Interview with PhD student, Pauline Moret-Jankus

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Pauline Moret-Jankus is a PhD student in the Department of French, supervised by Dr Marie-Claire Barnet and Professor Lucille Cairns.

  • Hello, Pauline. You’re in the process of submitting your PhD thesis. What have you been working on?

I study race and biological thought in Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. In other words, I analyse the biological intertext (Darwin, Lamarck, Haeckel, but also writers such as Michelet or Maeterlinck), and what the presence of this intertext means in terms of the novel’s aesthetics. This leads me to explore how Proust uses models and taxonomies (specifically racial taxonomies) taken from the biological sciences in order to represent and understand human identity.

  • Why are you interested in this topic? What led you to pursue this area?

I read Proust for the first time when I was 18. It was like being struck by a lightning bolt: I never really recovered from it! After that, I carried on my studies in the literary field in order to be able, one day, to devote myself fully to the study of Proust’s writings. I feel very lucky to be able to work on something I love.

With my background, I have always been very interested in questions of identity, nationhood, and ethnicity. Linking race and biology came about quite naturally: in my thesis, I try to explain why these two concepts are interrelated in the novel.

  • Tell us about your background.

I come from a French and Ecuadorian family. After spending my high school years in Spain, I moved to Paris for my undergraduate studies. I stayed there to complete my Master’s degree at the Sorbonne (also on Proust!).

  • How did you come to Durham?

I wanted to go the UK for my PhD. So I browsed the Internet, found out about this small town up there in the North, and applied! It was all a bit abstract and random, so when I got the letter saying that I was granted a scholarship to join Durham University, it was the strangest feeling ever (in a positive way, of course).

  • What is your favourite thing about Durham?

The cathedral, the wind, the train to Newcastle, Northumberland’s stunning countryside only a short drive away, the accent, the bridges, the northern sky and its thousands of shades of blue, pale pink, and orange during sunset … I know, that is not just one thing.

  • What are your future plans?

I am going to live in Germany, where I want to carry on my research on biology and literature.

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