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Rachel, 3rd Year

Dr Nicholas White

Photo of Dr Nicholas White


Official Fellow
Reader in Modern French Literature


Having completed undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in Cambridge, Nick White took up a Faculty post in London University in 1993. In 2002 he returned to Cambridge to take up a Faculty post in 19th century French literature, at which point he became a Fellow of Emmanuel College. His main role in the University is to organize its teaching and research on nineteenth-century France (details below).

From 2008 until 2011, he was Chair of the Faculty of Modern and Medieval Languages, responsible for steering policy in teaching and research for Cambridge’s largest Arts & Humanities Faculty. As such, he chaired the Faculty Board and its Degree Committee, and represented the Faculty on the Council of the School of Arts and Humanities. Within the University, he now chairs the Sub-Syndicate of Arts and Humanities Libraries, sits on the General Board's Teaching and Learning Committee, and represents the School of Arts and Humanities on the University's Open Access Project Board.

The Regent House of the University of Cambridge (its legislative body) delegates certain functions to special committees of its members, appointed from time to time by Grace (a proposal offered to the Regent House and confirmed by it); these committees are termed "syndicates", and the members are styled "the syndics" of the particular committee or of the institution which they administer. Nick White is a Syndic of the University Library and a Syndic of Cambridge Assessment. Cambridge Assessment Group is Europe's largest educational assessment agency and plays a leading role in developing and delivering assessment across the world, designing and delivering assessments to over 8 million learners in over 170 countries. He also sits on the Board of Directors of OCR (Oxford Cambridge and RSA Examinations).

Until 2015 he held three major roles in College: Admissions Tutor for Arts (since 2007), Director of Studies in Modern and Medieval Languages (since 2003), and a Tutor to students in other subjects (since 2004).

Teaching Interests

He supervises Emmanuel students and other students who work on the nineteenth century. In the Modern and Medieval Languages Faculty, he convenes undergraduate and MPhil papers in 19th century French literature, and has lectured on writers such as Stendhal, Nerval, Sand, Baudelaire, Flaubert, Rimbaud, Vallès, Maupassant, Anatole France, and Zola, and a range of historical topics, from the Revolution to the Dreyfus Affair. In addition to directing Master’s teaching in Cambridge on nineteenth-century French literature, he has supervised PhD theses on “The Pursuit of the Sublime in Post-Romantic France”, “A Literary and Cultural History of Ballooning in France 1783-1936”, “Narratives of Inheritance in Nineteenth-Century France”, "Work and Leisure in Late Nineteenth-Century French Literature and Visual Culture" and "Fictions of the Press in Nineteenth-Century France". He is a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, a national body which aims to “share effective teaching practices in order to provide the best possible learning experience for all students”.


Nick White’s research focuses on 19th century French literature, and he coordinates work in this field in Cambridge. He is particularly interested in the issues of war, friendship, love, marriage, and the family, and in the methods of cultural and literary history.

He is now engaged on a book project on the 'war before the First World War': in other words, the Franco-Prussian War and the Commune (1870-71). His work on French war literature and painting before 1914 focuses on fiction, in particular Zola's 1892 novel La Débâcle, as well as art by the likes of Neuville and Detaille. In addition to talks on this project at a range of conferences, he has in recent years also given invited lectures and papers on this new material at Harvard, Yale, Penn, NYU, ENS Paris, ENS Lyon, Oxford and Bristol. In 2015 he was invited to give a lecture on this topic to the Society of Dix-Neuviémistes. As well as clicking on the sound file below, links to the relevant images are available from the PDF of the lecture.

His earlier publications focused on the fictional representation of personal and social relations in the early and middle decades of the French Third Republic (from the Franco-Prussian War until World War One). As well as writing books on The Family in Crisis in Late Nineteenth-Century French Fiction (1999) and French Divorce Fiction from the Revolution to the First World War (2012), he has edited four volumes of essays: Scarlet Letters: Fictions of Adultery from Antiquity to the 1990s (1997), Currencies: Fiscal Fortunes and Cultural Capital in Nineteenth-Century France (2005), After Intimacy: The Culture of Divorce in the West since 1789 (2007), and a special double number on Zola for the New York journal, Romanic Review (2011). He was also the principal investigator of the Cambridge-PSL network on Zola au pluriel, co-ordinating (with Claire White) symposia in the summer of 2015 at Emmanuel College and the ENS rue d'Ulm, Paris, which brought into collaboration the Cambridge group and the Zola ITEM seminar from Paris.

In Romanic Review, his piece on Pot-Bouille and Au Bonheur des dames sketches out the parameters of a project on the ways in which French men and women of the late 19th and early 20th centuries interact in public space in a manner that is not necessarily romantic or sexual (in other words what we might call Third Republic "heterosociability"). In this vein, he is the principal investigator of the AHRC-sponsored Research Network (2016-17) on The Art of Friendship in France from the Revolution to the First World War, which he co-ordinates with Andrew Counter. The Fitzwilliam Museum exhibition Degas: A Passion for Perfection (3 October 2017 to 14 January 2018), curated by Jane Munro, forms part of this project.

He has supervised PhDs by scholars such as Andrew Counter, Claire White and Edmund Birch, and he directs the Cambridge Research Seminar on Nineteenth-Century France. Recent programmes include:

In addition to editing translations of Zola’s L’Assommoir and Huysmans’s A Rebours (winner of the Scott Moncrieff Prize), he has published in article and chapter format on a wide range of male and female authors from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, including Émile Zola, Guy de Maupassant, Anatole France, J.-K. Huysmans, Marie-Anne de Bovet, Jules Lemaître, André Léo (aka Mme de Champseix), Camille Pert, Claire Vautier, Paul Bourget, Léon Hennique, Édouard Rod, Alphonse Daudet, Janvier & Ballot, and Armand Charpentier. He has also dabbled in other domains such as the relationship between literature and Grand Opera. He was one of the founding General Editors of Dix-Neuf (the journal of the Society of Dix-Neuviémistes, the UK and Irish professional body in nineteenth-century French studies), and is now a member of their Editorial Board. He was from 2013 to 2016 the nineteenth-century literature reviews editor of H-France, an organization based in North America for academics working on French history and culture that includes over 3000 subscribers from some 40 nations. He is the sole member, outside USA and France, of the advisory board of the major North American journal in the field, Nineteenth-Century French Studies. He has also written, translated or lectured for the Globe Theatre, Somerset House, the Philharmonia Orchestra and the Times Literary Supplement.



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