Barbara S. Desmond

Chair of the Department of English
Cowles Professor of Humanities
Barbara Desmond

"The road there, if you’ll let a guide direct you
Who only has at heart your getting lost,
May seem as if it should have been a quarry—"
— Robert Frost, “Directive”


B.A. Wellesley College

M.Philosophy Yale University

All But Dissertation Yale University


At first, Exeter was just a distant name to me. Then it was a friend’s school, then my husband’s. Then, it became a destination and a home for me. When the opportunity to teach here arose in 2005, my husband and I came and stayed, moving from Abbot Hall to Wheelwright Hall to a campus home, where we live with our daughter. I still spend one evening every week with the students of Wheelwright, just two minutes from our present home. I find gratification in every corner of my busy life here, but the table still centers my experience: It is a constant source of surprise and regeneration. The conversations that happen there teach me the value of returning again and again to Hamlet, to Dickinson, to Morrison, and to Faulkner. They also teach my students and me the value of losing ourselves in something too big, too complex and moving, to hold within our minds at once. That is why I love to teach long novels — Invisible Man, Crime and Punishment, Pride and Prejudice, Midnight’s Children.

I relax by running on the cross-country trails, on my own or in the company of the club running group, a merry band of runners of all different levels of experience. You can find us there on most fall afternoons, when the air is turning sharp and there is just enough light to find our way back home before dinner.