John Lyons

Commonwealth Professor of French

John Lyons received his bachelor's degree from Brown University and his master's and doctoral degrees from Yale University. He taught at Yale and Dartmouth before coming to U.Va. in 1987, where he has been the Commonwealth Professor of French since 1992.

An internationally renowned scholar of 17th century French literature, John has been- and will undoubtedly remain - a prolific writer.  His nine authored or co-edited books include: Tragedy and the Return of the Dead. (2018); The Phantom of Chance. From Fortune to Randomness in Seventeenth-Century French Literature (2011) and French Literature. A Very Short Introduction (2010). This just scratches the surface of a voluminous intellectual production (including 103 articles or chapters in collective volumes) that is admired the world over for its erudition, style, and originality of argument. Over the course of his career, John was also awarded a J.S. Guggenheim Fellowship, two NEH fellowships, and two ACLS fellowships.

Appreciation for his intellectual accomplishments is joined by admiration for his masterful teaching, earning him multiple teaching awards at Dartmouth and UVA, including one from the Seven Society. Along with frequent lectures at the most prestigious universities in Europe, he has also generously shared his knowledge with fellow teachers, especially through leading workshops for high school and middle school educators of French as well as a Mellon-funded dissertation seminar. In 2007, his intellectual contributions and commitment to the promotion of French earned him entry into the French Legion of Honor at its highest rank, Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur in a ceremony at Carr’s Hill and in the presence of the French Consul General of Washington.

A life-long learner, John has nourished an abiding passion for French cinema, which he has frequently taught, and for Italian and German, which he has long maintained through private tutorials and travel. An accomplished teacher, he has always sought to share these passions with students by teaching courses on cinema, offering comparative literature courses, and leading Pavilion Seminars. His teaching has always been driven by the ambition of making the study of French meaningful to his students.  During his final year in the department, John proved this yet again by turning his energies to respond to the moment. From leading a summer film club on Zoom to combat student isolation to partnering with colleagues to create a new and timely course on “Race in the United States, France and the Francophone World,” John remains unwavering in his love of learning and teaching.

A beloved professor, he has consistently received the highest praise from his graduate and undergraduate students. Undergraduates maintain lifelong friendships with him and regularly credit him with transforming their thinking. His former dissertation students prize his intellectual generosity and will celebrate his retirement with a conference and Festschrift in his honor. A cherished colleague, John’s sharp intellect, collegiality and humor will long be appreciated by the members of the French Department.