Portrait of Dr James Fowler

Dr James Fowler

Senior Lecturer in French


Dr James Fowler studied Modern Languages (French and German) at Exeter College, Oxford, before writing his PhD on the philosophe Denis Diderot at King’s College, London. He is currently Senior Lecturer in French at the University of Kent. He is also Associate Editor of Eighteenth-Century Fiction and a member of the Editorial Board of French Studies

Research interests

Since being appointed to the University of Kent, James has published mainly on French literature and thought of the eighteenth century. He is the author of: Voicing Desire: Family and Sexuality in Diderot’s Fiction (Oxford, 2000); The Libertine's Nemesis: The Prude in ‘Clarissa’ and the Roman libertin (Oxford, 2011); and Richardson and the Philosophes (Oxford, 2014). He is editor of: New Essays on Diderot (Cambridge, 2011; 2014); and Voltaire: Candide and Other Works (Ware, 2014). He has also co-edited Questions of Influence in Modern French Literature (London, 2013), and The Flesh in the Text (Oxford, 2007). 

Publications forthcoming in 2019 include: James Fowler, Marine Gansofsky, eds, Virtue and Enlightenment, 1660-1794, Oxford University Studies in the Enlightenment; ‘Moralizing Satire: Ethical Thought’, in The Oxford Handbook of Eighteenth-Century Satire, ed. Paddy Bullard, and ‘Le Poids des mots: gravité, légèreté, attraction dans les Lettres philosophiques’, in Le Siècle de la légèreté, ed. by Marine Ganofsky and Jean-Alexandre Perras, Oxford University Studies in the Enlightenment. 

James has taught undergraduate courses ranging in focus from the seventeenth century to the present day. He is interested in a range of approaches to the study of texts, including the history of thought, narratology, and psychoanalysis. He has supervised several PhDs, on topics ranging from Rousseau’s educational theory to narratological questions in the writing of Robbe-Grillet, Duras, and Leduc. He is interested in supervising new research projects on European writers of the period 1680-1800. 

Dr Fowler is currently working on a book-length study of the rhetorical uses of virtue and merit in the period 1680-1789. Chapters will be devoted to a range of major thinkers including Anthony Ashley Cooper (1671-1713), Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790), and Denis Diderot (1713-1784).   


James teaches French literature from the eighteenth to the twentieth century, and literary theory.


Showing 50 of 65 total publications in the Kent Academic Repository. View all publications.


