Mary Fairclough


MA, PhD (York)

My research interests lie in the intersection between literature, politics and science in the long eighteenth-century. My first book is a study of the representation of crowds in the Romantic period and the way in which sympathy is understood as the catalyst of collective behaviour. I am currently working on a project on representations of electrical science in the eighteenth century, and the way that electrical metaphors are appropriated in a wide range of literary and political discourse.

I completed my MA and PhD at the Centre for Eighteenth Century Studies and Department of English and Related Literature at York. I previously taught in the Department of English Language and Literature at the University of Huddersfield.



My monograph The Romantic Crowd: Sympathy, Controversy and Print Culture (Cambridge University Press, 2013) explores understandings of sympathy in the late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-centuries. Sympathy is understood not just an emotional or imaginative phenomenon, but also as a physiological one, though which disorder in one part of the body is instantly communicated to another. Physiologists at this period even suggest that morbid symptoms might be communicated from one person to another through sympathetic communication. Such accounts of sympathy are frequently applied to the behaviour of crowds during the Romantic period. I explore how sympathy takes on particularly contested significance during the British debate over the French Revolution in the 1790s, and during mass demonstrations for parliamentary reform in the 1810s. I also investigate the ways in which writers like Mary Wollstonecraft, Helen Maria Williams, John Thelwall, William Hazlitt and Thomas De Quincey attempted to rehabilitate a language of sympathetic communication for their own political ends.

My next book project will explore the ways in which the discourse of electrical science is appropriated in literary and political texts in the long eighteenth century. I am particularly interested in electricity’s association with revolution, and with the democratization of learning. I have also published various articles on sympathetic communication, the politics of the picturesque, Romantic periodical print culture, the function of the optical telegraph, and the significance of the imagination in scientific discourse in the long eighteenth century, and would welcome enquiries from prospective students working in these areas.



  • The Romantic Crowd: Sympathy, Controversy and Print Culture, monograph forthcoming from Cambridge University Press Studies in Romanticism series ( January 2013).
  • The Telegraph: Radical Transmission in the 1790s’, at Eighteenth-Century Life, Duke University Press (2012).
  • ‘John Thelwall and the Politics of the Picturesque’, Romantic Circles Praxis Series Special Issue, John Thelwall: Critical Reassessments (September 2011).
  • ‘Radical sympathy: Periodical Circulation and the Peterloo Massacre’, Special Edition: Romantic Cultures of Print, Romanticism and Victorianism on the Net, 57-58, February-May 2010.
  • ‘John Thelwall and the Politics of Sympathy’ Literature Compass 7(9), 2010: 763-772.
  • Review essay, co-authored with Georgina Green. ‘Disciplining Thelwall: a review of Thelwall studies’ Romanticism 16(2), 2010: 197-206.






At undergraduate level, I teach on the period and topic modules that cover the eighteenth century and Romantic period. I also offer an MA module on representations of electricity in the long eighteenth century Literature, Science and Revolution: Electricity from Franklin to Frankenstein.


Contact Details

Room: K/376B
Telephone: 01904 324968
E mail:  
Fax: 01904 324989
Department: English and Related Literature