Universiteit Leiden

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PhD defence

Vers une hégémonie lafontainienne

  • C.V. Zaepffel
Thursday 16 December 2021
Rapenburg 73
2311 GJ Leiden


  • Prof. P.J. Smith


Why do French people know a few fables by heart?
Æsopian fables have been taught to French children and teenagers for centuries, yet little analysis looks at these books as a corpus. Céline Zaepffel evaluated the relationship between the text, the images, and the educational purpose of various fable authors using 252 visuals, published between 1500 and 2020. Sources include picture books, board games, sheet music, exhibition devices, posters, school materials, and even application software, which all have in common the aim of pursuing or promoting an educational use of the fables. Her research focuses on the role that illustrated fables play in French education.
Her dissertation shows how fables became essential across primary schools. The illustrations which accompany fables play a role in the text’s adoption across French schools: they participate in the transmission of the genre and other kinds of knowledge (reading, exercising memory, or even learning history, geography or art history). Because the images are intertwined with the text and have formed a playful relationship with both the words and the history of the genre, this allows generations of French people to continuously rediscover the genre.
This body of research concludes that fables are used as a social link between different generations of French people. They are mostly taught because they are part of a long tradition, even though this phenomenon creates an infinite loop: children have to learn fables because their grandparents learnt some before, meaning that the future generations will have to learn them too…


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