Marlies Mueller

Contact Information

Office: Boylston Hall 328
Phone: (617) 496-2337
Fax: (617) 496-4682
E-mail: mmueller@fas.harvard.edu

Academic Degrees

Ph.D., M.A. in Romance Languages and Literatures, Harvard University;
B.A. in Political Science, Stanford University

Research Interests

French Language and Culture; 17th- and 18th-Century French Literature; Early Modern European History and Literature; Foreign Language Pedagogy and Methodology.

To Students:

I set foot in Harvard in the late sixties, managed to obtain a Ph.D. in due course, and have been here ever since. As you might imagine, I have acquired some rather strange habits over such a long time in such an environment. For instance, in my Core course: Foreign Cultures 22ab, I take pictures of every student, (to match names and faces). Furthermore, I tape all section meetings and listen to the recordings (feedback on the usefulness -- or lack thereof -- of the lectures). That is perhaps unusual, but the puzzled looks on your faces the first time I call you by name, or answer during a lecture a question you asked during a section make it worth it. I am also known for my fussiness in picking the course's teaching assistants. You are likely to find them to be native speakers, with as great a passion for French culture as for teaching. If I add that I hand out lecture outlines, some of you are going to think that the course is a gut. Well, it is not. Classes and sections are taught exclusively in French, and although getting a B isn't really a Herculean task, straight A's are rather rare. Grades lower than B- are somewhat exceptional too, but that is because we kindly provide you with incentives called "pop quizzes" to keep up with the lectures and the material during the semester. The criteria for success are your ability to absorb the ideas presented and to make your own insights understood in written and oral French by a native speaker who knows no English. In fact, sometimes it may even prove crucial for mere survival: some of your teaching assistants will just have arrived from France -- sans anglais. But -- not to worry, -- successful graduates of French A, or equivalent preparation, are well qualified. And, whatever your deficiencies in French, we will work very hard to improve your language skills. Bear in mind that making mistakes is O.K. (as long as you are comprehensible) and that the emphasis of the course is on intellectual content. To offset some of the strange features of my course, what you are going to study are masterpieces of French literature: Le Misanthrope, Candide, Le Mariage de Figaro, Le Rouge et le Noir, etc. The debate over values and social choices in these works helps us understand how a past civilization found coherent answers to issues with which we are still dealing today. We will present both -- if not more -- sides of every debate. Since the title of my course is 'Social Criticism Through Humor', this entreprise should not be as boring as you may fear. We chose texts that present various manifestations of the French 'esprit' (wit) proclaimed by the French themselves to be one of their quintessential national characteristics. Here are some of the issues we will be dealing with: How far do you go in sacrificing truth and sincerity in order to fit into society? (Molière, Le Misanthrope: L'hypocrisie et la vérité dans la vie sociale, introducing the concept of the point of civility.) If you find yourself a powerless leader of a country (or any organization), how do you take advantage of social tensions in order to seize control and build a relatively stable model of political power? (Film: La Prise de pouvoir de Louis XIV) Why is there evil in the world and how to deal with it? What could be the role of religion in a society governed by reason? (Voltaire, Candide , La théodice et le deisme.) How social organizations as well as individuals must identify the tensions that shape society and adapt to them or disappear. (Film: La Nuit de Varennes.) What are the trade-offs between equality and freedom in building a new social order? (Film: Danton ) That's just the first semester. If your stamina holds up and you come back for more in the second semester (as many surprisingly do even if they are not enrolled because of the Core requirement), it's Stendhal, Balzac, Baudelaire, Sartre, some great films by Renoir, Godard, and the "cult film" Diva by Beineix. If, in addition to learning about French literature, you would like to focus more on studying the French language (reading, writing, listening, speaking) in the context of small sections, may I recommend French 25, theme: "L'être humain et son univers," French 35, "Language Literature and Film" theme: "La Quête de soi et le rapport avec autrui", French 36, theme: "Liberté et Conscience." If some of these courses sound interesting, but you don't know French -- or not enough of it -- you could enroll in French A where within one year we will bring you up to speed. You are most welcome to drop by during the 'shopping period.' In the meantime, if you have any questions, don't hesitate to write. I'll be happy to hear from you.

Authors Studied