Professor Emeritus Jacques Cotnam played a pivotal role in French studies

York Professor Emeritus Jacques Cotnam, one of the founding fathers of the University’s French Studies Program, died in Quebec City on Saturday, June 5. He was 68. 

Left: Jacques Cotnam

In 1964, as a young academic, Prof. Cotnam came to York University and was the first French Canadian to be appointed to its academy. Over the course of his distinguished 40-year career, Prof. Cotnam took a leadership role in developing the French studies curriculum. He led the move to include French Canadian and French literature and culture as an integral part of the program. In 2002, he retired from York. 

Prof. Cotnam’s service to the University included roles as the chair of the Department of French Studies at Glendon College and chair of the Graduate Program in French Studies. 

He was very fond of Founders College of which he was a “merry fellow”, as he used to say. His colleagues in the French Studies Program in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies describe him as having a wonderful sense of humour and a keen intellect.

Prof. Cotnam was also a passionate and dedicated scholar and literary critic, and the author of some 20 books. He specialized in 20th-century French literature and focused much of his meticulous attention on the works of the novelist André Gide. In this area, he published Essai de bibliographie chronologique des écrits d’André Gide (1971), Inventaire bibliographique de la correspondance d’André Gide (1972) and André Gide, Correspondance 1923-1950 (2001). In 1984, in collaboration with Roland Bourneuf, he published the Correspondance Gide-Giono (1929-1940). He had recently also finished an edition of Gide’s correspondence with Edith Wharton.

Prof. Cotnam will be remembered for his remarkable contribution to Quebec literary studies. Noteworthy are three books, Le Roman québécois à l’heure de la Révolution tranquille (1971), Poètes du Québec (1969) and Le Théâtre québécois : instrument de contestation sociale et politique (1976), and a critical edition of La Gazette littéraire de Montréal (1778-1779), prepared in collaboration with Bernard Andrès and Pierre Hébert, which is to be published by the Presses de l’Université Laval (PUL) in 2010. The members of the editorial committee of the PUL collection L’Archive littéraire du Québec have created a prize in his honour to salute the best doctoral or master’s theses defended in Canada. Winning publications will be published in the collection. Prof. Cotnam also dedicated long hours of research in the archives of religious congregations as part of his study of theatre practices in Quebec.

Among his other scholarly achievements are his studies on the works of his friend and colleague, York French studies Professor Emeritus Hédi Bouraoui: Hédi Bouraoui: iconoclaste et chantre du transculturel (1996) and Bibliographie de l’œuvre de Hédi Bouraoui et de sa réception critique de 1966 à 2005 (2007).

To honour Prof. Cotnam’s memory, the executive committee of the Graduate Program in French Studies has established the Jacques Cotnam Prize which will be awarded to the best thesis. Cotnam also leaves behind a considerable amount of research which will be conserved at the Université du Québec à Sherbrooke in the Jacques Cotnam Fond.

Prof. Cotnam leaves his wife Claire and daughter Geneviève. The funeral will take place in Quebec City on Saturday, June 12, at 11am at the Église St-Dominique, 175 Grande Allée O.

The family requests that memorial donations be made to the cancer hospice Maison Michel-Sarrazinwhere Prof. Cotnam spent his last days.