  • Fowler, J. (2016). ‘Procedes Huc’: Voltaire, Newton, and Locke in Lettres Philosophiques. Neophilologus [Online]:1-14. Available at: http://doi.org/10.1007/s11061-016-9501-9.
    In Lettres philosophiques, Letter XIII is devoted to Locke, as are Letters XIV–XVII to Newton. The ordering of these letters is not adequately explained by comparing the dates of birth or death of the two thinkers. For the Letter on Locke not only precedes but also ‘frames’ those on Newton, in the sense that it provides the reader with a guide through the philosophical intricacies of Letters XIV–XVII. This works in two ways. On the one hand, in order to defend Newton against his detractors Voltaire broadly adopts Locke’s perspective on the relation among words, ideas and things. On the other hand, he subtly and misleadingly grafts Locke’s epistemology onto the Principia, though it differs from Newton’s epistemology in significant respects. For Locke, unlike Newton, holds that we can identify fixed, permanent limits concerning what kind of thing humanity can know of matter and the universe. Voltaire presents Newton’s ideas as though they respected Locke’s limits. However, we can glimpse Voltaire’s own attitude in the final words of Letter XV: ‘Procedes huc, et non ibis amplius’: Voltaire agrees more closely with Locke than Newton concerning the limits of epistemology.
  • Fowler, J. (2013). État présent: Diderot. French Studies [Online] 67:386-393. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/fs/knt077.
  • Fowler, J. (2013). Lisez que je vous aime – Sexualität, Liebe und Tugend in Diderots Werken. Aufklärung und Kritik 20:161-176.
  • Fowler, J. (2013). The Best of All Possible Marriages: Voltaire and Frederick in 'Paméla'. French Studies 67:478-493.
    A recent edition of Voltaire's 'Paméla' (1750–53) by Jonathan Mallinson emphasizes that it exists ‘on the border of truth and fiction, of openness and concealment’. In the first letter of Paméla, Voltaire describes a landscape of exceptional natural beauty, near Cleves; but he also reveals that in this case nature has been arranged according to human design. The only visible evidence of this is a statue of Minerva. Yet it turns out that, in a sense, ‘all is art’ here, for a former count of Nassau-Siegen had ordered the entire scene to be landscaped. Set within Paméla, this passage functions as a mise en abyme, for Voltaire's text too cultivates an artful appearance of naturalness. This article shows how the philosophe initially presents his text as a spontaneous ‘fatras de prose et de vers’, but cannot resist hinting at the art that subtends the whole.
  • Fowler, J. (2011). When Opposites Attract: Moral Polarity in Sade’s 'Aline et Valcour'. Neophilologus [Online] 95:51-63. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11061-010-9203-7.
    Sade is often seen as an author who wishes to convey a particular view of the world in his novels. It is well known that in life he passionately embraced a philosophy that was at once monist-materialist and libertine. This article explores the curious fact that it is difficult to locate a corresponding ‘message’ in Aline et Valcour, which is subtitled Le roman philosophique. One important reason for this is the influence of Richardson’s Clarissa. Both novels are built around an opposition between the supporters of two ‘camps’: Christian virtue and libertinage. In Aline et Valcour no less than in Clarissa, these camps are prepared to fight to the death. But in each of these novels, too, the opposition is not a straightforward one, for it has a symbiotic aspect. The libertines need the virtuous in order to achieve their goal of desecrating, and so symbolically defeating, the Christian view of the world. But the virtuous also need their libertine persecutors if they are to achieve the feats of moral suffering, associated with sensibilité, that constitute their highest aim. In brief, Aline et Valcour obeys a Richardsonian aesthetic in which each side is allowed to fight its cause without being definitively supported or undermined by the (implied) author. This helps to explain why, considered as a ‘philosophical novel’, it seems heuristic rather than dogmatic.
  • Fowler, J. (2010). Justine philosophe: Sade's 'Les Infortunes de la vertu' Revisited. Dalhousie French Studies [Online] 92:33-42. Available at: http://french.dal.ca/Publications/DFS.php.
  • Fowler, J. (2009). ‘Une fausse sagesse qui est pruderie’? On Prude and Related Terms in the Roman du Libertinage. Nottingham French Studies [Online] 48:74-84. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.3366/nfs.2009-3.009.
  • Fowler, J. (2007). The Young Meilcour: Ambivalence and Desire in 'Les Egarements du coeur et de l'esprit'. Romance Quarterly [Online] 54:153-163. Available at: http://heldref-publications.metapress.com/app/home/contribution.asp?referrer=parent&backto=issue,5,6;journal,4,17;linkingpublicationresults,1:119945,1.
  • Fowler, J. (2007). The Sense of an Ending: 'Les Liaisons dangereuses' Revisited. Neophilologus [Online] 91:197 -213. Available at: http://www.springerlink.com/content/b44p0758738j1116/.
    It is generally accepted that in Laclos's novel the Marquise de Merteuil competes with Mme de Tourvel for Valmont's adoration, and that she does so by attempting to impress him with her libertine prowess more effectively than the Presidente does by her virtue. However, I argue here that as Merteuil sees this strategy continually failing, she turns instead to an opposite one, which is to demonstrate that she can prove herself Tourvel's superior on the latter's own territory. Valmont has from the outset praised Tourvel's virtue, manifested in her determination to resist his advances; indeed, for him 'virtue' and 'resistance' are interchangeable terms. Accordingly, when towards the end of the novel the Marquise spurns Valmont, she provocatively shows herself more capable of resistance, and therefore of 'virtue', than her fallen rival. By the same token, she surprisingly ceases to behave as a libertine (who observes a form of ascesis but never renounces her object) in order to behave instead as a version of the prude (who strives to overcome desire). Though this strategy is revealed in the denouement, its seeds are sown in the earliest letters, and it is developed in a number of ways throughout the novel.
  • Fowler, J. (2006). The "Virtuous-Yielding" and the Prude: 'Les Egarements du cœur et de l'esprit' revisited. Dalhousie French Studies [Online] 77:67-77. Available at: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40837680.
  • Fowler, J. (1998). Suzanne at Sainte-Eutrope: Negation and Narration in 'La Religieuse'. Diderot Studies [Online] 27:83-96. Available at: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40372794.
  • Fowler, J. (1998). Je m’entretiens avec moi-même: Self versus Other in 'Le Neveu de Rameau'. Dalhousie French Studies [Online] 42:77-87. Available at: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40837212.


