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Joyce O. Lowrie, professor of romance languages and literatures, is retiring this semester after 39 years.
 
Posted 04.15.05

Professor Will Miss Teaching French Language, Literature

It's been a "bon voyage" for Madame Joyce O. Lowrie.

After a 39-year career at Wesleyan, the professor of romance languages and literatures has announced her retirement at the end of this semester. But she's not saying "au revoir" just yet.

"You could say my retirement is more of an ‘a bientôt  ‘ I'll be seeing you soon,’” she says from her third floor office on High Street, a room that once housed President Doug Bennet in the converted all-male fraternity house Alpha Chi Rho. "I'll be taking trips to Paris, but I still plan to be around."

Professor Lowrie, who came to Wesleyan in 1966 as an assistant professor, says she will continue her research on French literature after her retirement. She'll also finish the book she has been writing, which is already 300 pages long.

"I have spent my life doing research and I hope not to have to stop, at least for a while yet," she says. "This is my passion.”

Lowrie taught courses both at Wesleyan and in Paris, including a senior seminar, "Introduction to French Literature, Middle Ages to the 18th-century," "Narrative Strategies in 19th-20th-century French Literature," "A Question of Time," and her signature class, "The Mirror in the Text,” which featured sections from her forthcoming book, "Sightings:  Mirrors in Texts -- Texts in Mirrors." The book emphasizes her research, which is on the function, significance and meaning of chiastic and interlocking structures in French prose fiction. 

"I've always loved teaching courses that cover literature from many centuries," she says. "I could do that in these classes. I simply love helping students learn how to appreciate such beautiful and challenging usages of the French language, and to understand the ideas they portray."

Deirdre Stiles '87 of Sussex, England took senior seminar with Lowrie and the two have been e-mail correspondents ever since. Stiles still remembers Lowrie engaging her in class discussions.

“She treated us as colleagues,” Stiles says. “She listened and was truly interested in what each of us had to say about what we had read. She had a wonderful sense of humor which enlivened the dialogue. And she was fully engaged in what she taught - she loved it and it showed.”

Although her courses were taught in French, Lowrie says the classes touched a broad spectrum of students in different majors. 

Ari Zito, ’05, who will double major in the College of Letters and French Studies, took two classes with Madame Lowrie during his Wesleyan career.

“I know that in the future, when I think back to my academic experience at Wesleyan, I will recall sitting in the seminar room in 300 High Street, drinking tea with a dozen other students, and listening to Madame Lowrie talk about Proust,” Zito says. “I know that I am only one of many people who will miss her very much.

Born in Brazil, Lowrie was raised bilingual in Portuguese and English as a child, but learned Latin and French in school, "with a strong Brazilian accent."  Her accent was corrected when she attended college at Baylor University in Texas, where she graduated magna cum laude in 1957. That same year, she received a Fulbright scholarship to study French literature at the University of Bordeaux. 

"That experience changed my life," she says. “Although I was interested in many other subjects, it was French language and literature that I loved most. I also fell in love with the country, its culture, its mores, its cuisine, its people."

Lowrie returned to the United States in 1958 to earn her Ph.D. in French at Yale University. There she met her husband-to-be, Ernest. They have one daughter, Michèle, who now teaches classics at New York University. 

Lowrie was the first woman professor "to rise through the ranks" and obtain tenure at Wesleyan. In 1972, Lowrie became associate professor, and in 1977 she became a full professor.

She taught French in smoke-filled classrooms at the then all-male university. Even President Colin Campbell's office had "snazzy" ceramic ashtrays, she recalls. 

"It was quite a different institution then," she says.

While much has changed, Lowrie’s vibrant and witty personality has remained the same.

“Joyce is an irreverent, fun-loving bon vivant, an Epicurean with a taste and talent for making superb food and scandalous jokes,” says colleague Andrew Curran, associate professor of romance languages and literatures.

Ellen Nerenberg, associate professor of romance languages and literatures and associate professor of women’s studies, considers Lowrie’s sense of humor sly and puckish.

“You could even call it wicked,” Nerenberg says. “Yet despite this, or perhaps because of it, Joyce has a keen sense of decorum. She balances deliciously between the two poles.”

Lowrie is the author of 19 articles, five translations, 12 reviews and one book under her own name, “The Violent Mystique” published by Droz Press, Geneva. She has contributed substantive chapters to three books and her book in progress. She earned a fellowship to work on her present book at the Camargo Foundation in Cassis, France, in 1995.

Lowrie has sat on more than 20 university committees.  She also served as a freshman, sophomore, and a French major advisor. She was a liaison with Foreign Language Teaching Assistants, chair of her own department of Romance Languages and Literatures, and she served as the Resident as well as campus director of the Vassar-Wesleyan Program in Paris.

"Many of my students decided to spend some time in France through this program," she says. "There is nothing like a year abroad to help students to learn to speak colloquial French, and to understand French literature and culture. "

Lowrie has obtained many academic honors over the years. She was awarded an University Fellowship at Yale University between 1959-1962; a Wesleyan fellowship at the Center for the Humanities in 1973; she received a National Endowment for the Humanities Grant in 1989-90. She has been a member of several professional organizations including the American Association of Teachers of French, the Modern Language Association, and the Northeast Modern Language Association of America. She has presented papers in all of these venues.

After retiring, Lowrie is planning on "doing exactly what I most love doing, and that is reading, doing research, writing, and traveling to France," she says.  She will continue to reside in the Middletown area. She doesn't want to wander far from her colleagues, friends and Wesleyan students.

"Wesleyan students: I love them! That says it all,” she says. "They are so bright and so full of ideas. They are the reason I have wanted to stay at Wesleyan all of these years. Being around students keeps one young."

By Olivia Bartlett, The Wesleyan Connection editor