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CFP: Dealing with Trauma in Early Modern France

September 30, 2022

For panel at the Northeast Modern Language Association (NeMLA).

From ancient Greek τραύμα (meaning “wound, damage”), the term trauma refers to a physical or psychological injury provoked by a violent event, and the very event causing this great distress. Traumatic events abound in early modern France, whether be caused by natural catastrophes (floods, storms, fires, harsh winter, plagues) or by human activity (warfare, sexual violence, religious persecution). As Erin Peters and Cynthia Richards note in the introduction of the volume they edited, Early Modern Trauma: Europe and the Atlantic World, the application of trauma studies to the early modern world offer an interesting lens to apprehend major changes in early modern society, such as the development of new devices (weaponry, printing), the Reformation and the Wars of Religion, the expeditions led in the Americas and the origins of colonialism and slavery. Studying French sixteenth-century writings in that perspective allows us to decipher the individual and/or collective challenges authors have witnessed, or even had to overcome and live through themselves. In his – now famous – essai “De l’amitié,” Montaigne, for example, opens up about the trauma of losing his dear friend, La Boétie, who died suddenly from illness at 32 years old. In his Histoire mémorable du siège et de la famine de Sancerre, Jean de Léry recounts the drastic and horrifying measures that survivors of Sancerre’s siege had to undertake, including cannibalism. In Marguerite de Navarre’s Heptaméron, the devisants, who seek shelter in the abbey of Notre Dame de Sarrance after a natural disaster, often share tales dealing with sexual violence. These writings, while informing us about the historical traumata that early modern France was confronted with, also expose the strategies of resilience that sixteenth-century authors – and more generally, people from that time – were setting up to cope with the trauma. We welcome any papers in French or in English that reflect on personal, cultural, or historical trauma encountered in sixteenth-century French literature, in an effort to (re)define the meaning of trauma for early modern studies.


This panel will examine the role(s) played by sixteenth-century literature in recounting and facing trauma in early modern France.