Loyola University Chicago

College of Arts & Sciences

Spotlight On: Julia Elsky

Julia Elsky, PhD, assistant professor of French, has published her book, Writing Occupation: Jewish Émigré Voices in Wartime France, released by Stanford University Press.

We shine this week’s faculty spotlight on Julia Elsky, assistant professor of French in the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures in the College of Arts and Sciences, to celebrate the publication of her scholarly book, Writing Occupation: Jewish Émigré Voices in Wartime France (Stanford University Press, December 2020).

Elsky’s project began with her fascination with Irène Némirovsky, a Jewish immigrant to France who chose French as her literary language. After reading Némirovsky’s best-selling novel, Suite française, Elsky became interested in her portrayals of the exclusion of Jews from France in the interwar period into the years of the Nazi Occupation of France (1940-1944). Elsky then began to seek out what other Jewish émigré authors were writing about under the Occupation, during the undoing of the republican universalist values that drew them to France in the interwar period, leading to her creation of Writing Occupation: Jewish Émigré Voices in Wartime France.

Elsky’s book looks at the decision many Jewish émigré writers made to switch from writing in their languages of origin to writing primarily in French. She argues that these writers reexamined both their Jewishness and their place as authors in France through the language in which they wrote, all while expressing multiple cultural, religious, and linguistic identities. By writing in French, these writers challenged the boundaries between center and periphery, between French and foreign, all while their sense of belonging was being violently denied.

Elsky came to Loyola as an assistant professor of French in 2016. Before that, she was a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Freiburg Institute for Advanced Studies at the University of Freiburg in Germany. She has worked on a number of other research projects linked to existentialism and the Theater of the Absurd, such as her article,

 “Rethinking Ionesco’s Absurd: The Bald Soprano in the Interlingual Context of Vichy and Postwar France” (PMLA 133.2), which uncovers the wartime history of the famous avant-garde play, The Bald Soprano.

“Julia Elsky’s scholarship is indicative of the deep and rich quality of faculty research across a wide number of languages and literatures spanning the globe, and how that research informs so many aspects of global culture, society, history, politics, and international relations,” says Peter J. Schraeder, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “Research of this depth naturally resounds through many areas of our lives as well as fields of thought, serving as a valuable reminder of the importance of having a vibrant Department of Modern Languages and Literatures at our University.”

Now, Elsky has begun research in archives in France, Romania, and England for her next book project. She will study the origins of the Theater of the Absurd—an avant-garde movement associated with European theater—in the Second World War through a comparative biography of one of its most central playwrights, Eugène Ionesco, and its foundational critic, Martin Esslin.