
  • 5. Mount a detailed argument in the appropriate register of English, using quotations from both the primary text and secondary critical sources
  • 6. Access and use critically printed and, where appropriate, electronic learning resources identified as useful by the module convenor

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 7. Present a cogent and sustained argument orally / in writing, in English, on a topic chosen from a range of options provided, following broad guidelines but selecting and adapting them as required
  • 8. Using course material provided, research, plan and write an essay on a chosen aspect of the subject, to a specified length and deadline

Syllabus plan

Whilst the content may vary from year to year, it is envisioned that it will cover some or all of the following topics: 

  • Lectures will cover brief biographies of our authors and the principal themes of our texts of study.
  • In seminars we will explore specific extracts from the texts through close readings.

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching55 x 1 hour lectures
Scheduled Learning and Teaching1010 x 1 hour seminars
Scheduled Learning and Teaching1Conclusion
Guided independent study134Private study

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Short essay750 words1-9Written and oral

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay1003000 words1-9Written

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
EssayEssay1-9Referral/Deferral period

Re-assessment notes

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 40%) you will be required to submit a further assessment as necessary. If you are successful on referral, your overall module mark will be capped at 40%.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Set texts in order of study [precise editions subject to changes as indicated on ELE page]:

  • Théophile de Viau, Après m’avoir fait tant mourir – Œuvres choisies, ed. by Jean-Pierre Chauveau (Paris: Gallimard, 2002).
  • François Maynard – Dans tous ses états, ed. by Adam Horsley: a selection of Maynard’s poems to be distributed to students in the first lecture.
  • Jean-Jacques Bouchard, Confessions (Paris: Isidore Liseux, 1881): text to be made available to students via ELE.
  • Molière, Dom Juan: quotations will be given from the Petits Classiques Larousse (2011) edition in class, but any edition may be used.

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Indicative learning resources - Other resources

An extensive module bibliography will be provided covering seventeenth-century French libertine literature as well as our individual texts of study. A selection of the former includes:

  • Adam, Antoine, Grandeur and Illusion, trans. by Herbert Tint (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1972).
  • Adam, Antoine, Histoire de la littérature française au XVIIe siècle, 5 vols (Paris: Albin Michel, 1997), I, II.
  • Adam, Antoine, Les Libertins au XVIIe siècle (Paris: Buchet-Chastel, 1964).
  • Adam, Antoine, Théophile de Viau et la libre pensée française en 1620 (Genève: Slatkine Reprints, 1966).
  • Foucault, Didier, Histoire du Libertinage (Paris: Perrin, 2010).
  • Horsley, Adam ‘17th-century French Libertinism’, The Literary Encyclopedia (2016):
  • Jeanneret, Michel, L’Eros rebelle – Littérature et dissidence à l’âge classique (Paris: Seuil, 2003).
  • Lafay, Henri, La poésie française du premier XVIIe siècle (1598-1630). Esquisse pour un tableau (Paris: Nizet, 1975).
  • Maber, Richard, ‘‘Le Véritable Champ du Sublime?’ The Ode in France in the Seventeenth Century’, The Seventeenth Century 15: 2 (2000), 244-265. 
  • Moreau, Isabelle, « Guérir du sot. » Les stratégies d’écriture des libertins à l’âge classique (Paris: Honoré Champion, 2007).
  • Peureux, Guillaume, ‘‘L’obscénité satyrique (1615-1622)’ in Obscénités renaissantes, ed. by Hugh Roberts, Guillaume Peureux et Lise Wajeman (Geneva: Droz, 2011), pp. 409-22
  • Prévot, Jacques, Libertins du XVIIe Siècle, 2 vols(Paris: Gallimard, 1998), I.
  • Roche, Bruno, Le rire des libertins dans la première moitié du 17e siècle (Paris: Honoré Champion, 2011).
  • Spink, J.S., French Free-Thought from Gassendi to Voltaire (University of London: The Athelone Press, 1960).
  • Tricoche-Rauline, Laurence, Identité(s) libertine(s). L’écriture personnelle ou la création de soi (Paris: Honoré Champion, 2009).

Key words search

Libertine, literature, subversion, poetry, theatre, early modern, history, philosophy

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites

MLF2001 or equivalent or native-speaker competence

Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date