16th June 2000 at 01:00
LIVRETS DE SOUTIEN: Candide (Voltaire). By Paul Humberstone. pound;4.99. THERESE DESQUEYROUX (Mauriac) By Joe Jannetta pound;3.99

ANTIGONE (Anouilh). By Chris Ramsey pound;3.99

LE MISANTHROPE (Moliere)By Paul Humberstone pound;3.99. Hodder amp; Stoughton

Every language teacher remembers tackling a weighty tome of French literature with the book in one hand and a study guide in the other. The Initiation a la litterature francaise series reinvents the format. The first four titles (two plays and two novels) have been chosen from the 17th, 18th and 20th-century canon and provide a selection of popular works. The format is very interactive. The student is prepared for the work by first considering general questions about theatre and reading.

Short biographical synopses of the authors and playwrights are provided, together with notes on the major themes of the works: what is a comedy; how do we understand parody; the impact of the absurd. Principal characters are listed and personality sketches supplied.

Support with language is o hand, with key vocabulary lists for each chapter and helpful expressions for talking and writing about literature and drama in the context of each piece. Individual chapters and scenes are dealt with in turn. There is a resume of what happens, commentary on the action, listed connections with strands running through the work and comprehension exercises. Each guide ends with a list of discussion topics or essay work. There are answers to the questions set.

Opportunities have been missed. There is little to connect these books with other works of literature or theatre. Recent trends to avoid lit-crit in favour of more thematic approaches to literature are therefore passed by. The social contexts of each work are also underplayed. The guides cannot replace reading the books or seeing the plays themselves, but will open up literature and drama in ways that make them more approachable and be an invaluable support.

Michael Grenfell is senior lecturer at the Centre for Language in Education, University of Southampton

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