Hélène Bilis

Curriculum Vitae


(781) 283-2430
B.A., Rutgers University; M.A., Ph.D., University of California (Berkeley)

Hélène Bilis
Assistant Professor of French

Specializes in early modern literature and culture, with a focus on theater and poetics, and how they intersect with royal discourses on power.

I specialize in the literature and culture of early modern France, in particular the relationship between 17th- and 18th- century theater and discourses on sovereignty developed over that time. Questions of form guide my research and publications. Specifically, I am most interested in the reasons (political, cultural, aesthetic) for the rise and fall of literary genres and conventions.

I am currently putting the final touches on a book-manuscript, Passing Judgment: The Politics and Poetics of Sovereignty in French Tragedy from Hardy to Racine. This work spans French tragedy of the seventeenth century, drawing out how an overlooked character-type—the royal judge—remains a constant of the genre, although the specifics of his role and position fluctuate as playwrights experiment with changing models of sovereignty. My readings show how this royal decision-maker stands at the intersection of political and theatrical debates, and evolves through a process of trial and error in which certain figurations of kingship are deemed obsolete and are discarded, while others are promoted as culturally allowable and resonant. In tracing the royal judge’s persistent presence and transformation, I argue, we come to better grasp the weighty stakes of theatrical representations under the ancien régime.

In keeping with my fondness for collaborative projects, I have co-edited (with (Jennifer Tamas, Middlebury college) a collection of twelve articles, L’Eloquence du Silence: Dramaturgie du non-dit sur la scène théâtrale des 17e et 18e siècles (Classiques Garnier, 2014). This volume investigates the paradoxical question of how silence makes itself heard on the theatrical stage. Other publications have focused on feeble and aging kings and the crises of dynastic succession they provoke on the tragic stage.

I enjoy teaching a variety of courses in the French Department, including introductory language, advanced conversation, and intensive writing courses. I offer a survey of French literature from the Middle Ages to the 18th century, as well as seminars on representations of women in power under the Old Regime, the comedy of Molière and Marivaux, and a course on the concept of tragedy in France. In the multimedia course on “Versailles and the Age of Louis XIV,” students and I examine the literature and culture of this period and we evaluate the Sun King's legacy for contemporary French culture and politics. My favorite aspect of teaching is seeing how surprised students are when they find themselves debating, passionately, in French, the merits of Corneille versus Racine.

I am proud to serve as an elected officer of the MLA French Seventeenth-Century Division Executive Committee. In 2012 I was designated as the president and organizer of the 31st Annual Conference of The Society for Interdisciplinary French Seventeenth-Century Studies, which was hosted by Wellesley College.

In my spare time you’ll find my husband, our baby, and me on the soccer sidelines cheering on the older siblings, Flora and Anthony. I like to travel, especially by train and to the Atlantic coast of France. I love swimming in Wellesley's Morses Pond on a warm summer day.