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Dr Claire E White

College position(s)

Fellow, Director of Studies


Modern and Medieval Languages

Specialising in

Brenda Stacey Official Fellow

Degrees, Awards and Prizes

BA, MPhil, PhD

Research themes

I specialise in nineteenth-century French literature and art, and I have particular interests in class, labour politics, aesthetics, and intellectual history.

In my first book, Work and Leisure in Late Nineteenth-Century French Literature and Visual Culture (2014), I explored how writers and artists of the early Third Republic engaged with burning issues of labour and leisure politics at a key moment in the history of class struggle in France. I am also the co-editor of three publications: The Labour of Literature in Britain and France, 1830-1910: Authorial Work Ethics (2018); a special number of the leading journal on Émile Zola and Naturalism, Les Cahiers naturalistes (‘Zola au pluriel’, no. 91, 2017), and a special number of the journal of the Society of Dix-Neuviémistes, Dix-Neuf, on the poet Jules Laforgue (vol. 20, 2016)

I am currently writing a book called ‘Zola's Dream: Idealism on Trial’. The project explores how, and why, the popular naturalist writer was repeatedly drawn to the idealist imagination, both in its aesthetic and its political forms—and this in spite of his own loudly-proclaimed anti-idealism. It tracks the stakes of idealist thought in Zola’s writing, from his novel of socialism, Germinal (1885), to his transposition of the Drefyus Affair, Vérité (1903). How important was the ongoing 'quarrel', as Zola dubbed it, between idealists and naturalists to what historians tend to call the ‘culture wars’ of the late nineteenth century? And what can a sustained attention to idealism in Zola's fiction tell us about the century's pre-eminent naturalist writer?

From 2019 to 2023, I was Associate Editor of the North American journal, Nineteenth-Century French Studies.


In the MML Faculty, I regularly convene the final-year undergraduate paper on nineteenth-century French culture (FR11). I lecture across all parts of Tripos (including for papers FR1, FR5 and FR11) on writers such as Balzac, Mme de Duras, George Sand, Flaubert, the Goncourt brothers, and Zola, as well as on nineteenth-century painting. I also lecture on the final-year comparative paper, The Body (CS5).

In College, I supervise first-year Girton students for their ‘Introduction to French Literature, Film, and Thought’ paper (FR1); and I supervise students from Girton and other Colleges who work on nineteenth-century France. In Girton, I am Director of Studies for Part IB MML and HML.


I joined the MMLL Faculty in 2017 as a University Lecturer and became an Official Fellow at Girton College that same year. Before that, I held a lectureship at King’s College London (2016-17), and a Research Fellowship at Peterhouse, Cambridge (2012-16), having completed my Ph.D. at Clare College, Cambridge. As an undergraduate, I read French and German at Emmanuel College (2003-07). I attended various state schools in Bedfordshire and was the first in my family to go to university.

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