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Languages, Cultures and Visual Studies

Photo of Dr Adam Horsley

Dr Adam Horsley

Lecturer in French


01392 724457


I specialise in seventeenth-century French literature and history, with a particular interest in ‘libertine’ literature, the intersections between literature and the law, as well as the use of manuscript and archival sources. I have lectured at Exeter since 2017, when I first joined the department as a British Academy Postdoctoral Research Fellow in French.

My research has received multiple international awards and prizes, as well as significant levels of funding, and is mainly concerned with early modern texts and authors considered in their day to be unorthodox, subversive, or against the laws temporal and spiritual. I work very much at an interdisciplinary level; exploring subversive thinkers and their texts from the perspectives of criminology, political history, and forensic linguistics, whilst also contributing literary analyses of legal texts and official documents to historical scholarship. These approaches are brought together in my book: Libertines and the Law: Subversive Authors and Criminal Justice in Early Seventeenth-Century France (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2021, 432 pp.): Libertines and the Law was awarded the 2022 Literary Encyclopedia Book Prize, and was shortlisted for the 2023 Gapper Book Prize.

I have varied and vigorous research interests in early modern French studies. My publications cover subjects including criminal trials for blasphemy using new archival discoveries, clandestine lessons in illegal philosophy, aliens and dogmen on the Moon, pornographic poems passed between friends, a critical edition of an English translation of a French play, and women’s gossip in a lying-in chamber. I serve on the Executive Committee of the Society for Early Modern French Studies (SEMFS) as Media and Publicity Officer (see; and am also an affiliated scholar of the Danish National Research Foundation Centre for Privacy Studies (PRIVACY, University of Copenhagen).

My teaching has received multiple awards and commendations, beginning with my time at the Université de Paris VII Denis Diderot in 2010. I convene a first-year team-taught module exploring French history through works of art, a second-year early-modern theatre module, and a final-year module on seventeenth-century libertine literature, in addition to teaching French language at all undergraduate levels. I am a fellow of the Higher Education Academy, and also hold an ASPIRE fellowship, a Postgraduate Certificate in Academic Practice, and a certificate from the Institute of Apprenticeships. I believe strongly in being an active and visible citizen within the department of Languages, Cultures and Visual Studies, for both colleagues and our students alike: I currently serve as Deputy Senior Tutor, Pastoral Mentor, Transition and Inductions Officer, and Postgraduate Taught mentor.

I welcome supervision enquiries for prospective final-year dissertations, Masters dissertations, or PhD supervision for projects within my historical period of interest.

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Reseach Awards and Prizes 

2023: The Society for French Studies R. Gapper Book Prize (shortlisted)  

2022: The Literary Encyclopedia Book Prize for literatures in languages other than English

2021: The Sixteenth Century Society Literature Prize, for my work on notions of public and private spheres in manuscript poetry through the lens of François Maynard's corpus.

2019: British Academy Global Talent Training and Dissemination Grant

2019: European Network Development Fund (University of Exeter Global Strategy)

2017 - 2021: British Academy Postdoctoral Research Fellowship

2013: AHRC PhD Studentship

My research interests can be divided into two broad categories. First, the critical reception of subversive, unorthodox or ‘libertin’ texts in their day, with a particular focus on their treatment by the early modern French criminal justice system. Second, the study of texts from the perspective of material bibliography; that is to say, the history of text as material and cultural object, and its various spaces of readership and dissemination. My research is characterised by a close attention to the relationship between texts and their cultural environment, whilst demonstrating the relevance of early modern texts to modern concerns pertaining to otherness, persecution, and exclusion. Within the field of seventeenth-century French studies, I am also interested in libertin literature more widely (particularly the works of Théophile de Viau and François Maynard), early realist texts, satirical and obscene poetry, oral culture, and utopian literature.

My book Libertines and the Law: Subversive Authors and Criminal Justice in Early Seventeenth-Century France (Oxford University Press) is the first to consider the criminal trials of three notorious libertine authors (Giulio Cesare Vanini, Jean Fontanier and Théophile de Viau) from the perspective of criminology rather than literary studies. 

Reviews of Libertines and the Law

"Une importante contribution à l’effort de la recherche pour donner une consistance sociale et non pas seulement intellectuelle et littéraire au libertinage du dix-septième siècle. […] Le livre de Horsley constitue une forte enquête sur les archives de lecture que furent les procès engageant des littérateurs, mais il interroge aussi la manière dont ceux-ci ont consolidé une réalité qu’ils ont contribué à écrire." - Laurence Giavarini, French Studies.  

"A highly impressive book [...] covering the fields of literary studies, criminology, and political and religious history, displaying extraordinary new research and discoveries of previously unknown and unstudied manuscripts. The breadth, scholarship and creativity of Libertines and the Law make it essential reading for students of early modern French law and literature." - Nicolas Hammond, Law & Literature

"Horsley's meticulous archival study and expert analysis of legal arguments and practices reveals with extraordinary acuity how this society sought to define freedom of thought and action, whether in political and religious matters or in social conduct, and how to repress it" - The Literary Encyclopedia

"Adam Horsley's remarkable book brings seventeenth-century criminal archives into the realm of literary analysis. […] A rigorous and critical re-evaluation of some crucial issues in seventeenth-century literature and culture that opens the way for future research to bridge the gap between law and literature." - Tom Hamilton, The Seventeenth Century


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Copyright Notice: Any articles made available for download are for personal use only. Any other use requires prior permission of the author and the copyright holder.

| 2024 | 2023 | 2022 | 2021 | 2017 | 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012 |






  • Horsley A. (2017) The Good Times and the Bad: François Maynard’s Reflections on his Past and Future, Managing Time: Literature and Devotion in Early Modern France, Peter Lang, 107-131.


