‘Fantasies of France: Exploring Transatlantic Misunderstandings from the 18th Century to the Present Days’

deadline for submissions: 
July 31, 2023
full name / name of organization: 
Université Paris Cité / LARCA


19th of January, 2024 – Université Paris Cité

‘Fantasies of France : Exploring Transatlantic Misunderstandings from the 18th Century to the Present Days’

‘Correct understanding is a particular instance of misunderstanding.’ – A. Culioli


Keywords: transatlantic circulation, cosmopolitanism, reception, translation, expatriation 


The LARCA (Laboratoire de recherches sur les cultures anglophones, UMR CNRS 8225, Université Paris Cité) is very pleased to invite doctoral students and early career researchers studying North American literature, Francophone literature, and comparative literature to take part in a workshop dedicated to the exploration of transatlantic misunderstandings.

           We would like to invite participants to think about the ways in which misunderstandings, whether linguistic, political, ideological, cultural, aesthetic, or of any other kind, shaped the transatlantic literary relations which developed between North America and France from the 18th century up to the present days. By ‘misunderstanding,’ we mean the interpretative differences which may sprout between a phenomenon, an event, an object, and/or the person who caused it, and the person who interprets it. The word ‘misunderstanding’ may also refer to situations of disagreement, or situations of disharmony and discord, resulting from such differing interpretations. This one-day workshop hopes to foster discussions about these misunderstandings along three lines of investigation: a) that of literary criticism, with a focus on the emergence of a ‘fantasy of France’ in the works of North American authors (and on the disenchantments and surprises that go hand in hand with fantasies); b) that of the French reception of these same writers; and finally, c) that of translation.

           For instance, participants may want to consider the ways in which misunderstandings may entail and be constitutive of the fantasies that North American authors entertained towards France – both as a cultural and geographical space that is not limited to its capital city – as well as towards the French language, and French people. By probing these authors’ expectations and the misunderstandings that fed into them, we hope to stimulate a discussion regarding what initiated the crystallisation of North American French fantasies. Participants may consider exploring what writers such as T. S. Eliot, Claude McKay, or W. S. Merwin heard and understood (or what they wanted to hear and understand) from France which in turn enticed them to write about this distant foreign country, and even cross the Atlantic ocean to visit it and, sometimes, settle there. What were the expectations of these authors who were carried away by such varied dynamics as diplomatic matters (Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams), a quest for family roots (Jack Kerouac), the violence of international geopolitical conflicts (Edith Wharton, Janet Flanner, E. E. Cummings), or even the internationalisation of their literary activities (Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Harriet Beecher Stowe)? Which aspects of their expectations – and therefore of their fantasies – may be interpreted through the lens of misunderstanding?

           Another aspect of this exploration has to do with the ways in which these writers, in turn, were more or less understood by the members of the French literary sphere. French writers, editors, translators, critics, etc. were not always in tune with them (for instance when the United States worked on achieving their literary and linguistic independence during the 19th century). French receptors sometimes practised selective hearing when listening to the literature coming from across the Atlantic ocean, or listened to it indirectly through British echoes. Besides, they did not always have the required linguistic skills to understand or translate a language that was not theirs. What remains is that what these French receptors heard from the writings of North American authors was mediated by their own fantasies regarding North America – fantasies which never ceased to evolve throughout the centuries. What do these French misunderstandings tell us about the French receptors of these works? More importantly, what do these misunderstandings reveal about the works themselves?

           Lastly, a third aspect of this investigation focuses on the ways in which these misunderstandings – be they of French or North American origin – can be heard in the texts produced on both sides of the Atlantic. Regarding texts written by North-American authors, participants may explore such genres as travel accounts or tour guides (Henry James’ Little Tour in France, Grace Greenwood’s Haps and Mishaps of a Tour in Europe, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Sunny Memories of Foreign Lands, Mark Twain’s Innocents Abroad, etc.), fictional works set in France (F. S. Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night, James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room, Ernest Hemingway’s Moveable Feast, etc.), as well as journalistic texts commenting on such matters as French politics and French artistic trends (such as Margaret Fuller’s European dispatches for the New York Tribune), and even expatriate’s memoirs such as Malcom Cowley’s Exile’s Return. As for French texts, it may be of interest to delve into the critical articles French receptors published in literary reviews, such as Philarète Chasles’ and Émile Montégut’s for the Revue des Deux Mondes during the 19th century. As an interpretative practice, literary criticism, besides taking part in processes of cultural mediation, may be spurred on by a willingness to clarify the meaning of a given text so as to prevent misunderstandings. However, to what extent did these very attempts at elucidating the correct meanings of texts result in resounding misunderstandings? In what way did critics face their own fantasies in the receiving process, sometimes running the risk of letting down their expectations? More generally, panellists are invited to reflect upon the many attempts that these French receptors made to popularise and comment on North American authors and texts via articles, public lectures at the Collège de France, prefaces, etc. Paying heed to the misunderstandings perceptible in texts also implies taking into account the French translations of North American works. How did the translating and editing process of these texts sometimes entail misunderstandings? In what ways did they contribute to shaping French American fantasies?

           Participants are welcome to find inspiration in the following topics, without limiting themselves to them or taking them at face value:

• What France, French language, and French people shaped the French fantasies of North American authors? Conversely, what France, French language, and French people did these writers encounter? How did transatlantic journeys impact the fantasies of those who undertook them?

• What embodiments do these misunderstandings take in the French reception of North-American works? 

• Do these misunderstandings serve an agenda of some sort (be it literary, aesthetic, political, cultural, etc.), whether in North America or in France? To what extent do they stem from the fantasies and desires of those who first originated them and later tapped into them?

• To what extent do these misunderstandings bolster up the foreignness of North American authors and that of their receptors? Conversely, do these misunderstandings contribute to smoothing out differences?

300-word long abstracts, written either in English or in French, should be sent along with a short bio-bibliographical note to Lise M. Chenal (lisedesiree.chenal@gmail.com) and Pascale-Marie Deschamps (pascalemariedeschamps@gmail.com) by the 31st of July, 2023. Notifications will be sent by the 1st of September, 2023.


Scientific Committee:

Lise Chenal, LARCA, Université Paris Cité

Pascale-Marie Deschamps, LARCA, Université Paris Cité

Abigail Lang, LARCA, Université Paris Cité

Édouard Marsoin, LARCA, Université Paris Cité


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