Roland Barthes (bahrt) was one of the leading proponents of the new French criticism and one of the founders of structuralism. He was born in Cherbourg, France, in 1915 to the solid bourgeois family of Louis and Henriette Barthes. Louis Barthes, a naval officer, was killed in 1916, and in 1924 young Roland moved to Paris with his mother. It was in Paris that he lived most of his life and received his education. In 1939, he received a license in classical letters from the Sorbonne, and between recurring bouts of tuberculosis he taught in and around Paris while continuing his education. During the convalescence from his second attack of tuberculosis, Barthes was first published, and he began a distinguished career as a teacher, researcher, critic, and writer.
One result of Barthes’s years of convalescence was that he had the time to read widely and to decide that he was more aligned to Marxist ideology than to the bourgeois ideology in which he had been reared. With this willingness to embrace leftist ideas came a willingness to question and explore many of the commonplaces of his world. It was in this frame of mind that he was introduced to modern linguistics while teaching in Alexandria, Egypt, and this introduction gave Barthes a tool with which to explore his world.
Barthes was able to acquire several scholarships after his return to France in the early 1950’s. The first provided funds for him to study lexicology and the second supported his sociological study of fashion. Neither project was immediately successful, but both helped produce several of Barthes’s important early works: Writing Degree Zero, Mythologies, and, eventually, The Fashion System.
Barthes was a prolific writer...
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