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Professor Helena Taylor

Associate Professor of French and Comparative Literature

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01392 724235

My research focuses on the intellectual and literary history of early modern France, particularly the seventeenth century. I am interested in cultures of learning, women's varied intellectual practices and their reception, classical reception, cultural quarrels, and translation studies. 

My first book, published with OUP in 2017, examines the reception of the life of the ancient Roman poet Ovid in 17th-century French culture; my second book, Women Writing Antiquity: Gender and Learning in Early Modern France is forthcoming with OUP (Spring 2024). I am currently leading a five-year project, Cultures of Philosophy: Women Writing Knowledge in Early Modern Europe, originally awarded as a European Research Council Horizon Europe Starting Grant in the 2022 round (€1.5 million) and is now match-funded by a UKRI Frontier Research Guarantee.

I teach or have taught all years of undergraduate modules in French language, literature, and philosophy, offering research led-modules alongside contributions to team-taught modules. I also teach for the MA in Translation Studies and the MA in Global Literatures and Cultures. From 2019-23 I co-directed Exeter's Centre for Early Modern Studies and am a founding member of the new Centre for Classical Reception.

I accept PhD or post-doc proposals in any of my research areas.

My pronouns are she/her.

‘Cultures of Philosophy: Women Writing Knowledge in Early Modern Europe’ (‘CultPhil’ for short) focuses on the seventeenth century, on case studies from France, England, the Dutch Republic and Italy, and zooms in on the sub-discipline of natural philosophy. These case studies are explored across three strands, which probe distinct but interrelated ‘cultures of philosophy’. The first strand, Genres, focusses on forms of writing often not considered in scholarship to be philosophical: certain literary texts, prefatory material, periodicals, salon poetry, published conversations, marginalia, and commonplace books. The second, Exchanges, interrogates transnational dynamics of women’s learning by looking at previously neglected correspondence, the archives of the few academies that admitted women, and manuscripts of salon production and exchange. It also compares the disciplines in which women philosophers have been recovered and taught across the four case studies to interrogate processes of canon formation. The third strand, Identities, examines how ideas of the figure of the female philosopher, broadly conceived, influenced the production and reception of philosophical writing by women.

The project asks the following research questions:

  1. Which processes have determined which texts ‘count’ as philosophical, and as part of the canon, and how have such processes varied across cultural region?
  2. How did sociological conditions of learning inflect philosophical writing by women?
  3. How was a (female) philosopher defined and what effects have these definitions had on women’s philosophical writing and its reception?
  4. What does a comparative analysis of dynamics of women’s learning reveal about the Republic of Letters?
  5. How does a varied and more inclusive approach to philosophical writing change our understanding of seventeenth-century natural philosophy, its historiography, and notions of a ‘Scientific Revolution’?

Helena as PI will be joined by Exeter’s Dr Felicity Henderson, who will work on the project for 2 years as a part-time Senior Researcher, and 3 full-time post-docs (3 years each, to be appointed).

 

Research interests

My research focuses on the intellectual and literary history of early modern France, particularly the seventeenth century. I am interested in cultures of learning, women's varied intellectual practices and their reception, classical reception, cultural quarrels, and translation studies.

I am currently principal investigator on a 5-year project, 'Cultures of Philosophy: Women Writing Knowledge in Early Modern Europe'.  Originally awarded as a European Research Council Starting Grant (2022 round) and now funded by UKRI, it focuses on the seventeenth century, and the sub-discipline of natural philosophy, and takes a transnational approach to women's knowledge production with case studies from France, England, the Dutch Republic and Italy.

My publications reflect my areas of research. My first book, The Lives of Ovid in Seventeenth-Century French Culture (OUP, 2017), took a socio-literary and historicist approach to examine the uses of ancient culture in a range of genres and media at a time when the authority of antiquity was in contention.

My second book, funded by a Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship, Women Writing Antiquity: Gender and Learning in Early Modern France (forthcoming, Spring 2024, OUP), examines women’s multi-genre responses to ancient texts to analyse the uses of antiquity in authorial self-fashioning and to explore the gendering of knowledge in this period and its historiography.

Related to these two projects, with Fiona Cox (Exeter), I have co-edited a comparative, cross-period volume, Ovid in French: Reception by Women from the Renaissance to the Present, for OUP's Classical Presences Series (2023).

I have also worked on women's engagements with literary 'quarrels'. I organised a panel at the MLA 2019 in Chicago and a conference at Exeter in March 2019 on this theme. I have published a number of articles on this topic, and with Kate Tunstall (Oxford), I guest-edited a Special Issue of Romanic Review on 'Women and Querelles in Early Modern France' (112.3, December 2021).

 

Research collaborations

I am committed to interdisciplinary scholarship and collaboration: with colleagues in History and English, I co-direct Exeter's interdisciplinary Centre for Early Modern Studies; and I am also a founding member of Exeter's new Centre for Classical Reception and serve on its advisory board.

In addition to the above, I have recently been involved in a number of funded collaborative projects:

- In 2019 I was awarded funding from Exeter's European Network Fund to set up a project entitled 'Before Invisibility: Classical meets Vernacular in Early Modern Translation Studies' with Beatrijs Vanacker at KU Leuven in Belgium and  Freyja Cox Jensen and other colleagues across Humanities at Exeter. This led to two workshops in early summer 2021 and, thanks to further funding from Exeter's Institute for Cultural Enquiry,  a conference in Leuven in June 2022; and thanks to further internal funding, a workshop in Leiden in June 2023.

- As Co-I:  GW4 Generator Award-funded project 'Rhetoric in Society' led by Paul Earlie (Bristol) (2020-21).

- As participant in Freyja Cox Jensen's (Exeter) BA Small Research Grant-funded project 'Translating the Ancient World' (2020-22).

-In June 2021, with Emily Hauser (Classics, Exeter), I organised an interdisciplinary conference, 'Women Creating Classics', bringing together contemporary creative writers and academics working on classical reception.

 

Research students

I am interested to hear from prospective PhD students working in seventeenth-century French literary studies, particularly classical reception, translation studies, and gender studies, and I am always happy to hear from final-year undergraduates or MA students interested in writing dissertations on early modern French culture (16th-18th centuries). For more information about the Department of Modern Languages' MA in Global Literatures and Cultures, see here.

Contribution to discipline

I am the Treasurer and Membership secretary for the Society for Early Modern French Studies (SEMFS): get in touch if you'd like to join!

From 2019-23 I was part of the editorial team for H-France Review, the online journal, and since 2021 I have been a mentor for early career academics via the University Council For Languages scheme.

 

Biography

I came to Exeter in September 2015 as Lecturer in French Studies, and then held a Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship here before my appointment as Associate Professor of French and Comparative Literature in 2023. Prior to coming to Exeter, I held a Laming Junior Research Fellowship at The Queen's College, Oxford, and completed my DPhil (2013), a Masters in European Literature (2008), and a BA in French and Classics at Oxford (2007). From 2010-11, I taught as a lectrice at Paris Sorbonne (Paris IV). I am a fellow of the Higher Education Academy.

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