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Professor Maria Scott

Associate Professor of French Literature and Thought

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01392 725456

I am currently very interested in the notion that reading fiction can help to develop empathy, including Theory of Mind, in readers; I am exploring (and problematising) this idea from the perspective of (French) literary studies, looking at what literary fiction and literary theory have to say on the subject. My book Empathy and the Strangeness of Fiction: Readings in French Realism came out with Edinburgh University Press in April 2020.

My teaching and research tend to focus on 19th-century literature and culture. Many of my publications have focused on the work of the novelist Stendhal and the poet Charles Baudelaire, both of whom were also art critics. As the titles of my monographs suggest, I like to read works from unorthodox angles: Baudelaire's 'Le Spleen de Paris': Shifting Perspectives (Ashgate, 2005) and Stendhal's Less-Loved Heroines: Fiction, Freedom, and the Female (Legenda, 2013). The Baudelaire book won the Gapper Book Prize for the best monograph published in 2005 by a scholar working in the field of French studies and based in the UK or Ireland. The Stendhal book was published in French by Garnier in 2015.

Generally, I am interested in the processes involved in the reception of literary and visual texts. I welcome any interesting PhD  proposals in the area of post-1800 French studies. In 2018 I won the University of Exeter Student Guild award for Best Postgraduate Research Supervisor.

In 2014 I became an ASPIRE Fellow. See http://as.exeter.ac.uk/aspire/

Empathy and the Strangeness of Fiction

Stendhal's Less-Loved Heroines By Maria C. Scott

  Baudelaire‚Äôs Le Spleen de Paris

Research interests

My recent work has focused on the idea of empathy. I have been studying the depiction of empathetic processes in the poetry and prose of Charles Baudelaire, whose work slightly predates the formal theorization of empathy (or 'Einfühlung') in the 1870s, by German aesthetic philosophers. I am also investigating an aspect of the putative link between reading fiction and the development of empathy, and have been arguing for a shift in thinking of the advantages of fiction-reading from the social towards the ethical.

Here is a blog post that I wrote for Edinburgh University Press to accompany the publication of my book in 2020.

For recent reviews of my book Empathy and the Strangeness of Fiction, that summarise its key points, see here by Matt Phillips (Royal Holloway) in French Studiesthis by Suzanne Keen (Hamilton College, USA) in the MLR, this by Thomas Dodman (Columbia University, USA) in the Romanic Review, or this in the Forum for Modern Language Studies.

 

Research collaborations

Currently, I am collaborating with Elisa Becker, who is completing her PhD in Psychology at Exeter, on a study designed to test aspects of the alleged fiction-empathy relationship. For more details (and please do complete and share), see this link.

I am also co-editing, with Dr Claire Moran (Queen's University Belfast), Prof. Mary Orr (University of Saint Andrew's), and Prof. Therese Dolan (Tyler School of Art, Temple University, U.S.A.) a Special Number of the journal Dix-Neuf, on the theme of 'Crossings and Interconnections', in memory of Professor Barbara Wright of Trinity College Dublin.

Research supervision

I would be very interested to hear from anybody considering research in any area of French nineteenth-century literature, but would also be keen to hear about any twentieth-century French studies project that engages substantially with the question of empathy or Theory of Mind, with problems of interpretation, or with ideas about gender.

Biography

After a Community School education in Dublin, I took the first year of a Marketing degree before realising my mistake. I went on to study for a BA (Two-Subject Moderatorship) in French and English at Trinity College Dublin, followed by a DEA and a year teaching English at the Université de la Sorbonne Nouvelle -- Paris III, and a PhD in French at TCD. After another year of teaching English, this time at the Université Charles-de-Gaulle -- Lille III, I became a Lecturer in French at University College Dublin for two years, and was then made Lecturer in French at National University of Ireland, Galway, where I worked until my appointment at Exeter in 2013. I was the beneficiary of a Government of Ireland Research Fellowship from 2004 to 2005, was Secretary of the Royal Irish Academy's Modern Languages Committee from 2009 to 2011, was General editor of the Irish Journal of French Studies for four years (Jan 2015 to Dec 2018), Secretary of the executive committee of the Society of Dix-Neuviémistes for five years (Apr 2014 to Apr 2019), and member of the AHRC Peer Review College from 2017 to 2020. I am currently on the editorial board of La Revue Stendhal.