First off, in case, like one of my colleagues, you're about to get all excited at the idea that we're going to be studying the Marquis de Sade and The Story of O or something, calm down, it's not that exciting. We're doing Crime and Punishment, The Picture of Dorian Grey and The Confusions of Young Törless. That last one was new to me, but I've read the other two and so I thought it would be a good start tackling books I was mostly familiar with.
I only just started reading Crime and Punishment in French the other day. It's slow going, I will admit, but actually not all that difficult to understand. I even think it forces me to pay closer attention to the text and thus I may even be getting more out of it in a way than reading in English. I have been underlining words I don't understand, since after all the goal is to improve my French, but haven't yet gotten around to looking any of them up. Thus the only word I think I've learnt so far is désarrois – the 'confusions' plaguing young Törless (presumably the same root as 'disarray'). I'm also getting practice on the passé simple tense, a tense that is now used virtually only in literary writing, with the result that I never bothered to learn it (but I do know it when I see it, which is pretty much all you need where that's concerned).
As for my first course, it was pretty interesting. I have an MA in English Literature, but I never did any Comp Lit, so it was something new for me in that sense. The first lecture was mostly taken up with discussion of translation issues and what place these novels had in French intellectual history, which for some reason we usually neglected to discuss back in New Zealand. I think I managed to follow most of it, despite the very loud susurration of the willows outside (and yes, I wrote that sentence just to throw in the word susurration, but they were unusually noisy, sounded like someone was sweeping the pavement outside except we were on the 4th floor). Next time I might have to do the classic "mature student" thing and sit in the front row. I've heard stories from people who teach in uni that French students are particularly immature and talkative, but this crowd seemed okay, perhaps because they're third years or perhaps because we were in more of a large classroom than a lecture hall.
I was also at the uni this week to go to a conference work was sponsoring. When we turned up, for some reason the entire entrance hall was full of cardboard boxes which the students were flinging about with gay abandon (they were particularly delighted when someone broke a light fixture). One of my colleagues described this as 'a happening' (or, to be precise, 'un 'appening') which made me laugh. Has anyone called anything 'a happening' since 1975? I later discovered that this particular 'appening involved transporting 5000 cardboard boxes on a tour of the city by manpower alone. Apparently they came from Nancy, but I'm not sure if people carried them all that way, because that seems very far! I did my bit by carrying one box inside anyway.
Most importantly, it gave me the opportunity to make a pun in French! There was a professional-looking photographer there and I said that if they wrote about it in the local paper the headline would definitely be "ça cartonne!" If you're not laughing already, I should explain that "ça cartonne" means something is really great or successful, and that "carton" is obviously a cardboard box. I think I mostly got sympathy laughs out of my workmates, but I think that was a pretty decent effort!