  • Horsley A. (2016) Review of Guillaume Peureux, 'La Muse satyrique (1600-1622)' (Geneva: Droz, 2015), Modern Language Review, volume 111, no. 1, pages 249-250.
  • Horsley A. (2016) 17th-century French Libertinism, in 'The Literary Encyclopedia'.
  • Horsley A. (2016) Strategies of Accusation and Self-Defence at the Trial of Théophile de Viau (1623-25), Papers on French Seventeenth-Century Literature, volume 43, no. 85, pages 157-177.



  • Horsley A. (2014) Théophile de Viau, in 'The Literary Encyclopedia'.


  • Horsley A. (2013) Cyrano de Bergerac, in 'The Literary Encyclopedia'.


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External impact and engagement

In 2022 I gave a public lecture on the Italian naturalist philosopher and 'libertine' Giulio-Cesare Vanini, at his home town of Taurisano. Television coverage of the event, which was hosted by the mayor, can be found at:

Contribution to discipline

I serve on the committee for the Society for Early Modern French Studies (SEMFS) as Media and Publicity Officer (since 2017).

In 2019 I was awarded a European Network Fund as part of the University of Exeter's Global Strategy. This grant was used to establish research links with the University of Copenhagen's Centre for Privacy Studies by leading a delegation to the Centre's inaugural conference, and by hosting a workshop for delegates from the Centre in Exeter in the summer of 2019.

As well as having published numerous book reviews in academic journals, I have also served as an anonymous reviewer for article submissions and funding applications across Europe. 

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I have won multiple awards and commendations for my teaching, having previously taught at the Université Paris-Diderot / Paris VII (2010-11) and the University of Nottingham (2011-17), where I also held the position of Honourary Visiting Research Fellow (2015-17). I am a fellow of the Higher Education Academy, and also hold an ASPIRE fellowship, a Postgraduate Certificate in Academic Practice, and a certificate from the Institute of Apprenticeships. 

I currently convene three modules across all undergraduate levels and teach French language at all undergraduate levels. My teaching reflects my general interest in 17th-century French literature and history and incorporates the latest findings from my research. I have received a number of 'Above and Beyond' awards for my teaching, and have received various nominations for 'Best Teacher / Academic'; 'HASS Academic of the Year', and 'Innovative Teaching Award' at the Students' Guild Teaching Awards (2019, 2021, 2023).  I currently serve as Deputy Senior Tutor, Pastoral Mentor, Postgraduate Taught Mentor, as well as Transition and Inductions Officer, for the department of Languages, Cultures and Visual Studies.

I welcome supervision enquiries for prospective final-year dissertations, Masters dissertations, or PhD supervision for projects within my historical period of interest.

MLF1017 - 'The Making of Modern France' (first year)

"My favourite teacher at Exeter. Always energetic, eccentric and enthusiastic in class and brightens up everyone’s day. Has an incredible knowledge of French literature, theatre and philosophy."
"You truly are a captivating speaker. This has been my favourite module thus far in Exeter by far."
"The way Adam presents the content is engaging and charming, and learning his content felt more like reading a good book than studying for an exam."
"I found these seminars the most engaging of my entire year so far, and can only commend Adam for his lectures and teaching style."

This team-taught module has been designed to reflect my interdisciplinary approach to scholarship, and provides students with an overview of French history from the time of Joan of Arc through to the French period of decolonisation. Whereas lectures cover historical themes, events and figures, seminars are used to explore these themes through the compositional analysis of art works as well as literary texts. 

MLF2070 - 'Violence and Virtue: Early Modern French Theatre' (second year) 

"Among the best modules I have had the opportunity to take at university"
"By far my favourite. I enjoyed every bit of the lectures and seminars"
"This module was a joy and I wouldn’t change a thing" 

“I really enjoy being taught by Adam! He brings everything to life and makes lectures/seminars engaging. I knew I would enjoy this module when I saw he was leading it.”

This second-year module begins with a concise history of theatrical genres, spaces and audiences before studying plays by the three great playwrights of the age: Pierre Corneille, Molière and Jean Racine. The module's most recent cohort were unanimous in awarding this module module maximum marks for its organisation and overall running in anonymous online feedback. 

MLF3079 - 'Sex, Subversion and Censorship: Libertine Literature in Seventeenth-Century France' (final year)

"I would strongly recommend this to anyone looking for a module that is more engaging than most"       

“This module is different to anything I’ve studied before […] The freedom to discuss as well as the encouragement to debate and consider new ideas has been so refreshing.
"The feedback given was better than any module I have ever done in the past"  
"It is very motivating to have a professor who clearly is passionate about the course texts and who genuinely enjoys the teaching aspect of the job. It really does make a difference to the atmosphere" 

In this research-led module I offer students an alternative to the polished and classical image of le grand siècle. The module covers the poetry of Théophle de Viau and François Maynard - on whom I have published a number of studies - as well as the Confessions of Jean-Jacques Bouchard and Molière's Dom Juan. This module is  supplemented by my archival and wider historical research on printing practices, material bibliography and the criminal justice system in early-modern France. The module's most recent cohort unanimously awarded the module maximum scores for being well-organised and running smoothly, the level of support offered, and their satisfaction with their experience on the module.

Modules taught

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