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For more than fifty years, I have been fascinated by the complex interplay of the historical and the literary in nineteenth-century French prose fiction. Realists like Balzac and Flaubert, for instance, were self-conscious observers of social phenomena of abiding interest to historians. But even more romantically imaginative récits in Chateaubriand’s meditative Atala and René and Dumas père’s swashbuckling stories of Cardinal Richelieu’s arch opponents in Les Trois Mousquetaires suggest a richer textual layering of emplotment. Michelet was far from the only historical narrativist in the period. As a consequence, these developments have moved historians and literary specialists alike to explore a variety of disciplinary approaches.

My published work at this intersection of literature and history began with the social history of reading, writing, and publishing, first for the French romantics, then for subsequent literary movements in the (very) long nineteenth century. I have since taken a closer look at what reading owes to self-writing, a key source for the study of literate activities in “the age of the rage to read” and what it meant to social activists like feminists and Freemasons as civil society in modern France developed in the same period. See, for example, my latest book, _A Civil Society: The Public Space of Freemason Women in France, 1744-1944_ (Nebraska, 2022), that draws on self-referencing texts as one of its chief sources. Lucky for me and others, not just influential pioneers like Hayden White and Michel de Certeau, there remains much more to ponder in this huge field of inquiry, such as how members of the French resistance wrote about their experiences during the German occupation of France during World War II (my current research project).


AB, English, Brown University, 1971

MA/PhD, History, Tufts University, 1975/1979

Postdoctoral Fellowship, Romance Languages, University of Pennsylvania, 1984/85

Other Publications

My most recent book, A Civil Society: The Public Space of Freemason Women, is a revised edition of the online 2021 version (Work Shared in CORE). For more on the 2022 edition, please cut and paste

A reasonably complete listing of all my publications is available on Google Scholar:

Blog Posts


     My current book-length project is an English translation of Élaine Brault’s À l’ombre de la croix gammée (1943, In the Shadow of the Swastika), a gripping account of the early years of Germany’s occupation of Paris. Brault was a journalist, union-organizer, Parti Radical member, Freemason, pacifist, and social activist on behalf of children and young adults until the war. After escaping from occupied France to Algeria — a fascinating story in itself — Brault reached London where she joined the Free French Forces in July 1941. Her contributions to the liberation of France first took her to Brazzaville, Cairo, Lebanon, Moscow, and Algiers before landing in Marseilles with the First Free French Army Corps in September 1944.

    Brault’s memoirs of wartime Paris were written on various, odd scraps of paper, which she turned over to the American adventure-story writer, Hassoldt Davis, to arrange for an edited version to be printed in Cairo. Very few copies of Brault’s work have survived, even though it captures well a gendered perspective on France’s surrender and Germany’s occupation. A properly annotated translation of her work richly deserves publication in light of recent scholarship on gender relations and women in France during the war, including studies by the scholars Hanna Diamond and Sébastien Albertelli. The intended audience for this annotated edition is the general reader as well as undergraduate students in French literature and history.


    American Historical Association

    Society for French Historical Studies

    Nineteenth-Century French Studies

    Modern Language Association

    James Smith Allen

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    Active 10 months, 3 weeks ago