Mary Margaret Orr

Prof, Buchanan Chair of French

  • KY16 9PH

    United Kingdom

Accepting Postgraduate Research Students

PhD projects

Mary has successfully supervised more than 12 PhD students on topics in French, Comparative Literature and Webscience (in the long nineteenth century to the present). Her former students work in academia, law, teaching, IT and consultancy. Mary welcomes prospective PhD students to discuss projects in her fields of research expertise: (i) French/Francophone prose writing from 1780 (the novel, the short story, juvenile, travel and scientific writing); (ii) French women’s writing and (iii) comparative topics addressing French nineteenth-century culture, literature and science in transnational contexts.

Personal profile

Research overview

In the interdisciplinary research spirit of European Renaissance scholar, George Buchanan, after whom the Buchanan Chair of French is named, Mary Orr’s current research projects interconnect literature, history and science of the French long nineteenth-century, including in comparative contexts. She is the academic advisor to Dr Sarah Arens (BA Postdoctoral Fellow, St Andrews) on the project entitled 'Constructing a Geopolitics of Nationhood: Belgium's Scientific and Cultural Colonial Project (1830-1958)'. Mary welcomes prospective Postdoctoral Award Holders in her fields of research interest to contact her to discuss their projects.  

Research interests

Mary’s research interests in the ‘intertextuality’ of cultural practice – its theories, debates, contexts and media – are centred in French and comparative literary-cultural studies from the nineteenth century to the present. The majority of her research publications concentrate on prose forms -- the experimental novel,  short fiction, travel and scientific writing – by canonical exponents such as Flaubert and Claude Simon, metropolitan French contemporary women’s writing and, latterly, the fascinating intertextuality of early and mid-nineteenth-century French natural science writing. Her three most important monographs (Flaubert’s Tentation: Remapping Nineteenth-Century French History of Religion and Science (OUP, 2008); Intertextuality: debates and contexts (Cambridge: Polity, 2003) and Flaubert: writing the masculine (Oxford: OUP, 2000) reflect the interdisciplinary nature of her work in French studies.

In the interdisciplinary research spirit of European Renaissance scholar George Buchanan after whom the Buchanan Chair of French is named, Mary Orr’s current research interests connect the literature, history and science of the French long nineteenth-century, and its twentieth- and twenty-first century legacies. 

Future research

Mary is currently preparing the first monograph study of Sarah Bowdich (Lee), 1791-1856 deriving from her Leverhulme Research Fellowship project (2010-2012), ‘A Remarkable Woman In Science: Sarah Bowdich Lee, 1791-1856'.

Other expertise

Mary Orr is General Editor (Strategy) of Forum for Modern Language Studies. She also serves the Carnegie Trust for Scotland as a member of the Carnegie-Caledonian PhD Scholarships Committee, and the Unversity of Glasgow as External Examiner for MA programmes in French. 


Teaching activity

Mary Orr's research-led undergraduate teaching focuses on French literature and culture from the nineteenth century to the present. Her current honours modules are ‘Flaubert’s France’ (based on her longstanding and ongoing research) and the innovative 'Nineteenth-Century French Narratives of the Sea' which introduces students to the many sea spaces of the University. Both modules encourage and enable students to question and understand the importance of French texts in their multiple contexts, parallel histories and generic developments, and to investigate closely their rhetorical details and forms. Mary Orr currently convenes the second year module, 'French Literature from the Nineteenth to the Twenty-First Century' and the 'French Science Project Dissertation'. She also contributes variously to French First Year and Comparative Literature programmes and to the supervision of French undergraduate dissertations.


Professor Mary Orr is the first woman to hold the Buchanan Professor of French at the University of St Andrews. She is also the founding director of its Centre for Cross-Cultural c19th-century Studies (c19c). Mary returns to the department which formed her initial research interests (MA French and German, St Andrews), and shaped her early career (Lecturer in French, 1990-1994) after a PhD in French (Cambridge, Queens’ College, on intertextuality in the works of 1985 Nobel Prize Winner for Literature, Claude Simon), and temporary lectureships in French at the University of Wales, Swansea, Christ Church, Oxford and Queens’ College Cambridge. Mary then moved to a Readership at the University of Exeter where she was promoted to a Personal Chair in French Studies in 1999. In 2005 she was appointed Professor of French at the University of Southampton, where she served until September 2016 as its Humanities Director of Postgraduate Research (2007-2009), Director of Research for Modern Languages (2005-6; 2008-9; 2013-2016) and Director of its Institute of Language and Culture (2013-16).

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 4 - Quality Education
  • SDG 5 - Gender Equality
  • SDG 14 - Life Below Water
  • SDG 16 - Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions


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