skip to content


Faculty of Modern and Medieval Languages and Linguistics


Dr Claire White

Claire White
Associate Professor of French
Faculty of Modern & Medieval Languages & Linguistics
Contact details: 
Telephone number: 
(+44) (0)1223 760182

Girton College
Huntingdon Road



Claire White joined the MMLL Faculty in 2017 as a University Lecturer. Before that, she held a lectureship at King’s College London (2016-17), and a Research Fellowship at Peterhouse, Cambridge (2012-16), having completed her Ph.D. at Clare College, Cambridge. As an undergraduate, Claire read French and German at Emmanuel College (2003-07). She attended various state schools in Bedfordshire and was the first in her family to attend university.


Teaching interests: 

In the MMLL Faculty, Claire regularly convenes the final-year undergraduate paper on nineteenth-century French culture (FR11). She lectures across all parts of Tripos on writers such as Balzac, Mme de Duras, Flaubert, George Sand, the Goncourt brothers, and Zola, as well as on nineteenth-century painting.


Research interests: 

Claire specialises in nineteenth-century French literature and art, with a particular interest in class, labour politics, aesthetics, and intellectual history. She is the author of Work and Leisure in Late Nineteenth-Century French Literature and Visual Culture (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014). This book explores how writers and artists of the early Third Republic engaged critically with cultural, political and economic discourses on labour, leisure, and time at a key moment in the history of class struggle in France. She is also the co-editor of three publications: The Labour of Literature in Britain and France, 1830-1910: Authorial Work Ethics (Palgrave Macmillan, 2018); a special number of the leading journal on 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). Her work on George Sand was awarded the Nineteenth-Century French Studies Larry Schehr Memorial Award in 2016, and the Society of Dix-Neuviémistes’ Publication Prize that same year.

She is 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 called 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 Claire was Associate Editor of the North American journal, Nineteenth-Century French Studies.

Claire has recently supervised to successful completion a PhD thesis by Ellie Stefiuk on ‘Anarchisms and the Short Story in Fin-de-Siècle France’. She is currently supervising Ellamae Lepper’s PhD thesis on Salon Cultures in the July Monarchy, and Isabel Maloney’s doctoral research on cultures of censorship under the Third Republic. Claire welcomes inquiries from potential MPhil and PhD students with research interests relevant to her own.


Published works: 


Selected Publications

'The Stench of the People: On the Mania for Zola’s L’Assommoir’, forthcoming in Degas and the Laundress: Women, Work and Impressionism (Yale University Press, 2023)

‘The Affair Before the Affair: Zola, Dreyfus and the Lourdes Scandal’, French History, 35: 3 (2021), 375-97.

'Back to her Sheep: The Commune and Peasant Politics in George Sand's Nanon', Nineteenth-Century French Studies (special number on the Paris Commune), 49 (2021),​ 460-76.

‘The Republic of Novels: Politics and Late Nineteenth-Century French Fiction’, in The Cambridge History of the Novel in French, ed. by Adam Watt (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2021), 403-20. 

'Zola et Gissing: le Demos des deux côtés de la Manche', Les Cahiers naturalistes, 94 (2020), 131-42.

Patrie, peuple, amitié: George Sand and Jules Michelet on the Politics of Friendship’, Romanic Review, 110.1-4 (2019), 149-67.

The Labour of Literature in Britain and France: Authorial Work Ethics, ed. Marcus Waithe and Claire White (Palgrave, 2018).

‘George Sand, Digging’, in The Labour of Literature in Britain and France, ed. Waithe and White (2018), pp. 61-78.

‘Zola à rebours’, Les Cahiers naturalistes, 91 (2017), 123-34.

‘Laforgue, Beauvoir, and the Second Sex’, Dix-Neuf, 20 (2016), 110-24.

‘Easy Reading: Zola’s Kitsch’, in Lucidity: Essays in Honour of Alison Finch, ed. Ian James and Emma Wilson (Legenda: 2016), pp. 72-85.

‘Work Avoidance: Idleness and Ideology in Turn-of-The-Century Utopian Fiction’, Nottingham French Studies, 55 (2016), 46-61.

‘Sensuous Communism: Sand with Marx’, Comparative Literature, 67 (2015), 62-78; winner of the SDN Publication Prize.

‘Naturalism in extremis: Zola’s Le Rêve’, Romance Studies, 33 (2015), 272-84.

Work and Leisure in Nineteenth-Century French Literature and Visual Culture: Time, Politics and Class (Palgrave, 2014).

‘Zola and Freud: Spent Energy in Thérèse Raquin’, Romanic Review, 102:4 (2011), 349-68.

‘Labour of Love: George Sand’s La Ville noire and Émile Zola’s Travail’, Modern Language Review, 106 (2011), 697-708.

‘Rewriting Work and Leisure in Émile Zola’s Travail’, Dix-Neuf, 13 (2009), 55-70.