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The Blue & Gray Press | August 24, 2019

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French professor publishes new book


After 12 years of work, French professor Jim Gaines presented his latest book Molière and Paradox: Skepticism and Theater in the Early Modern Age at the UMW bookstore on Wednesday, March 16.

The book is centered on famed 17th century French author Molière, the well-known stage name of Jean-Baptiste Poquelin. Gaines developed a special interest in Molière when he was working on his dissertation, which later became his first book, Social Structures in Molière’s Theater.

He later worked on two more books on Molière. In the first, he co-edited an MLA volume about Molière, and in the second, Gaines was approached by a publishing company that asked him to edit the Molière Encyclopedia for their series.

Gaines got the idea for his latest book from two of his earlier books on 17th century French literature and from his previous studies of Molière, specifically Molière’s use of paradox, which he read about in author Sextus Empiricus’s work on skeptical philosophy.

He was also encouraged to write the book by a Molière scholar, and was influenced by one of his colleagues who had been doing research on Molière in Britain.

The book started in the form of an article. In 2005, Gaines researched skepticism in literature that tied everything together. Once the book was completed, Gaines had to endure the arduous publishing process.

“The main challenges came up after most of the writing was finished, since the publishing world began changing a great deal around the turn of the millennium,” said Gaines.  “Many university publishers shut down or severely restricted their offerings.”

One publishing company stopped publishing books on French literature several years earlier, and those that did survive often had waiting lists that were several years long just to get the manuscript reviewed, according to Gaines.

“A major Ivy League Press assured me they would put me on the fast track: four years,” said Gaines. “Another press decided to quit publishing on the 17th century just after I had sent them a copy.”

Almost four years went by until Gaines turned to Narr Verlag, a distinguished European publisher. Gaines liked Narr Verlag because they keep their books available for a very long time, often over 30 years.

“That was a must for me, since many American presses dump any unsold copies, letting it go out of print,” he explained.

Despite the publishing challenges, the book is already successful. It has been well-received so far, with several reviews underway at major 17th century focused journals and by readers across the globe.

“I actually got a fan letter from a graduate student in Britain who has just finished her dissertation and was able to use it as a source,” said Gaines. “I get a special kick from having readers in Europe.”

Gaines is looking forward to writing more books in the future, although most likely on a different subject. He is currently teaching a senior seminar for French majors about famed 17th century

French author Pierre Corneille, which coincides with some of the work he started a few years ago and relates to some of the work he did for his recent book.

“I haven’t got a title yet or entirely decided which parts of Corneille’s long career I will focus on, but I envision something on Corneille and his vision of the social world,” said Gaines. “I also want to get my first book back into print.”