Conference Series

Literature Series: French Poetry Through the Ages

Writers occupy a privileged position in France’s collective psyche. This is in large part because of the instrumental role they have played over the centuries in forging the national narrative – aptly called le roman national in French. Just as importantly, their creative works have also served to fuel national pride by illustrating the expressive capabilities of the French language – and pushing its boundaries. Nowhere is this better illustrated than in the work of the poets.

This cycle of lectures presents an overview of that rich poetic tradition, from its origins in mediaeval times through to the present day. In doing so, these lectures aim to provide insights not only into the nature and significance of the poetry itself, but also into the way in which poetry responds to the personal, social and political questions of its time. This will in turn enable us to measure how poetry has both contributed to and challenged the national narrative through the ages.

Booking is available on the website until the day prior of the event.
Please note that due to the current lockdown in South Australia, we had to cancel the Conference I scheduled on Friday 23 July.

For 2 Conferences:
2 Conferences

$25 for members & students
$30 for non-members

For Single Conferences:
Conference II Only  |  Conference III Only

$15 for members & students
$20 for non-members

For more information:
Please contact Reception if you have any questions.

Conference I - From the mediaeval epic to the poets of the Pléiade: celebrating great deeds, courtly love and ... the French language

Friday 23 July - 6:30pm to 7:30pm
Alliance Française d'Adélaïde

Tales of epic adventure, celebrating heroic deeds of national significance, emerged in the 11th century. Composed in vernacular language (Old French) and written in verse, these stories were often intended to be sung, as in the case of La Chanson de Roland. As courtly society began to focus more on love than war, a new trend emerged with the lyric poetry of the troubadours in the south and, in the north, the narrative verse tales combining love and feats of heroism, exemplified by the Arthurian romances. Beginning with these early forms of poetic expression, this lecture will then consider the first “bad boy” of French poetry, François Villon, before examining the way in which the group of 16th-century poets known as the Pléiade used poetry for political purposes, as a vehicle for the “defence and illustration of the French language”.

Conference II - The Golden Age of French poetry: the nineteenth century Romantics

Friday 13 August - 6:30pm to 7:30pm
Alliance Française d'Adélaïde

By the 19th century, French poetry had become extremely codified. This lecture will look firstly at those poetic conventions (through some hands-on exercises!) before examining how the poets of the early to mid 19th century pushed them to the limits and ultimately challenged them. Our discussion will start with the Romantic poets – Lamartine, Vigny, Musset, Nerval, Victor Hugo – then move to the “father of modern poetry”, Charles Baudelaire. Also discussed will be the political songs of Béranger, “the first superstar of French popular music”, and the “anti-poetic” regional poetry of Tristan Corbière. The lecture will conclude with the Parnassians and their doctrine of “art for art’s sake”. The overall aim will be to show that, beyond the Romantic stereotype of melancholy self-contemplation, these poets were well attuned to the social and political questions raised by this tumultuous period in French history.

Conference III - Breaking the mould: modern poetry and song

Friday 3 September - 6:30pm to 7:30pm
Alliance Française d'Adélaïde

The ground-breaking work of the early to mid 19th-century poets opened up new possibilities for the genre, paving the way for those who followed. This lecture will begin with some of the key figures of the latter part of the 19th century whose innovations were instrumental in breaking the mould (Verlaine, Rimbaud, Mallarmé…) before examining the creative departures of poets such as Apollinaire and the Surrealists. The discussion will then move to the poet-songsters of the 1950s to 1970s (Vian, Barbara, Brassens, Brel, Gainsbourg…) whose numbers exploded in this period thanks in no small part to the mass production of vinyl discs. It will conclude with a look at a variety of contemporary phenomena : poetry in French from the Pacific (Déwé Gorodé, Chantal Spitz) ; rap songs ; and experimental performance poetry based on the use of multimedia.

Presented by: John West-Sooby

John West-Sooby is Emeritus Professor of French at the University of Adelaide. He has worked for many years on Nicolas Baudin’s voyage of discovery to Australia and has authored or co-produced numerous books and articles on the subject, including Encountering Terra Australis. The Australian Voyages of Nicolas Baudin and Matthew Flinders (with Jean Fornasiero and Peter Monteath), French Designs on Colonial New South Wales (with Jean Fornasiero), and The Art of Science: Nicolas Baudin’s Voyagers (1800–1803) (with Jean Fornasiero and Lindl Lawton).

He has also published widely on nineteenth-century French literature and on crime fiction (French and Australian). He currently has two books in preparation: the first is a collection of essays by eminent scholars on the science and the scientists of the Baudin expedition; the second is a volume of essays on French contributions to our cultural life, entitled What have the French ever done for us?

Previous Conference Series

History: The Making of France - from Clovis to Louis XVI

Conference I - The Merovingians and the Carolingians: the origins of France?

Clovis (466-511) was the first king of the Francs. And so begins our national history – or so we are told, during primary schooling. But who is Clovis, who are the Merovingians and why do they occupy such a prominent position in the country’s national tale? Looking at a period stretching from the fifth to the tenth century, the conference will consider the establishment of France as a kingdom in a very fragmented Europe under the Merovingians, and its strengthening, under the Carolingians.

Conference II - The House of Capet and the House of Valois: strengthening the kingdom and the monarchy.

The House of Capet (987-1328) and the House of Valois (1328-1589) played an important role in the transition of France from a kingdom to an early-modern state and gave France memorable kings such as Philippe Auguste, Saint Louis or François Ier. The late Middle Ages was a period of considerable evolutions with regard to faith, techniques and arts. It was also a period of considerable turmoil and divisions with the Hundred Years’ War and the Wars of Religion between Catholics and Protestants. This conference will look at the challenges faced by the French monarchy in turbulent times and how it overcame them.

Conference III - The Bourbons and the monarchie absolue

Simultaneously the apex and the nadir of the French monarchy, the Bourbons have left a most enduring legacy. The state they shaped, the wars they waged and their impacts, their castles and their patronage of the Arts can be felt and observed in so many ways when walking the streets of France. Their absolute monarchy and their hubris have left particularly memorable records in French history. From Henri IV (1553-1610) to Louis XVI (1754-1793), this conference will present the heydays of the Bourbons, at Versailles in particular, to their fall under the Revolution.

Presented by: Dr. Romain Fathi

Dr. Romain Fathi is a French historian whose longstanding research interests are concerned with Australian national identity, the First World War and the history of public health. While researching Australian history, Romain is also passionate about the history of his own country, France, where he was born and raised.

He obtained a jointly awarded PhD with Sciences Po (Paris, France) and The University of Queensland (Brisbane, Australia). Romain studied and taught in several universities including Sciences Po, Yale, the University of Queensland. He now holds a position of Senior Lecturer in History at Flinders University.

For more information on Romain’s research and publications, please see:

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