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Geoffrey Wall




Geoffrey Wall is a literary biographer and one of the editors of The Cambridge Quarterly. His biography of Gustave Flaubert, published by Faber in 2001, was shortlisted for the Whitbread Prize and for the James Tait Black Memorial Prize. It has subsequently been published in American, Spanish and French editions.

His translations of Flaubert, published by Penguin, include Madame Bovary (1992), Selected Letters (1995), The Dictionary of Received Ideas (1997), Sentimental Education (2004) and Three Tales (2005). He has edited a wide-ranging collection of Sartre's non-fiction, entitled Modern Times (Penguin 2001). His translation of Pierre Macherey's Theory of Literary Production was reissued as a Routledge Classic in 2006.

In 2013 he published The Enlightened Physician: Achille-Cléophas Flaubert 1784-1846.  You can read a chapter at

Geoffrey Wall's current project, commissioned by Oxford University Press, is  a biography of George Sand, the major woman writer of French Romanticism.

Geoffrey Wall also has a strong interest in oral history. He is working on a book that brings together a dozen life-history interviews with activists. The working title is Voices Off.

"This is a book about commitment, democracy and direct action.  It explores the world of serious progressive politics. It asks a dozen activists some searching questions about what they do.

What drew you into this? What keeps you at it? How far would you go? And what sort of world do you want?

Listen in to a series of life-history interviews with Quakers, anarchists, pacifists, Trotskyists, feminists, peace activists, and union officials."



Shakespeare, Milton, Napoleon, Flaubert, Freud; life-writing.

Biography, as I conceive of it, is a distinctive and comprehensive form of historical inquiry. It requires a combination of meticulous scholarship, intellectual versatility, imaginative sympathy and narrative skill. I work closely with primary texts, reading between the lines, looking for the characteristic themes, the favourite phrases, the unexpected silences, the odd repetitions, the elusive features that give away more than can be said. My guiding theme is the conflict between creative human agency and material circumstance, the play of freedom and necessity, the tensions of success and failure as they unfold across a lifetime. I look primarily to recent traditions of English literary biography, as represented in the work of Lytton Strachey, Richard Holmes and Peter Ackroyd. Yet my practice as biographer is influenced equally by a sustained engagement with the disciplines of history as represented in the work of Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie and Natalie Zemon Davies. I situate my work at the convergence of micro-history (so-called) and biography.

For more on biography see On Biography (PDF , 84kb).


  • Georg Lukacs (1993)
  • Joyce & the Politics of Irish Nationalism (1993)
  • Theories of Myth (1999)
  • Rabelais and the National Language (1997)
  • Festive Culture in Elizabethan Drama (2004)
  • Sir Thomas Wyatt (2004)
  • Visions of Obscenity: Sade, Masoch, Bataille, Ballard (2004)
  • Northern England in Twentieth Century Writing

Areas available: Shakespeare; Biography and life-writing; Flaubert; Freud and Psychoanalysis.

External activities

Editorial duties

  • Joint Editor of The Cambridge Quarterly (1998- )

Contact details

Professor Geoffrey Wall
Department of English and Related Literature
University of York
Y010 5DD

Tel: +44 (0)1904 323334