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James Williams



James Williams read English at St John’s College, Oxford, and completed his PhD at Trinity College, Cambridge. He came to the department in 2012 from Oxford, where he held lectureships at Brasenose College and Jesus College.

James works mostly on Victorian and modern poetry. He is the author of a monograph and co-editor of an essay collection on the nonsense poet Edward Lear. His wider fields of expertise are in poetry and poetics, the literature of the long nineteenth century (British, American, and French), the literature of nonsense, formal and stylistic dimensions of writing, and the Anglo-American libretto.

Beyond the walls of the university James has discussed aspects of his work on BBC Radio 2 and 4 and BBC 4 television and has written reviews and features for publications including Apollo, the Art Newspaper, the Tablet, and the TLS.



James Williams is Lecturer in Nineteenth-Century Literature and Culture. He is the author of a volume in the ‘Writers and their Work’ series, Edward Lear (Northcote House, 2018) and the essay collection Edward Lear and the Play of Poetry (OUP, 2016; paperback 2019) co-edited with Matthew Bevis. He was the organizer of the Edward Lear Bicentennial Conference at Jesus College, Oxford in September 2012 and of the Symposium ‘New Work on Edward Lear’ in 2018, featuring a line-up of postgraduate and early career speakers. He is currently co-editing, with Anna Barton, The Edinburgh Companion to Nonsense.

James is the author of the introduction and notes to Alice Goodman, History is Our Mother: Three Libretti (New York Review Books, 2017) which includes the texts of the operas Nixon in China and The Death of Klinghoffer as well as a translation of The Magic Flute. James’s work with Alice Goodman has led to an ongoing interest in the Anglo-American libretto.

James has wide interests in poetry and poetics, both in and out of the nineteenth century: recent articles and presentations have addressed allusions to the Echo and Narcissus myth in Romantic and Victorian poets, Edward FitzGerald’s Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, aphorism in the poems of Dorothy Parker, the poetry of Muriel Spark, and questions and question marks in Stevie Smith. He is also interested in formal and stylistic dimensions of writing, both in poetry and prose: he has published an essay on the punctuation of Samuel Beckett and is working on a chapter on “The Chapter” for the forthcoming Cambridge Companion to the Craft of Prose.


James is currently working on a monograph entitled Things Fall Together: Augustan Poetics in the Nineteenth Century. This book will explore the significance for Victorian poets, and their Romantic precursors, of “Augustan” poetry: the dominant poetic style of the late seventeenth to mid-eighteenth centuries, associated with the figures of Dryden, Pope, Swift, and Johnson. The book will argue that Victorian poets not only responded and alluded to  Augustan poets but also continued to develop characteristically Augustan forms such as the aphoristic couplet, mock-epic, and satire. By challenging the prevailing critical consensus that nineteenth-century poets rejected Augustan poetry, the book sets out to offer a fresh account of the relationship between the creative practices of Victorian poets and their relationship to history, time, and tradition. Major figures in the study include Alfred Tennyson, Edward FitzGerald, and Arthur Hugh Clough.

James’s longer-term projects include a literary history of the libretto in English, addressing major English and American figures from Aphra Behn through Gilbert and Sullivan to Gertrude Stein, W.H. Auden, and Alice Goodman


James Williams’s current areas of research are in poetry and poetics, the literature of the long nineteenth century, the literature of nonsense, literary form and stylistics, and the libretto. He would be happy to be approached by prospective research students in any of these areas.

Proposals for research projects focused on particular writers are also welcome. Recurring figures of interest include (but are not limited to) Samuel Beckett, John Berryman, Elizabeth Bishop, the Brownings, Emily Brontë, Lord Byron, Lewis Carroll, Arthur Hugh Clough, Emily Dickinson, T. S. Eliot, William Empson, Edward FitzGerald, Eric Gill, Alice Goodman, Thomas Hardy, Geoffrey Hill, Gerard Manley Hopkins, James Joyce, David Jones, Edward Lear, Robert Lowell, Marianne Moore, Ezra Pound, Christina Rossetti, Muriel Spark, Gertrude Stein, Alfred Tennyson, Sylvia Townsend Warner, Walt Whitman, and William Wordsworth.

Contact details

Dr James Williams
Department of English and Related Literature
University of York
YO10 5DD

Tel: +44 (0)1904 323340