The Grail Quest of Marcel Proust





Virginie Greene (Department of Romance Languages and Literatures)
Freshman Seminar 60K 4 credits (fall term) Enrollment:  Limited to 12

This seminar is an introduction to literature, the visual arts, the Harvard campus, and the Boston area.

We will read entirely Chrétien de Troyes’ Tale of the Grail (c. 1190), and excerpts of Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time (1913-1922). Students will be invited to reflect on young Perceval's adventures coming to Camelot, young Marcel's efforts entering elite Parisian circles, and their own experience of "coming to Harvard," whether physically or remotely. Taking advantages of Harvard and the Boston area art resources, we will focus on the visual aspects of the stories and the art works they inspired (such as the 1895 Edwin Austin Abbey wall paintings at the Boston Public Library), or describe (such as the Fogg Museum Gustave Moreau painting mentioned by Proust).

In its two previous iterations, the seminar was designed on the model of a quest, each class being held in a different location on campus and in the Boston area. The Fall 2020 seminar will remain a quest, but a remote one: synchronous in two weekly zoom live sessions with guests related to the locations (librarians, curators, etc.), and asynchronous with materials made available on the Canvas course site. Students will be encouraged (but not required) to go in small groups or individually to the location and view the building from outside. As things evolve, interior visits may become possible. Students who do not reside on campus may visit a local museum, a 19th or early 20th c. building, a neo-medieval architecture or mural, a garden, a park, a forest, etc. In all cases, students will be trusted to follow the rules of social distancing, mask wearing and other public health safety measures recommended or enforced at the time of their visit. If a quest is a solitary venture, the course will enable sharing this venture among all participants, through regular postings of personal scrapbooks, peer comments, and class discussion modeled on medieval courts and late 19th. c. salons.




Prerequisites: No previous knowledge of the subject or French language is necessary. Texts and other materials will be available in English.

See also: Spring 2023