Mary Jane Cowles joined the Kenyon faculty in 1989, after teaching both French and Spanish for a number of years at St. Mary's College of Maryland. In addition to courses in French language and culture, she has taught courses in her major area of expertise, nineteenth-century French literature. Other courses have focused on seventeenth- and eighteenth-century literature, film, drama and literary theory.

Among her research interests are French Romanticism, French film and psychoanalytic theory. In 2004-05, she served as on-site directory of the Sweet Briar College Junior Year in France.

Areas of Expertise

Nineteenth-century French literature and Romanticism, French film studies and film theory, psychoanalytic theory.


1986 — Doctor of Philosophy from Princeton University

1978 — Master of Arts from Princeton University

1975 — Bachelor of Arts from Mount Holyoke College, Phi Beta Kappa

Courses Recently Taught

This is a yearlong course offering the equivalent of three semesters of conventional language study. This course includes required practice sessions with an apprentice teacher (AT), which will be scheduled at the beginning of the semester. Class meetings and AT practice sessions are supplemented with online activities and written homework. Work in class focuses primarily on developing listening comprehension and speaking skills while reinforcing vocabulary acquisition and the use of grammatical structures. Written exercises, short compositions and elementary reading materials serve to develop writing and reading skills and promote in-class discussion. This course is intended for students who have had no prior experience with French or who are placed in FREN 111Y–112Y on the basis of a placement exam administered during Orientation. Students enrolled in this course will automatically be added to FREN 112Y for the spring semester. Offered every fall.

This course is a continuation of the first semester of intensive introductory French. During the second semester, students further the study of the fundamentals of French including literary and cultural materials, introduced with a view toward increasing reading comprehension and writing ability, expanding vocabulary, and enhancing cultural awareness. This course includes required practice sessions with an apprentice teacher (AT), which will be scheduled at the beginning of the semester. Prerequisite: FREN 111Y or permission of instructor. Offered every spring.

This course is designed to provide advanced students with the opportunity to strengthen their abilities to write, read and speak French. The conversation component of the course will focus on the discussion of articles from the current French and Francophone press, films and web sites, with the aim of developing students' fluency in French and their performance of linguistically and culturally appropriate tasks. Through the composition component, students will seek to improve their ability to write clearly and coherently in French. In order to foster these goals, the course also will provide a review of selected advanced grammatical structures and work on literary excerpts. Prerequisite: FREN 213Y–214Y or equivalent. Offered every year.

The purpose of this course is to introduce students to the study of three major literary genres — poetry, theater, and the novel — from the French Revolution to the 21st century. Readings will include the works of authors such as Hugo, Baudelaire, Lamartine, Balzac, Mallarmé, Colette, Cocteau, Camus and Sartre. Students will gain a deeper understanding of French literary history and of its relationship to major social and philosophical movements. In addition to exploring certain themes, we will see how the literature reflects important societal and intellectual debates of the time. The course will continue the development of the skills of literary analysis, guided discussion and essay writing in French. FREN 321 is recommended. Prerequisite: FREN 213Y–214Y or equivalent. Offered every year or alternating with FREN 323.

Many of the best-loved and most original writers in French — Voltaire, Flaubert, Maupassant, Camus, Yourcenar, to name a few — experimented with short forms of fiction while simultaneously cultivating other literary genres. This course will focus on short works of fiction as a means of exploring both the French literary tradition and the parameters of the short-story genre. It will include examples of the folktale, the fairy tale, the philosophical tale, the realist short story, the fantastic tale, the existentialist short story, the fragmentary narrative in the style of the "nouveau roman," and more recent Francophone fiction. Selections from theoretical works, such as Propp's "Morphology of the Folktale" and Todorov's "Introduction à la littérature fantastique," will also help guide our understanding of the genres of short fiction. FREN 321 is recommended. Prerequisite: FREN 213Y–214Y or equivalent. Generally offered every third year.

Few events in world history were as cataclysmic as the French Revolution. The purpose of this course is to acquaint students with the basic events of the revolution and to expose them to the conflicting interpretations of those events, particularly as they are portrayed in literature and film. In so doing, the course will explore different authors' visions of history and the creation of a mythology surrounding the Revolution. Discussion of fictional narratives will be enriched by allusions to revolutionary art and music in order to elucidate the role of symbol in political ideology. Readings will include selected essays and excerpts from historical narratives, as well as major works by Beaumarchais, Balzac, Hugo and Anatole France. We also will discuss major feature films by directors Renoir, Wadja, Gance and others. FREN 321 is recommended. Prerequisite: FREN 213Y–214Y or equivalent. Generally offered every third year.

This course offers an opportunity to study on an individual basis an area of special interest — literary, cultural or linguistic — under the regular supervision of a faculty member. It is offered primarily to candidates for honors, to majors and, under special circumstances, to potential majors and minors. Individual study is intended to supplement, not to take the place of, regular courses in the curriculum of each language program. Staff limitations restrict this offering to a very few students. To enroll in an individual study, a student must identify a member of the MLL department willing to direct the project and, in consultation with them, write up a one page proposal for the IS which must be approved by the department chair before the individual study can go forward. The proposal should specify the schedule of reading and/or writing assignments and the schedule of meeting periods. The amount of work in an IS should approximate that required on average in regular courses of corresponding levels. It is suggested that students begin their planning of an IS well in advance, so that they can devise a proposal and seek departmental approval before the registrar's deadline. Typically, an IS will earn the student 0.25 or 0.50 units of credit. At a minimum, the department expects the student to meet with the instructor one hour per week. Because students must enroll for individual studies by the end of the seventh class day of each semester, they should begin discussion of the proposed individual study preferably the semester before, so that there is time to devise the proposal and seek departmental approval before the registrar’s deadline.