  • Fowler, J. (2014). Richardson and the Philosophes. [Online]. Oxford: Legenda. Available at: http://www.mhra.org.uk/publications/Richardson-Philosophes.
    In mid-eighteenth-century Europe, a taste for sentiment accompanied the 'rise of the novel', and the success of Samuel Richardson (1689-1761) played a vital role in this. James Fowler's new study is the first to compare the response of the most famous philosophes to the Richardson phenomenon. Voltaire, who claims to despise the novel, writes four 'Richardsonian' fictions; Diderot's fascination with the English author is expressed in La Religieuse, Rousseau's in Julie — the century's bestseller. Yet the philosophes' response remains ambivalent. On the one hand they admire Richardson's ability to make the reader weep. On the other, they champion a range of Enlightenment beliefs which he, an enthusiast of Milton, vehemently opposed. In death as in life, the English author exacerbates the philosophes' rivalry. The eulogy which Diderot writes in 1761 implicitly asks: who can write a new Clarissa? But also: whose social, philosophical or political ideas will triumph as a result?
  • Fowler, J. (2011). The Libertine’s Nemesis: The Prude in 'Clarissa' and the Roman libertin. [Online]. Oxford: Legenda. Available at: http://www.legendabooks.com/titles/isbn/9781907625015.html.
    What is the role of the prude in the roman libertin? James Fowler argues that in the most famous novels of the genre (by Richardson, Crébillon fils, Laclos and Sade) the prude is not the libertine’s victim but an equal and opposite force working against him, and that ultimately she brings retribution for his social, erotic and philosophical presumption. In a word, she is his Nemesis. He is vulnerable to her power because of the ambivalence he feels towards her; she is his ideological enemy, but also his ideal object. Moreover, the libertine succumbs to an involuntary nostalgia for the values of the Seventeenth Century, which the prude continues to embody through the age of Enlightenment. In Crébillon fils and Richardson, the encounter between libertine and prude is played out as a skirmish or duel between two individuals. In Laclos and Sade, the presence of female libertines (the Marquise de Merteuil and Juliette) allows that encounter to be reenacted within a murderous triangle.
  • Fowler, J. (2000). Voicing Desire: Family and Sexuality in Diderot's Narrative. Oxford: The Voltaire Foundation.

Book section

  • Fowler, J. (2018). Handsome, Gallant, Gentle, Rich: Before and After Marriage in the Tales of Charles Perrault. in: DiPlacidi, J. and Leydecker, K. eds. After Marriage in the Long Eighteenth Century. Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 65-89. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-60098-7.
  • Fowler, J. (2014). Introduction. in: Fowler, J. ed. Candide and Other Works. Ware, Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Editions, p. vii-xxv. Available at: http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=MPl\_ngEACAAJ.
  • Baldwin, T., Fowler, J. and de Medeiros, A. (2013). Preface. in: Baldwin, T., Fowler, J. and de Medeiros, A. eds. Questions of Influence in Modern French Literature. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, p. vii-xvi.
  • Fowler, J. (2011). La Religieuse: Diderot’s “Richardsonian” Novel. in: Fowler, J. ed. New Essays on Diderot. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 127-138.
  • Fowler, J. (2007). "Mettons un peu d'ordre à ces orgies": Bodies and Ideas in Sade's 'La philosophie dans le boudoir'. in: Baldwin, T., Fowler, J. and Weller, S. eds. The Flesh in the Text. Oxford: Peter Lang, pp. 79-91.
  • Weller, S., Baldwin, T. and Fowler, J. (2007). Introduction. in: Baldwin, T., Fowler, J. and Weller, S. eds. The Flesh in the Text. Oxford: Peter Lang, pp. 9-18.

