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Professor Emeritus, UVA

Marva Barnett

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 U. Press, 2010) and, co-edited with Gérard Pouchain, Lettres inédites de Juliette Drouet à Victor Hugo (PURH, 2012).

With her current book project, Marva explores the power of Les Misérables.  How did Victor Hugo’s life experiences inform a novel so epic and scintillatingly relevant?  Marva’s in-person interviews with creators of the popular musical, Les Mis, expand our understanding of how Hugo challenges us to live our best possible lives.

Marva has hosted many Hugo-related events at the University of Virginia.  At her invitation, Les Mis composer Claude-Michel Schönberg and librettist Alain Boublil were artists-in-residence in 2014 and 2017.  Hugo scholar Gérard Pouchain has spoken in UVA’s Rotunda several times, most recently in conjunction with his Les Misérables Just for Laughs exhibit. Québécois composer, pianist and singer Alain Lecompte has twice regaled students and community members with his one-man show HUGO LIVE.

Marva is Professor Emeritus at UVA (where she taught in the departments of drama drama and French).  She continues to teach Hugo’s work—in her University Seminar “Les Misérables Today,” for instance, and in a planned 2019 J-Term study-abroad course, Victor Hugo’s Paris.

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 the Thomas Jefferson Award for service (the highest honor the University community bestows upon its faculty), the Excellence in Faculty Mentoring Award and the Elizabeth Zintl Leadership Award.

Known as a Hugo expert and engaging speaker, Marva has given invited talks 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 Sorbonne Nouvelle University, the Virginia Festival of the Book, Kenyon College, the Alliance Française and Charlottesville Opera.  For more about Marva’s work, visit