I specialize in seventeenth-and eighteenth-century French literature, with an additional focus on gender and sexuality studies. In a broad sense, my recent scholarship is concerned with the ethical issues involved in different ways of approaching early modern women’s writing.
My dissertation, “Sincerity and Social Transformation in the Work of Louise d’Épinay,” analyzes one philosophe’s proposal to educate girls to be very sincere as a way of rectifying social injustices built into the economic and legal systems of Old Regime France. Louise d’Épinay (1726-1783) was the author of a novel, educational treatises, a prodigious correspondence with leading Enlightenment thinkers, and contributions to the clandestine literary journal the Correspondance littéraire. Her work has now largely been forgotten, except among specialists. I argue that many of d’Épinay’s proposals for changing French society have been overlooked until now because one of her major works, L’Histoire de Madame de Montbrillant, written over several years beginning in 1756, has been misread for over two centuries. Critics have long considered this epistolary novel a thinly-disguised and scandalous memoir. I argue that it is better understood as an educational novel.
Reading Montbrillant as a roman pédagogique for the first time, I show that Montbrillant contains a curriculum for girls’ education, based on intensive reading, writing, conversation, and introspection, reinventing a philosophical tradition we can trace back to the seventeenth century, to educational thinkers John Locke and Fénelon, and, especially, to the great letter-writer Madame de Sévigné, links that have up until now been ignored by scholars more focused on d’Épinay’s relationship with her more famous contemporary Jean-Jacques Rousseau. D’Épinay thought girls were as capable as boys of using reason, reading and writing, learning from direct experience, and grappling with abstract concepts. Above all, d’Épinay advocates teaching girls to be very sincere, believing that sincerity could transform marriage from an unequal, often abusive, hierarchy into a partnership of equals. My reading shows that this curriculum was meant not only to change the foundations of the family but also to transform a corrupt state nonviolently, an alternative to revolution.
My analysis stresses the seminal importance of d’Épinay’s educational theories, no longer relegated to the shadows of Rousseau, but instead revealed as a radically innovative educational curriculum meant to help women work around the constraints of the existing marriage system. D’Épinay’s proposals make hers one of the most important feminist voices of her era, and my work provides an alternative literary history and a new understanding of Enlightenment culture and women’s contributions to it.
I have taught a wide range of courses in French language, literature, and culture and gender and sexuality studies. Before coming to UChicago, I received a Master of Arts in French from the University of Virginia and taught at the Catholic University of America. I have held fellowships from the Franke Institute for the Humanities and the Georges Lurcy Charitable and Educational Trust and participated in the École Normale Supérieure exchange program.