Edited book

  • Voltaire,, Carabine, K. and Fowler, J. (2014). Candide and Other Works. Fowler, J. ed. Ware, Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Editions Limited.
    J.E. Fowler translated texts, provided footnotes and wrote introduction.
  • Baldwin, T., Fowler, J. and de Medeiros, A. eds. (2013). Questions of Influence in Modern French Literature. [Online]. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. Available at: http://www.palgrave.com/page/detail/questions-of-influence-in-modern-french-literature-thomas-baldwin/?K=9781137309136.
    What is meant by 'influence' in the realm of literature, art, music or ideas? How is it related to concepts such as pastiche or parody? Self-evidently, our understanding of any 'past' work depends on contemporary methods of reading; but does it makes sense, therefore, to claim that influence can be retroactive? Harold Bloom used the term 'the anxiety of influence' as the title of a famous study, but his is only one of many theorizations that span the modern era. This collection of essays examines a variety of texts written in French from the eighteenth century onwards, together with a number of visual and musical works. (All quotations in other languages are followed by translations in English.) The contributors elucidate, question and/or draw on major theories of influence, in new readings of well-known works. Whilst all engage with French and/or francophone culture, the works examined open cross-disciplinary perspectives.
  • Fowler, J. ed. (2011). New Essays on Diderot. [Online]. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Available at: http://www.cambridge.org/gb/knowledge/isbn/item5964630/New%20Essays%20on%20Diderot/?site_locale=en_GB.
  • Baldwin, T., Fowler, J. and Weller, S. eds. (2007). The Flesh in the Text. Oxford: Peter Lang.
    The impetus behind this collection of essays was a curiosity shared by the editors concerning the relation between the flesh and the text in French and francophone literature. This curiosity took the form of a number of specific questions. For which writers has the flesh been a central concern? Might one distinguish between those writers who attempt to represent the flesh textually and those who emphasise the difficulty or even the impossibility of such a project? How is the subject’s relation to his/her own flesh, and to the flesh of others, determined? In which ways do psychoanalysis and other influential theoretical approaches such as phenomenology and deconstruction address the flesh as distinct from the body? These questions are explored here in readings of works by, among others, Rabelais, Diderot, Sade, Proust, Beckett, Djebar, Nothomb, Delvig and Nobécourt. The principal philosophers and theorists upon whom the contributors draw include Husserl, Merleau-Ponty, Lacan, Foucault, Deleuze, Agamben, Nancy and Anzieu. The essays will be of interest to readers from a wide range of disciplines, including literary studies, philosophy, psychoanalysis, gender studies, aesthetics and religious studies.


  • Fowler, J. (2018). Review of Rousseau on Stage: Playwright, Musician, Spectator. Ed. Maria Gullstam and Michael O’Dea Gullstam, M. and O'Dea, M. eds. French Studies [Online] 72:436-437. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1093/fs/kny152.
  • Fowler, J. (2016). Les Malebranchismes des Lumières: études sur les réceptions contrastées de la philosophie de Malebranche, fin xviieet xviiiesiècles. Réunies par Delphine Antoine-Mahut. French Studies [Online] 70:437-437. Available at: http://doi.org/10.1093/fs/knw120.
  • Fowler, J. (2016). Book Review - Enlightenment Orientalism: Resisting the Rise of the Novel. Modern and Contemporary France [Online] 24:331-332. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09639489.2016.1191454.
  • Fowler, J. (2015). Review of: Seeing Satire in the Eighteenth Century, eds. Elizabeth C. Mansfield, Kelly Malone. French Studies [Online] 69:99-99. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/fs/knu293.
  • Fowler, J. (2013). Review of: Le Roman libertin au xviiie siècle: une esthétique de la séduction. French Studies [Online] 67:414-415. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1093/fs/knt147.
  • Fowler, J. (2012). Review of: Le Récit génétique au dix-huitième siècle. By Jan Herman. French Studies: A Quarterly Review [Online] 66:92-93. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1093/fs/knr256.
  • Fowler, J. (2012). Review of: Diderot’s Part. By Andrew H. Clark. Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies [Online] 35:609-609. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1754-0208.2012.00484.x.
  • Fowler, J. (2011). Review of: L’Invention du sentiment: roman et économie affective au XVIIIe siècle. By Philip Stewart. French Studies [Online]:393-394. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1093/fs/knr118.
  • Fowler, J. (2011). Review of: Regressive Fictions: Graffigny, Rousseau, Bernardin. By Robin Howells. Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies [Online] 34:101-102. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1754-0208.2008.00136.x.
  • Fowler, J. (2009). Review of: Le Libertinage et l’histoire: Politique de la séduction à la find de l'Ancien Régime. By Stéphanie Genand. Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies [Online] 32:112-112. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1754-0208.2008.00056.x.
  • Fowler, J. (2008). Review of: Sade’s Theatre: Pleasure, Vision, Masochism. By Thomas Wynn. Modern Language Review [Online] 103:542-543. Available at: http://www.jstor.org/stable/20467834.
  • Fowler, J. (2008). Review of: L’Analogie et le probable: pensée et écriture chez Denis Diderot. By Anne Beate Maurseth. Modern Language Review [Online] 103:1125-1125. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.2307/20468065.
  • Fowler, J. (2006). Review of: The Nun. By Denis Diderot. Trans., with an introduction and notes, by Russell Goulbourne. Modern Language Review [Online] 101:538-539. Available at: http://www.jstor.org/stable/20466831?origin=crossref&seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents.
  • Fowler, J. (2004). Review of: Diderot’s Endgames. By Derek Connon. French Studies [Online] 58:710-710. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/fs/58.4.556.
  • Fowler, J. (2004). Review of: Crébillon ‘fils’: Les Egarements du cœur et de l’esprit. By Patrick Fein. Journal of European Studies [Online] 34:354-355. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1177/004724410403400408.
  • Fowler, J. (2002). Review of: Diderot: La Religieuse. Ed. by Heather Lloyd. Modern Language Review [Online] 97:710-711. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.2307/373535.
  • Fowler, J. (2002). Review of: Etudes sur ‘Le Fils naturel’ et les ‘Entretiens sur Le Fils naturel’ de Diderot. Ed. by Nicholas Cronk. Modern Language Review [Online] 97:710-710. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.2307/3737534.
  • Fowler, J. (2001). Review of: Le Temps et l’espace dans les romans de Diderot. By Jean Terrasse. French Studies [Online] LV:395-396. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/fs/LV.3.395.
  • Fowler, J. (2001). Review of: Diderot’s Counterpoints: the Dynamics of Contrariety in his Major Works. By Walter E. Rex. Modern Language Review [Online] 96:1081-1081. Available at: https://doi.org/10.2307/3735907.
  • Fowler, J. (1999). Review of Julia Simon, 'Mass Enlightenment: Critical Studies in Rousseau and Diderot'. Modern Language Review 94:541-542.
    This provocative study builds on the insights of the Frankfurt School in order to cast new light on the writings of Rousseau and Diderot. Simultaneously, the case is made that these two writers inaugurated 'critical theory' (p. 23) by responding to the changes that mark their era: the rise of a new, 'bourgeois' market for literature and art, the use of reason for the purpose of domination, and a dialectical interplay of the public and private realms. (Such phenomena are held to foreshadow the emergence of mass culture.) The first part, on Rousseau, considers several of the political writings in order to bring out the isolationist yet homogenizing tendencies of Rousseau's prescriptions. Whilst these tendencies reflect Rousseau's sensitivity to social and cultural change, they ultimately yield a defensive proto-totalitarianism. Meanwhile, in the autobiographical texts Rousseau apparently fails to understand the dialectic that subverts his project of circulating the private self in public form. The second part, on Diderot, first argues that Le Reve de d'Alembert indicates a recognition of the flux, not only of the universe but of the subject and its knowledge, then considers Hegel's use of Le Neveu de Rameau as a measure of Enlightenment shifts in consciousness. Finally, Diderot's Salon of 1767 is analysed for its sensitivity to new 'bourgeois' misuses of art.

