Professor of French and Francophone Studies
I am inspired to keep developing new ideas by Hannah Arendt, who described her work as being separate from the universe of hardship, saying: “It is an enchanted spell that suspends labor through art and creativity.”
Each of my books has drawn inspiration from my life and times, as viewed through the prism of French literature and history. For instance, the first, published in 1992 and conceived during the heyday of feminism, staged paired readings of novels by women and men to explore the status of the exotic Other.
Partly motivated by the experience of raising two young boys, my second book (2002) tells the stories of real-life “wild children” found in the woods as well as theories of perfectibility in the 18th century. My latest book, The Frankenstein of 1790 and Other Lost Chapters from Revolutionary France (2012), sprang from memories of growing up in the midst of a political family during the civil rights era, to show how politics forms our imaginations. It relates five events from the French Revolution as they were told and retold through journalism, fiction, caricature, and novels by later authors such as Mary Shelley, Honoré de Balzac, Gustave Flaubert, and L. Frank Baum. (Translated as Le Frankenstein français et la littérature de l’ère révolutionnaire, the book is now forthcoming with Editions Classiques Garnier, Paris.)
Notre Dame has proven to be a great place for a humanist like me, offering creative people to talk with, frequent occasions for invigorating intellectual debate, support to travel to France on a regular basis, and bright, motivated students who are both eager learners and collaborators.