An award-winning educator and life-long teacher of French language, literature, and culture, Marva Barnett holds a Ph.D. in Romance Languages and Literatures from Harvard University. In 2012, the French government named her Chevalier des palmes académiques for her work on Victor Hugo. Her books include Victor Hugo on Things That Matter (Yale University Press, 2010) and, co-edited with Gérard Pouchain, a French volume of letters to Hugo from the woman who loved him for fifty years, Juliette Drouet: Lettres inédites de Juliette Drouet à Victor Hugo (Publications des Universités de Rouen et du Havre, 2012).
With her current book project, Marva explores the power of Les Misérables. How did Victor Hugo’s life experiences provoke and inform a novel so epic and scintillatingly relevant? Through in-person interviews with the creators of the popular stage and screen musical, Les Mis, she seeks to better understand how Hugo’s challenge to us to live our best possible lives resonates today.
Now Professor Emeritus at the University of Virginia (where she has taught in the departments of drama and French), Marva continues to teach about Hugo’s work—in her University Seminar “Les Misérables Today,” for instance. She also founded and directed for a quarter century the University’s Center for Teaching Excellence (formerly the Teaching Resource Center), making visible her love of teaching and desire to help others engage students deeply in learning. For her Center work, Marva was awarded in 2011 the Thomas Jefferson Award for service (the highest honor the University community bestows upon its faculty), in 2008 the Excellence in Faculty Mentoring Award, and in 2002 the Elizabeth Zintl Leadership Award.
Known as a Hugo expert and engaging speaker, Professor Barnett has been invited to talk about Hugo’s work and ideas at Michael Kahn’s Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, DC, the Association France-Amériques in Paris, the American Club of Paris, the Université de Paris III-Censier / La Sorbonne Nouvelle, the Virginia Festival of the Book, Kenyon College, and the Alliance Française.
In all she does, Marva Barnett aims to follow the maxim Victor Hugo wrote three days before he died: “To love is to act.”