    There is a confidently judgemental tone to the writing: viewed from the author's American post-Marxist perspective Rousseau loses points, whilst Diderot gains them. However, such judgements must be allowed to follow on the author's premises. More of a problem is the combination of modest length and ambitious scope, for this inevitably leads to a selective corpus, and a tantalizingly brief treatment of various points. There is no room here for La Nouvelle Heloise or Emile. Yet such works are germane to Julia Simon's discussion of a category of people characterized primarily as 'all those who read Richardson and Rousseau and identify with their "family values"' (p. 10). Similarly, Diderot's importance as an early theorist of the drame bourgeois can be mentioned only in passing, and, incidentally, to claim that 'in the Entretiens sur le Fils naturel Diderot advocates moving theater into the salon' so that 'plays will be performed in living rooms rather than in large halls' (p. 159) is surely a misinterpretation. However, the fact that the reader is left hungry on so many points only attests to the worth of what is there, and the study ultimately succeeds as an interesting confrontation of the Frankfurt School with two emblematic Enlightenment figures.
  • Fowler, J. (1999). Review of Raymond Trousson, 'Images de Diderot en France: 1784-1913'. French Studies 53:474-475.
  • Fowler, J. (1998). Review of: Writing the Orgy: Power and Parody in Sade. By Lucienne Frappier-Mazur. Translated by Gillian C. Gill. Journal of European Studies [Online] 128:194-195. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1177/004724419802800129.
  • Fowler, J. (1998). Review of: Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century, 341. Edited by Anthony Strugnell Strugnell, A. ed. Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies [Online] 21:94-95. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1754-0208.1998.tb00220.x.
  • Fowler, J. (1998). Review of Diana Guiragossian Carr (ed), 'Diderot Studies'. Modern Language Review 93:226-226.
  • Fowler, J. (1998). Review of Haydn Mason (ed), 'Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century, 314'. French Studies [Online] 52:344-345. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/fs/LII.3.344.
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