Professor Nicholas White

Photo of Professor Nicholas White


Official Fellow; Director of Studies in Modern and Medieval Languages
Professor of Nineteenth-Century French Literature and Culture


Having completed undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in Cambridge, Nicholas 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). He is Director of the Cambridge Master's programme (M.Phil.) in European, Latin America and Comparative Literatures and Culture.

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 steering committee of the University's Centre for Teaching and Learning Committee (CCTL), and represents the School of Arts and Humanities on the University's Open Access Project Board. In his CCTL capacity, he also chairs the University's Participation Data Advisory Group.

The Regent House of the University of Cambridge (its legislative body) delegates certain functions to special committees of its members, termed "syndicates", whose members are styled "the syndics" of that particular institution. Nicholas White is now a Syndic of the University Library, having served from 2010 to 2017 as a Syndic of Cambridge Assessment, Europe's largest educational assessment agency which 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 sat 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). He still directs studies in French.

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", "Fictions of the Press in Nineteenth-Century France", "Aesthetics in Ruins: Parisian Writing, Photography and Art, 1851-1892", and "Conspiracy in Balzac and Sand’s July Monarchy Fiction"; and co-supervised a PhD on "The Stakes of Mimesis: E.T.A. Hoffmann and Honoré de Balzac". 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”.


Nicholas 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 plenary 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 seven volumes of essays and translations. These include translations of Zola’s L’Assommoir and Huysmans’s A Rebours (winner of the Scott Moncrieff Prize), essays on 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), culminating in a special number of the leading French journal in the field, Les Cahiers naturalistes, no. 91 (2017). His 2017 presentation on La Débâcle at the Paris Zola seminar is also available online.

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 was the principal investigator of the AHRC-sponsored Research Network (2016-18) on The Art of Friendship in France, from 1789 to 1914, 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, is related to this project.

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

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, Colette, Marcelle Tinayre, 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 on the advisory board of two major North American journals in the field, Nineteenth-Century French Studies and Romanic Review. He has also written, lectured, and translated for the Globe Theatre, Somerset House, and the Philharmonia Orchestra, and has, since the late 1990s, written from time to time for the Times Literary Supplement.