60 Seconds With... Professor Patrick Bray

22 November 2023

Professor Patrick Bray reflects on his extensive research journey so far, as he prepares for his Inaugural Lecture On Literary Taste. Taking place on 17th January 2024...

60 Seconds With... Professor Patrick Bray


Professor Patrick Bray's Inaugural Lecture

Tell us a little about your research...

I focus on the French novel, specifically the works of Stendhal, Balzac, Flaubert, Sand, Zola, and Proust. What interests me is how these writers continually reinvented what the novel can do—both artistically and philosophically. My first book looked at how novels are conceptual maps for understanding how we relate to our own lives through the spaces we inhabit. My subsequent books explored how literature is a way of knowing about the world that can not only represent history and politics, but can create the conditions for future change. My current project argues for a democratic conception of literary taste.

Why is your research important?

My research shows that how we think of literature determines how we divide up the different discourses that frame our understanding of truth. Literature is an art of writing, but since the 19th-C we have separated this art from all other disciplines, starting with history and the sciences. My work sets out to question this separation of literature from science, to show how literature produces ways of knowing and how scientific thinking likewise borrows literary devices.   

What inspires you in your work?

I am inspired by the beauty of Proust’s words, by the passion of Stendhal’s characters, by the vast scale of Balzac’s visions, and by a sense that art is where our intellect meets our sensibility. Without a balance between the two, ideas lose their connection to the world. 

What has been your most memorable career moment so far?

Seeing copies of my last book, Retours proustiens, for sale in bookstores in Paris.

What passions/hobbies do you have outside of work?

I am lucky that my work involves my passion for reading. But reading is always accompanied by my other passions: walking and sitting in cafés.

What book is currently on your bedside table?

Two books, actually. John Steinbeck, Cannery Row, and P.G. Wodehouse, The Inimitable Jeeves