Obituary: Gerard Defaux, Professor of Romance Languages,
Dies in Paris
Gerard Defaux, right, receiving
the medal as Chevalier des Arts et Lettres, a distinction
conferred by France's Ministry of Culture, from Ambassador
Bujon d'Estaing. The event took place in 2000 at Nichols
House on the Homewood campus.
PHOTO BY HPS/JAY VAN RENSSELAER
Gerard Defaux, professor since 1981 in the
Romance Languages and Literatures in the Krieger School
of Arts and Sciences, died in Paris on Dec. 31, 2004. The
cause was a brain tumor. He was 67.
A lifelong athlete, he had cycled for 30 miles early
in the morning on the day the tumor had made itself known
Stephen G. Nichols, James M. Beall Professor of French
and Humanities and chair of the Department of Romance
Languages and Literatures at Johns Hopkins, had visited
with Defaux in Paris shortly before his death.
Writing to colleagues and students last week to inform
them of Defaux's death, Nichols said, "Quintessentially
French, though proud of his American citizenship, Gerard
embodied the best in each of the two educational systems he
served. He was a passionate teacher who inspired
generations of undergraduate and graduate students alike.
His devotion to teaching did not for a moment prevent him
from pursuing his career as a scholar. On the contrary, he
managed to make each serve the other. As a result, he
published some 25 scholarly books and critical editions (18
of them since 1992), in addition to well over 100 articles.
Always one to relish a good intellectual donnybrook, Gerard
also wrote review essays that were the antithesis of the
bland book reports so frequently encountered in scholarly
Defaux was born on May 9, 1937, in Paris, where he
studied at two prestigious academies, the Lycee Henri IV
and the Ecole Normale Superiere de Saint-Cloud. A
passionate scholar of Renaissance literature, he did his
doctoral work at the Sorbonne on Francois Rabelais and the
Sophists under the direction of the most eminent
16th-century scholar of the period, V.-L. Saulnier.
After receiving his doctorate in 1967, Defaux began
his career as assistant professor at Trent University in
Peterborough, Ontario, Canada, and then, from 1969 to 1979,
taught at Bryn Mawr College, where he was promoted to full
professor and served as director of his department. He was
professor of French and director of undergraduate studies
at Yale University from 1979 to 1981, when he left to join
Johns Hopkins. From 1981 to 1986, he served as chair of the
French Department, which later was incorporated into
Romance Languages and Literatures. At the time of his
death, he was director of graduate studies for French.
Among Defaux's many honors were Guggenheim and
American Council of Learned Societies fellowships. The
French government awarded him the Palmes Academiques in
1997 and in 2000 made him a Chevalier des Arts et
In addition to his athletic pursuits, which included
jogging, squash and swimming as well as cycling, Defaux was
a fan of jazz and classical music, especially works by
Italian baroque composers, Mozart, Beethoven, Faure and
He is survived by his wife, Anne; his son, Olivier;
his daughter, Emmanuele; and four grandchildren.
The funeral took place on Friday, Jan. 7, at Pere
Lachaise cemetary in Paris. A memorial service will be held
in early February on the Homewood campus, and a one-day
colloquium in Gerard Defaux's honor will take place on
Friday, March 4, also at Homewood.
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