Staff profiles

Photo of Professor Adam Watt

Professor Adam Watt

Head of Modern Languages, Professor of French and Comparative Literature


01392 722424

From 1st August 2018, I am Head of Modern Languages. I previously served as the department's Director of Research (2014-18).


My research to date has focussed primarily on the life and work of Marcel Proust (1871-1922). I wrote my doctoral thesis (2005) and published my first book (2009) on the act of reading in Proust’s A la recherche du temps perdu. My other books include The Cambridge Introduction to Marcel Proust (2011); an illustrated critical biography, Marcel Proust (2013; Chinese edition 2014); and, most recently, as editor, a major reference work, Marcel Proust in Context (2013; paperback 2016) in the Cambridge University Press ‘Literature in Context’ series. I have published articles and chapters in English and French on various aspects of Proust’s work and delivered conference papers and invited talks in the UK, in France, Holland and the United States. Many of my publications take a comparative approach,examining Proust's writing in relation to authors such as Dante, Samuel Beckett, Roland Barthes, Eve Sedgwick and Anne Carson. I organised a major international conference at Exeter in December 2013 to commemorate the centenary of Du côté de chez Swann. A selection of papers from the conference appeared in 2015 as a special number of Marcel Proust Aujourd'hui that I guest-edited. See An article of mine on letters of rupture in Proust was recently published in Danish translation in a special number of the Danish journal of literature and criticism, Passage: see

Other recent publications include my 2016 review essay about the French television adaptation of Proust's novel:; an article published in Contemporary French and Francophone Studies on Anne Carson's The Albertine Workout; and another, on poetry, painting and colour in Proust and Valery, that appeared in the summer 2017 number of French Studies.

I am interested in the evolution of twentieth-century first-person writing after Proust, specifically the cases of Paul Valéry (1871-1945), Michel Leiris(1901-90) and Samuel Beckett (1906-89). I have published on French poetry in translation and the writing of ‘versions’: free, adaptive interpretations of French poetic writings by authors such as Derek Mahon, Tom Paulin and Ciaran Carson. I write reviews for a number of journals, including the Times Literary Supplement.

History of the Novel in French

I am editor of a major new project currently underway, The Cambridge History of the Novel in French. This edited volume will consist of forty commissioned chapters by specialists, spanning from the late medieval period to the present day. There has been no such work, aiming at comprehensiveness of coverage, since George Saintsbury's two-volume History of the French Novel (1917-19). One hundred years on, the present project will address this peculiar gap in scholarship.

Research interests

My research to date has focussed primarily on the life and work of Marcel Proust (1871-1922). My first book, Reading in Proust's 'A la recherche': 'le délire de la lecture'  (Oxford University Press, 2009) is a study of the important and often destabilising role played by scenes of reading in Proust's novel. The US journal French Review stated that the book ‘has many qualities, not the least of which is completeness’, and the online journal O-Scholars remarked that ‘There is so much to praise in [the book] that one doesn’t quite know where to begin.’ My second book was The Cambridge Introduction to Marcel Proust (Cambridge University Press, 2011), which is the most up-to-date introduction to Proust available and is widely recommended on undergraduate syllabi; H-France Review described it as ‘punctuated with successes.’ I published an illustrated biography of Proust in Reaktion Books' 'Critical Lives' series in 2013. Here I seek to give an account of how Proust came to write A la recherche, engaging at once with his correspondence and existing biographical and critical work in the field. Reviews have described the book as 'excellent' (The Age, Australia) and 'amazing' (Gay & Lesbian Review). It was published in Chinese translation with Lijiang Publishing in 2014. The TLS review of the book can be accessed here: Review described the book as 'the finest short biography of Proust in print today'.

In addition to these book projects I have also contributed chapters and articles to various journals and edited collections, many of these taking a comparative approach. Following an international conference I organised in 2007 I edited a collection of essays in English and French entitled Le Temps retrouvé Eighty Years After/80 ans après: Critical Essays/Essais critiques (Peter Lang, 2009). My most recent book project is a major work of reference published by Cambridge University Press in November 2013 in their 'Literature in Context' series. Marcel Proust in Context brings together thirty essays by the world's leading scholars in the field and is likely to be a significant point of reference for years to come. Clive Scott, reviewing the book in the Journal of European Studies, described the book as 'a wonderfully coherent, effervescent, tirelessly engaging volume.' A paperback editon was published in September 2016. See

I have developing research interests in two areas relating to poetry and to first-person literary writing of the late nineteenth and the twentieth century. I am developing a book project on the relations of the first-person writings of Proust, Valéry, Leiris and Beckett. Additionally I am interested in contemporary English-language ‘versions’ of modern poetry in French (by Baudelaire, Rimbaud and Mallarmé, amongst others) written by poets such as Tom Paulin, Ciaran Carson and Derek Mahon.

