Prof R W Scholar

Richard Scholar, M.A. D.Phil., Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Palmes Académiques
Professor of French and Comparative Literature, Fellow of Oriel College


My main research interests lie in early modern French literature and thought, and include comparative and interdisciplinary work in several other fields as well as early modern studies, among them translation studies, critical methodologies, and postcolonial Francophone Caribbean studies. In each of these fields, my research is principally concerned with the keywords, linguistic structures, and literary forms that writers use to test the limits of thought and expression and that thus reveal specific cultural instances of what it is to be human. I am the author of two books:  Montaigne and the Art of Free-Thinking (2010; revised paperback edn, 2017) and The Je-Ne-Sais-Quoi in Early Modern Europe: Encounters with a Certain Something (2005). Both have also appeared in French translations.  I am currently working on two books. The first, entitled Foreigners in Our Midst: French Words and the Fashioning of English, returns from a new perspective to the questions raised by my book on the je-ne-sais-quoi: it explores a cluster of early modern French ‘untranslatables’ – terms that appear to resist translation out of French – and the uses to which these have been put in the diverse cultures of the English-speaking world. The second, entitled The Invention of Utopia, studies Thomas More’s Utopia and its reception in French, English, and Italian texts as the expression of an experimental literary culture of invention in thinking about politics. The book will offer a major reevaluation of the ‘afterlives’ of More’s text, its translations and remakes, in a comparative perspective.

I value the intellectual possibilities offered by collective as well as individual work. I lead a project, The Oxford-Venice Initiative: Collaborations with the Fondazione Giorgio Cini, which is supporting for a three-year period, via TORCH (The Oxford Research Centre for the Humanities), a variety of collaborations with the Cini involving the dissemination of academic research and artistic performance related to that research. I co-direct Early Modern Keywords, a research group that is compiling and exploring a European vocabulary of culture and society of the period 1450-1700, in the wake of Renaissance Keywords (2013). I convene an Oxford Montaigne Reading Group comprising scholars from several disciplines (English, French, history, and philosophy) and institutions (Bristol, Cambridge, Durham, London, and Oxford). The Group reads chapters of Montaigne’s Essais at close quarters in a comparative and interdisciplinary perspective and a spirit of open-ended dialogue and enquiry. I was a member of the ANR-funded research collective Disputes, Controversies and Querelles (with Paris IV-Sorbonne). From 2008-12, I led a four-year collaborative research project entitled ‘Francophone Caribbean Writing in Context’, which included a Leverhulme International Research Network on the topic of ‘Caribbean Globalizations’. Since 2004, I have been a Director of the Oxford Amnesty Lectures, an independent charity that invites speakers of international reputation to lecture in Oxford on a theme related to human rights. I am the editor of Early Modern French Studies.

I was awarded a Philip Leverhulme Prize in 2007 and held a Leverhulme Research Fellowship (2007-08).

Graduate supervision and teaching

I welcome enquiries from graduate students at Masters or D.Phil. level wishing to study any aspect of Renaissance and early modern French and comparative literature and topics related to my research in Francophone Caribbean studies. I am at present supervising three D.Phil. students. Research topics I have supervised include the following: ‘The design of the Essais: Montaigne and the language of dessein’; ‘Education in the work of Descartes and the early French Cartesians’; ‘The term politique and its uses during the French wars of religion’; ‘The repugnant old woman in French Renaissance poetry’; ‘Secret: history of a keyword in early modern France’; and ‘Sixteenth-century patterns of inversion in the European commonplace tradition’. I co-convene an early modern French seminar, open to PGT students and final-year undergraduates, on ‘Keywords in Early Modern French Culture’.

Undergraduate teaching 

French literature and thought, especially of the 16th and 17th centuries, early modern comparative literature, and French language.

