Marva Barnett

Professor Emeritus, U. of Virginia & Writer specializing on Victor Hugo

Marva Barnett teaches courses on Victor Hugo and his 'Les Misérables' at the University of Virginia, where she recently retired from the Department of Drama. With her current book project, she explores what his epic novel can tell us about living lives of conscience today. Drawing on multiple interviews with Les Mis creators—from librettist Alain Boublil and composer Claude-Michel Schönberg to actor Hugh Jackman—she brings to light the model of activism and empathy that Hugo was, complete with his oh-so-human flaws. In recognition of her contribution to Hugo studies, the French government named her Chevalier des Palmes académiques. Marva has been invited to talk about Hugo’s work and ideas at Michael Kahn’s Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, DC, as well as at other U.S. venues and in France. In February 2017 she will again host Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg as artists-in-residence at the University of Virginia, as well as Hugo specialist Gérard Pouchain, who will curate a Rotunda exhibition on 'Les Misérables' in caricature. Her bilingual anthology, 'Victor Hugo on Things That Matter: A Reader,' appeared with Yale University Press in 2010. She holds a PhD from Harvard University and wrote her master’s thesis on Hugo’s work. Marva also founded UVa’s Center for Teaching Excellence, making visible her love of teaching and her desire to help others engage students deeply in learning. In all she does, Marva aims to follow the maxim Victor Hugo wrote three days before he died: “To love is to act.” You can follow Marva's work at