B.A., Rutgers University; M.A., Ph.D., University of California (Berkeley)
Hélène BilisAssociate Professor of French and Francophone Studies
Specializes in French culture of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, with a particular focus on the relationship between literary texts and the socio-historical contexts in which they emerged.
My first book, Passing Judgment: The Politics and Poetics of Sovereignty in French Tragedy from Hardy to Racine (University of Toronto Press, 2016) examined how a character-type—the royal judge—remained a constant of the tragic genre, although the specifics of his role and position fluctuated as playwrights experimented with changing models of sovereignty onstage.
In keeping with my fondness for collaborative projects, I have co-edited (with (Jennifer Tamas) a collection of articles, L’Eloquence du Silence: Dramaturgie du non-dit sur la scène théâtrale des 17e et 18e siècles. (Classiques Garnier, 2014), which investigates the paradoxical question of how silence makes itself heard on the theatrical stage. I also co-edited a volume with Ellen McClure on new approaches to teaching neoclassical tragedy in the twenty-first-century classroom (MLA, 2021). Stemming from my engagement with the promise and pitfalls of Digital Humanities methods, I am developing a digital pedagogical edition and translation of Lafayette’s La Princesse de Clèves with a group of colleagues from liberal arts colleges; it was awarded a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: https://www.wellesley.edu/news/2020/stories/node/173076
My new book project, tentatively titled, “The Anxiety of Competition: How Rivalry Spurred Innovation on the Seventeenth-Century Stage,” looks at the phenomenon of doublons—dueling plays, playwrights, and troupes in early modern Paris.
I enjoy teaching courses that range from introductory language to a multi-media seminar on Versailles and the Age of Louis XIV. As part of a course on women in power under the Ancien Régime, students, our library partners, and I designed a digital exhibit on an almanac that belonged to Marie-Antoinette. You can visit the exhibit here and read about it here.
I served as an elected officer of the MLA French Seventeenth-Century Division Executive Committee (2012-2017) and currently serve on the Graduate Student Prizes Committee for the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies.
I like to travel, especially by train and to the Atlantic coast of France. I love swimming with my kids in Dug Pond in Natick on a warm summer day.