Selected publications

Authored books

Edited books

Articles and chapters in books

  • ‘Montaigne on Free-Thinking’, in The Oxford Handbook of Montaigne, ed. Philippe Desan (New York, NY, and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017), pp. 434-52
  • ‘Montaigne et la “vanité” des utopies’, in Disputes et territoires épistémiques, ed. Anne-Lise Rey and Alexis Tadié, Revue de synthèse, 137.3-4 (2016) [special edn], pp. 321-43
  • ‘The Archipelago Goes Global: Late Glissant and the Early Modern Isolario’, in Caribbean Globalizations, 1492 to the Present Day, ed. Eva Sansavior and Richard Scholar (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2015), pp. 33-57
  • ‘De la dispute utopienne à la controverse religieuse: deux querelles signées Thomas More’, in Le Temps des querelles, ed. Jeanne-Marie Hostiou and Alain Viala, Littératures classiques, 81 (2013) [special edn], pp. 37-49
  • ‘Epilogue: Co-operations’, in Pascal’s Écrits sur la Grâce, ed. Richard Parish and Martine Pécharman, Seventeenth-Century French Studies, 35 (2013) [special edn], pp. 179-86
  • ‘Reasons for Holding Back in Two Essays by Montaigne’, in The Emergence of Impartiality, ed. Kathryn Murphy and Anita Traninger (Leiden: Brill, 2013), pp. 65-83
  • ‘The New Philologists’, Introduction to Renaissance Keywords, ed. Ita Mac Carthy (Leeds: Legenda, 2013), pp. 1-9
  • ‘Trial by Theatre, or Free-Thinking in Julius Caesar’, in Living with Shakespeare: Essays by Writers, Actors, and Directors, ed. Susannah Carson with a Foreword by Harold Bloom (New York, NY: Vintage Books, 2013), pp. 228-50
  • ‘L’ “Oyson” du IIIe livre: “De l’incommodité de la grandeur” (Essais, III, 7)’, in Les Chapitres oubliés des Essais de Montaigne: Actes des journées d’étude à la mémoire de Michel Simonin, ed. Philippe Desan (Paris: Honoré Champion, 2011), pp. 225-38
  • ‘Montaigne’s Forays into the Undiscovered Country’, in The Uses of the Future in Early Modern Europe, ed. Andrea Brady and Emily Butterworth (New York, NY, and London: Routledge, 2010), pp. 39-53
  • Moraliste Writing in the Seventeenth Century’, in The Cambridge History of French Literature, ed. Bill Burgwinkle, Nicholas Hammond, and Emma Wilson (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), pp. 316-22
  • ‘French Connections: The Je-Ne-Sais-Quoi in Montaigne and Shakespeare’, in How to Do Things with Shakespeare: New Approaches, New Essays, ed. Laurie Maguire (Oxford: Blackwell, 2008), pp. 13-33
  • Bulgarian translation, Altera Academica, 5 (2008), pp. 19-39
  • ‘Two Cheers for Free-Thinking’, in Theory and the Early Modern, ed. Michael Moriarty and John O’Brien, Paragraph, 29 (2006) [special edn], pp. 40-53
  • ‘Introduction’, in Transmitting Knowledge: Words, Images, and Instruments in Early Modern Europe, ed. Sachiko Kusukawa and Ian Maclean (Oxford: Oxford-Warburg Studies, 2006), pp. 1-11
  • ‘The Je-Ne-Sais-Quoi: Faultlines in Foucault’s Classical Épistémè’, Biblio 17, 147 (2003), pp. 255-65
  • Je Ne Sais Quelle Grâce: Esther before Assuérus’, French Studies, 56 (2002), pp. 317-27
  • ‘La Force de l’imagination de Montaigne: Camus, Malebranche, Pascal’, Littératures classiques, 45 (2002), pp. 127-38
  • Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde: A Case-Study in Translation?’, Translation and Literature, 7 (1998), pp. 42-59


  • I am a contributor to a new collaborative English translation of Pascal’s Pensées (ed. Sellier), under contract with the Catholic University Press of America, for which I have translated, among other texts, the Entretien avec Sacy (which I edited in France in 2003; see above)
  • Lewis Carroll, Alice au jardin d’enfants (Paris: Hachette, 2006; with Guillaume Pigeard de Gurbert)
  • Robert Louis Stevenson, L’Étrange Affaire du Dr Jekyll et de Mr Hyde (Arles: Actes Sud, 1997; with Guillaume Pigeard de Gurbert)
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