At St. John’s the study of language and literature are interwoven, as learning the peculiarities of a given language extends and refines one’s sensibility. Students quickly acquire enough French grammar and vocabulary to begin translating and discussing Les Maximes of La Rochefoucauld and Les Pensées of Pascal, as well as pages from Descartes and Rousseau. Students then delve into the dangerous passion of Racine’s Phèdre and the caustic humor of Molière’s Misanthrope. Seniors edge towards modernity closely examine the poems of Baudelaire and Valéry, often tackling Proust’s Swann’s Way.


French is one of the many subjects studied in the college’s interdisciplinary great books curriculum. There are no majors at St. John’s. Instead, students explore all these subjects over the course of all four years. Learn more about St. John’s classes.

Reading List

Claude Berthollet “Excerpt from Essai de Statique Chimique”

Joseph-Louis Gay-Lussac “On the Expansion of Gases by Heat,” “Memoir on the Combination of Gaseous Substances with Each Other”

Antoine Lavoisier Elements of Chemistry

Edme Mariotte Essays

Blaise Pascal Treatise on the Equilibrium of Liquids

Michel de Montaigne Essays

Blaise Pascal Generation of Conic Sections

Ptolemy Almagest

François Viète Introduction to the Analytical Art

René Descartes Geometry, Discourse on Method

Jean-Jacques Rousseau Social Contract, The Origin of Inequality

Jean de la Fontaine Fables

François de La Rochefoucauld Maxims

Madame de La Fayette Princess of Clèves

Molière Le Misanthrope

Jean Racine Phèdre

René Descartes Meditations, Rules for the Direction of the Mind

Blaise Pascal Pensées

André-Marie Ampère Essays

Charles-Augustin de Coulomb “Excerpts from Coulomb’s Mémoires sur l’électricité et le magnétisme”

René Descartes Meditations, Rules for the Direction of the Mind

Simone de Beauvoir The Second Sex

Alexis de Tocqueville Democracy in America

Charles Baudelaire Les Fleurs du Mal

Arthur Rimbaud Poems

Paul Valéry Poems

François Jacob & Jacques Monod Essays

Madame de Sévigné Letters

Voltaire Candide

Marcel Duchamp Essays

Édouard Manet Art

Gustave Flaubert Madame Bovary

Samuel Beckett Waiting for Godot

The information presented is for illustration purposes only and may not reflect the current reading list and preceptorial and study group offerings. Works listed are studied at one or both campuses, although not always in their entirety.

Senior Essay

Montaigne on the Mountain: Self-Determination in the Essays of Michel de Montaigne

Senior Essay

Faith and Freedom: In Honor of Emma Bovary—The Child, the Artist, the Hero

Senior Essay

Innocence, Intoxication and Death in Baudelaire’s Le Voyage

Senior Essay

Like Any Other: A Study of Language in Gustave Flaubert’s Un coeur simple

Senior Essay

Artistry and Sentimentality in Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary

Senior Essay

Speech and Speech-Making in Rousseau’s Second Discourse

Senior Essay

C’est L’Ennui: An Exploration of Ennui in the Works of Charles Baudelaire

Senior Essay

Baudelaire’s Confrontation with Death and Change: An Examination of “Une Charogne” and “Le Cygne” from Les Fleurs du Mal

Senior Essay

The Clement Savage: Rousseau’s Proof of Man’s Natural Goodness

Senior Essay

Sin and Evil in Baudelaire’s Fleurs du mal

Senior Essay

Souffrance: Existence du Poète et le Pouvoir de L’art

Senior Essay

The Observer’s Song: Thought and Language in “Le Cimitière Marin”

Senior Essay

A Journey Through Restlessness: Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

Senior Essay

Suffering in Art: The Alienation of Passion in “Musée des Beaux Arts”

Senior Essay

Wandering the Hidden Gardens of Memory: The Artistic Creation of Self in Marcel Proust’s Du Côté de Chez Swann

Senior Essay

An Inquiry into Madness: Why is Phedre Incapable of Achieving the Necessary Balance between Reason and Passion?

Senior Essay

Defeating the Hydra’s Head: How Experience Succeeds Where Reason Has Failed: An Exploration of Montaigne’s “Of Experience”

Senior Essay

Lifespan of a Fly: Examining the Unexamined Life of Felicité in Flaubert’s Un Coeur Simple

Senior Essay

An Essay on Baudelaire’s “Une Charogne”

Senior Essay

A Monster of the Mind: An Analysis of Morality in Racine’s Phedre

Senior Essay

The Poet and His Ideal: Charles Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs de Mal

Senior Essay

All is Well: Finding the Moral Life Without God—The Myth of Sisyphus, The Rebel, and The Plague

Senior Essay

An Exploration of Visual Imagery in Baudelaire’s Poetry