Academic Life

My academic interests center on nineteenth-century French literature, especially Victor Hugo's novels and other utopian, visionary, and/or poetic prose fiction. The details of my scholarly life and teaching career follow. For more information about the Penn State French Department, see our home page.

After graduating from Bryn Mawr College with a specialization in the French novel and a minor in Kantian philosophy, I pursued my doctoral work at Yale University, concentrating on 19th- and 20th-century French and comparative literature. As a graduate student, I worked as a Freshman Counselor for Women during Yale's first year of coeducation and taught upper-division and master's degree candidates in the summers at Hofstra University, near my parents' home on Long Island.

Although my dissertation focused on Théophile Gautier's poetry, I discovered a far more engaging subject of inquiry after reading Les Misérables for the first time one summer in the Jardin du Luxembourg. Since then, I have been combining research on Victor Hugo's prose fiction with interests in the theory of metaphor, utopian studies, and the sublime. My publications include several books:

Additional essays explore politics and poetics in Hugo and other post-Revolutionary writers, such as Sand, Dickens, Orwell, and Zamiatin (e.g., “The Ideal Community of George Sand’s La Petite Fadette,” in Utopian Studies 6.1 (1995): 19–29); the appropriation of literary classics by other media (e.g., “From Classic to Pop Icon: Popularizing Hugo,” French Review 74.3 [February 2001]: 482–95); approaches to teaching language and literature (e.g., “Creating E-Learning Communities in Language and Literature Classes, Teaching Literature and Language Online, ed. Ian Lancashire [New York, MLA, 2009], 331–42 ; and Hugo’s dialogues with other writers from William Shakespeare to Charles Dickens (e.g., “Duras and Hugo: An Intertextual Dialogue,” Approaches to Teaching Ourika, eds. Mary Ellen Birkett and Christopher Rivers [New York: MLA, 2009], 110–16). Currently, I am working on the reception of Les Misérables in print, stage, and movie versions in the United States from publication in 1862 to the present.

At Penn State I have taught about two dozen different courses, ranging from basic French language to world literature to science fiction utopias. Graduate seminars have dealt with on a variety of topics: French Romanticism; French Utopias from Rabelais to Mitterand; Revolution and Utopia in the 19th-century French Novel; The Age of Hugo; and Outlaws, Outcasts, and Outsiders in 19th-century French Fiction, among others.

I find teaching and scholarship to be deeply interrelated, with ideas for future research springing up regularly in the classroom. Students in my seminars likewise aim toward producing essays that can be read at professional conferences and published in scholarly journals. For example, graduate students have placed their papers on Chateaubriand's Atala in Romanic Review; on Gautier's Mademoiselle de Maupin in Nineteenth-Century French Studies; on George Sand's La Mare au diable in George Sand Studies; on Flaubert's “La Légende de Saint-Julien l'hospitalier” in Symposium; on Balzac’s Eugénie Grandet at the South Carolina Modern Language Review; and on Gautier’s “La Morte amoureuse” in Nineteenth-Century French Studies. Equally exciting, one student’s revised seminar paper won the Society of Dix-Neuviémistes Postgraduate Essay Prize in 2006, and another was awarded the Naomi Schor Memorial Award for her reworked essay at the 2007 Nineteenth-Century French Studies Colloquium.

Besides reading papers regularly at NCFS, I have given invited presentations at the CollŹge de France, the École Normale Supérieure, Princeton University, the Université des Sciences humaines de Strasbourg, the University of Manchester, Smith College, the University of Colorado at Boulder, the University of Miami, and the University of Nairobi. I was also the keynote speaker at a public symposium on the stage version of “Les Misérables” held at the University of Iowa. About 300 people from all over the state showed up for the lecture, and “Les Miz” was, of course, a huge success. In 2004, I delivered a keynote address at the Conference on Romance Literatures at the University of North Carolina on adaptations of Hugo's novels onto the silver screen — one of a number of projects on Hugo and popular culture. To help celebrate the 150th anniversary of Les Misérables, I will give an invited talk on my current research on the novel in May 2012 at the University of Bristol in the U.K., where I will serve as an Institute for Advanced Studies Benjamin Meeker Visiting Professor.

In my administrative duties at Penn State, I have served as Department Head; as Associate Director and University Fulbright Advisor in the Office of International Programs; and as an Associate Dean in the College of the Liberal Arts. In my current role as the Department's Director of Undergraduate Studies, I continue to pursue my interest in both student and program development.