Romance Languages and Literatures

Thomas Pavel

Gordon J. Laing Distinguished Service Professor in Romance Languages and Literatures, Comparative Literature, the Committee on Social Thought, and Fundamentals


Wieboldt 409C

Office Hours: 

By appointment

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Doctorat 3e cycle, École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris 1971.

Program(s): French and Francophone Studies

Born in Romania, I was educated in my native country and France and pursued an academic career in Canada (University of Ottawa and Université du Québec à Montréal) and the U.S. (University of California, Santa Cruz, Princeton University). 

Trained in literature and linguistics, I became interested in the then fashionable structuralist methods, which applied linguistic notions to literary studies.  My early work – a book on Pierre Corneille and one on English Renaissance tragedy – examines the structure of dramatic plots with the help of notions developed by Noam Chomsky’s transformational grammar.  I soon realized, however, that linguistics provides only a limited amount of help and in The Spell of Language: Post-structuralism and speculation (1988, revised edition, 2001), I analyzed and criticized the hasty application of linguistic concepts in the humanities.  Since, more generally, it seemed to me that the study of formal structures does not exhaust the richness of literary phenomena, I turned to the study of the imaginary worlds projected by fiction – the topic of the book Fictional Worlds (1986).  In L’ Art de l’éloignement: Essai sur l’imagination classique (“Art as distance, essay on the neo-classical imagination,” 1996), I described the fictional worlds of a single period – that of French neo-classicism – and in La Pensée du roman (“The Thinking Novel,” 2003) I studied the evolution of fictional representation in a single genre: the novel, from the Ancient Greek romances to the end of the twentieth century.  At present I am working on a book about the way in which literature understands human action and its moral requirements.

My teaching interests are the history of the novel, seventeenth-century French literature, twentieth-century French literature and intellectual life, as well as the interactions between literature and philosophy. 

Selected Publications

Scholarly Books
  • The Lives of the Novel, Princeton University Press, 2013.
  • Comment écouter la littérature (‘How to listen to literature’), Paris: Fayard, Inaugural lesson at the Collège de France, 2006.
  • La Pensée du roman (‘The Thinking Novel’), Paris: Gallimard, 2003. Spanish translation, Madrid: Critica, 2004; Romanian translation, Bucarest: Humanitas, 2008, English version forthcoming. 
  • The Spell of Language. Post-Structuralism and Speculation, University of Chicago Press, 2001. Revised edition of The Feud of Language, Oxford & New York: Basil Blackwell, 1989, published in French as Le Mirage linguistique, Paris: Minuit, 1988, Portuguese translation, Sao Paolo, 1990, Romanian translation, Bucharest, 1994.
  • De Barthes à Balzac. Fictions d’un critique et critiques d’une fiction (‘From Balzac to Barthes. Criticism as Fiction and Criticism of Fiction’) with Claude Bremond, Paris: Albin Michel, 1998.
  • L’Art de l’éloignement.  Essai sur l’imagination classique  (‘Art as distance, essay on the neo-classical imagination’), Paris: Gallimard, 1996.  Romanian translation, 2000.
  • Fictional Worlds, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1986.  French translation, Univers de la fiction, Paris: Editions du Seuil, coll. "Poétique," 1988.  Italian edition, Milan: Einaudi, 1992, Romanian translation, Bucarest, 1994, Spanish translation, Caracas, 1996.
  • The Poetics of Plot: The Case of English Renaissance Drama, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press ("Theory and History of Literature," vol. 18), 1985.
  • La Syntaxe narrative des tragédies de Corneille: Recherches et proposition (‘The Narrative Syntax of Corneille’s Tragedies. Inquiries and Proposals’), Paris: Klincksieck & Ottawa: Editions de l'Université d'Ottawa, 1976. 
Fiction, Essays
  • La sixième branche (‘The Sixth Branch’) novel, Paris: Fayard, 2003.
  • Le Miroir persan (‘The Persian Mirror’), stories, Paris: Denoël & Montréal: Quinze, 1978, English translation, 1983, Japanese translation, 2003.
  • Inflexions de voix (‘Voice Modulations’), essay, Montréal: Presses de l'Université de Montréal, 1976.

Pavel CV