Recent talks include papers on Derek Mahon's adaptation of Valéry's 'Le cimetière marin' (IMLR, London, October 2014), on Anne Carson's wonderful The Albertine Workout (Baton Rouge, Louisiana, February 2015), on Proust, Valéry and colour at the Society for French Studies Conference (Cardiff, June 2015) and on Proust and Leiris (St Louis, March 2016). Also in March 2016 I gave an invited visiting 'Horizons of Knowledge' lecture at Indiana University, Bloomington, on Proust, Leiris and Beckett: see here for details

Published in November 2017: Brian Nelson (Monash, Australia) has produced a new translation of 'Un amour de Swann', the stand-alone love story from Proust's Du côté de chez Swann, and I have written the notes and a substantive introduction. The book appeared in the Oxford World Classics series: see

I have published two pieces recently in French Studies: an article on Proust and Valéry's early writings on painting (see here and an 'état présent' on Marcel Proust: see here:

Research collaborations

Since September 2010 I have been a member of the Equipe Proust at the Institut des textes et manuscrits modernes/ENS Paris ( I am also a member of the research group LEA! (Lire en Europe Aujourd’hui !): see With Anne Simon (CNRS, EHESS, Paris) and André Benhaïm (Princeton) I am part of the editorial team of the interdisciplinary Proust hub 'Pôle Proust', launched in March 2015 (

In June 2015 I was an invited chair at a doctoral conference at one of Exeter’s Erasmus partner institutions, Université Paris Est Créteil I also chaired a round table closing the Paris Ouest Nanterre la Défense conference ‘Traduire la sonorité dans l’œuvre proustienne/Translating Sounds in Proust’, where I animated a panel including Prof. Christopher Prendergast, FBA, Dr Ian Patterson (both Cambridge, respectively General Editor and contributor to the Penguin Proust), James Grieve (Australian National University) and Lydia Davis, writer and translator and winner of the 2013 Man International Booker Prize. See The event took place in the Hôtel de Lauzun on the Ile St Louis, the home of the Paris Institute for Advanced Study:

I am a member of the Executive Committee of the British Association for Modernist Studies and a member of the Society for French Studies and the British Comparative Literature Association.


Research supervision

I am delighted to hear from individuals wishing to pursue postgraduate study in the following areas:

  • the life and works of Marcel Proust (from a French or Comparative Literary perspective)
  • topics relating to nineteenth- and twentieth-century French poetry (in particular Mallarmé, Valéry, Leiris, Beckett, Bonnefoy)
  • the novel in French, especially from the late nineteenth to the early twentieth century
  • topics relating to translation and French literary writing from the late 19th century to the present

Research students

I have supervised a number of MA Translation dissertations at Exeter on twentieth-century topics (including Marguerite Yourcenar, Irène Némirovsky and Pierre Autin-Grenier). I have examined doctoral and MA-level work on Proust, Duras, Bonnefoy and on literary translation.

External impact and engagement

In March 2013 I spoke about Proust and Du côté de chez Swann at Jewish Book Week in London. To listen to the podcast, click here: In May 2013 I gave an introductory talk on Proust at Blackwell's Bookshop in Oxford. See here for more details:

In the spring of 2013 I also organised an afternoon colloquium which was open to the public, '1913: The Arts in Europe', involving papers by colleagues in the College of Humanities at Exeter and from Art History and Modern Languages at the University of Bristol. For details see here:

Here is a link to a talk (on letters in Proust's novel) that I gave at the Maison francaise d'Oxford in November 2013 as part of the cycle 'Proust, la pensée, l’émotion, l’écriture', organised by Anne Simon (CRAL/EHESS):

Contribution to discipline

I am a member of the Society for French Studies ( and the British Comparative Literature Association ( and sit on the Executive Committee of the British Association for Modernist Studies ( I am a member of the Comité de lecture international for the online journal Acta Fabula ( and I am the UK correspondent for ADIREL (Association pour la diffusion de la  Recherche littéraire - From July 2009 to June 2012 I was Conference Officer for the Society for French Studies. I was a member of the AHRC's Peer-review College (2014-2017) and am currently a member of the advisory board of the Australian Journal of French Studies (2018-). I am also a member of the comité scientifique of the online journal Nouveaux Cahiers de Marge (


I review books for Bulletin d’informations proustiennes, French Studies, Modern Language Review, Journal of European Studies, Modern and Contemporary France, Notes and QueriesPN Review, TLS and a number of other journals. My work has been published in the Magazine littéraire and cited, for example, in the Nouvelle revue française and the London Review of Books.


My teaching reflects my interests in the developments in nineteenth- and twentieth-century prose fiction and poetry. As well as language teaching I offer a second-year option entitled ‘Telling Stories: Narrative Strategies in Nineteenth- and Twentieth-century Fiction in French’, focussing on Zola, Rodenbach and Beckett. I also offer a final-year option on Proust’s A la recherche and have taught critical theory and literary translation at MA level. In April 2014 I won the Students' Guild Award for 'Best Research-led Teaching' in Modern Languages and in 2017 was nominated as Best Lecturer in Modern Languages.

Modules taught


I was born and schooled in Edinburgh and studied for my undergraduate and postgraduate degrees at the University of Oxford. I was awarded my BA in French and Spanish (First Class) in 2001. My doctorate, completed as a Senior Scholar at Christ Church and awarded in 2005, was supervised by the late Professor Malcolm Bowie. Prior to my appointment at Exeter I taught at Trinity College, Dublin (2005-2006) and Royal Holloway, University of London (2006-2012). I came to Exeter as Associate Professor in September 2012 and was appointed to a personal chair in December 2016.