Janet Whatley joined the Department of Romance Languages in 1973 and retired in 2010. The literature courses she taught were mainly in the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries, including subjects such as “Fables of Feminine Experience: Early French Women Writers:” “Power and Desire in French Classical Drama;” “Society Reimagined: the Literature of the French Enlightenment;” and “Joan of Arc in History, Image and Legend.”
A sabbatical at the John Carter Brown Library gave her the opportunity to pursue an interest in the first decades of European contact with the Americas. This research produced courses taught at both the first-year and the graduate level: “The New World: Early Images and Encounters (writings by Columbus, Cortez, Montaigne, Shakespeare, among others). Another product was a translation of Jean de Léry’s classic work of early ethnography, (1582) Histoire d’un Voyage en Terre de Brésil.
Her study of pre-Revolutionary women writers led to a translation, with Malcolm Whatley, of the correspondence of Isabelle de Charrière, a Dutch writer who wrote in French, and who is now recognized as a major voice in the European Enlightenment: There Are No Letters Like Yours: The Correspondence of Isabelle de Charrière and David-Louis Constant d’Hermenches.
Janet Whatley served as chair of the Department of Romance Lanaguages (1980–1984) and as Coordinator of the M.A. program (1996–2008).
Since her retirement, she has worked with people from other countries needing help in developing their English skills. Under the auspices of the Alliance Française she has been leading a French literature reading group, exploring with her co-readers a wide range of subjects: among others, Montaigne, Proust, Victor Hugo, the French experience of the German Occupation.