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University of Oxford Faculty of English

Halmi, Nicholas

Position: Professor of English and Comparative Literature; Tutorial Fellow, University College
College: University
Period/Subject: 18th-century and Romantic literature, comparative literature, literary history and theory

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Research interests:

  • Enlightenment and Romantic literature (esp. poetry) and philosophy
  • Comparative literature (British, German, French, Italian)
  • Classical reception
  • Enlightenment and Romantic visual culture
  • Literary history and theory (esp. genre theory)
  • Anglo-Italian literary and cultural relations (esp. Byron)

My research is concerned with British and Continental literature, philosophy, and visual arts of the 'long eighteenth century', particularly in their responses to the challenges and discontents of modernity and in their relation to the historical past.

Romantic symbol. My book The Genealogy of the Romantic Symbol (2007) analysed an historically signficant attempt to overcome, through means bequeathed by the Enlightenment itself, a profound dissatisfaction with the dualisms of Enlightenment epistemology, semiotics, aesthetics, and natural science. A primary purpose of the book was to explain what intellectual purposes the Romantic theorization of the symbol--which was very influential in post-Romantic criticism and has caused much contention in critical theory since the 1960s--served in nineteenth century itself. The book's own genealogy is recounted in the article 'Telling Stories about Romantic Theory' (2012), and its central argument is summarized in my discussion with Robert Harrison in his radio programme Entitled Opinions (linked below). Various of the contributors to the collection Symbol and Intuition (2013), to which I wrote an afterword, engage with aspects of the Genealogy's argument, and the book has been praised by philosophers (e.g., Miguel de Beistegui) and historians (e.g., Warren Breckman) as well as by literary critics (e.g., Terry Eagleton).

Historicism and aesthetics. More recently I have been writing about the aestheticization of the past in poetry, painting, and architecture of the long eighteenth century (e.g., in representations of imaginary ruins), as well as on the relation of the Romantics’ self-consciously new literary forms to traditional genres and genre theory (e.g., Byron's ironization of epic in Don Juan). I have been awarded a Leverhulme Trust Major Research Fellowship for 2015–17 to complete a comparative study of the relationship of historical understanding to aesthetic theory and artistic form in the Enlightenment and Romantic period, History's Form (contracted with OUP). An anticipation of the book's argument was published in MLQ in September 2013. Further projects include a book on Coleridge (contracted with Princeton University Press) and a chapter on European Romanticism in The Cambridge History of Modern European Thought.

I have also done a good deal of scholarly editing, particularly of Coleridge, and am an advisory editor of Oxford University Press’s Oxford Scholarly Editions Online project. My Norton Critical Edition of Wordsworth (2013), described in the TLS as 'likely to set the agenda for classroom study of Wordsworth for years to come' and 'an essential text for scholars', contains a generous selection of the poetry and critical prose, including a newly edited and annotated text of the 13-book Prelude and—for the first time—en face texts of The Ruined Cottage and book 1 of The Excursion.

I am an Associated Academic Staff member of the History of Art Department, am involved in the Oxford Comparative Criticism and Translation Group, and am currently chair of the Advisory Board of the North American Society for the Study of Romanticism (NASSR).

Teaching areas:

Undergraduate: Prelims papers 1B (introduction to literature) and 4 (literature of 1910–); FHS paper 5 (1760–1830), various dissertation topics

Graduate: Co-convenor, M.St. 1780–1900 (in 2009–10), 1660–1830 (in 2010–11), 1700–1830 (in 2013–15); B-course on textual studies; various C-course options (e.g., Romantic classicism and Enlightenment critical categories)

Graduate Supervision:

During my research leave in 2015–17 I shall not be accepting requests to supervise new students.

Recent and Forthcoming Publications:


Editor, Wordsworth's Poetry and Prose (Norton Critical Edition, 2013)

Co-editor, Inventions of the Imagination: Romanticism and Beyond (Seattle: Univ. of Washington Press, 2011)

The Genealogy of the Romantic Symbol (OUP, 2007)

Editor, Fearful Symmetry: A Study of William Blake, vol. 14 of the Collected Writings of Northrop Frye (Univ. of Toronto Press, 2004)

Co-editor, Coleridge's Poetry and Prose (Norton Critical Edition, 2003)

Textual editor, Opus Maximum, vol. 15 of The Collected Works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge (Princeton University Press, 2002)

Digital edition:

Co-editor, P. B. Shelley's Poetical Essay on the Existing State of Things (1811), Bodleian Library, published 10 November 2015 [digital edition of the sole surviving copy of this undergraduate poem by Shelley, acquired by the Bodleian in 2015; I was responsible for the annotation]

Chapters and articles (since 2002):

'The Literature of Italy in Byron's Poems of 1817–20', in Alan Rawes and Diego Saglia, Byron and Italy (Manchester University Press, forthcoming 2016 or 2017)

'The Greco-Roman Revival', in David Duff (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of British Romanticism (OUP, forthcoming 2016)

'The Anti-historicist Historicism of German Romantic Architecture', European Romantic Review, 26 (2015), 789–807

'The Theorization of Style', in Stefanie Fricke, Felicitas Meinert, and Katharina Pink (eds.), Romanticism and Knowledge (Trier: WVT, 2015), 73–86

'Remembering M. H. Abrams, 1912-2015', NASSR Newsletter, 24.1 (spring 2015), 4–5

'Symbolism, Imagism, and Hermeneutic Anxiety', Connotations: A Journal for Critical Debate, 23.1 (2013/14), 127–39 [on Ezra Pound's concept of the Image and its relation to the Romantic concept of the symbol]. An abridged version, 'The Poundian Image and the Romantic Symbol', appears in La Questione Romantica, n.s. 5 (2013 [published 2015]), 153–8

'Romanticism, the Temporalization of History, and the Historicization of Form', Modern Language Quarterly, 74 (2013), 363–89

Afterword to Helmut Hühn and James Vigus (eds.), Symbol and Intuition: Comparative Studies in Kantian and Romantic-Period Aesthetics (London: Legenda, 2013), 191–3

'Coleridge's Ecumenical Spinoza', in Beth Lord (ed.), Spinoza beyond Philosophy (Edinburgh Univ. Press, 2012), 188–207. Paperback edition, 2015. Abridged reprint in Romanticism and Victorianism on the Net, 61 (April 2012 [i.e. November 2013])

'Telling Stories about Romantic Theory', European Romantic Review, 23 (2012), 305–11

'Byron between Ariosto and Tasso', in Frederick Burwick and Paul Douglass (eds.), Dante and Italy in British Romanticism (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011), 39–53

'Ruins without a Past', Essays in Romanticism, 18 (2011), 7–27 [on imaginary and artificial ruins in literature and visual arts of the long eighteenth century]

'The Very Model of a Modern Epic Poem', European Romantic Review, 21 (2010), 589–600 [on Byron's Don Juan]. Reprinted in Thomas Pfau and Robert Mitchell (eds.), Romanticism and Modernity (New York: Routledge, 2011), chap. 10

'Coleridge on Allegory and Symbol' in Frederick Burwick (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Samuel Taylor Coleridge (OUP, 2009), 345–58. Paperback edition, 2012.

'Forward to Rome: The Life and Legacy of Andrea Palladio', The London Magazine, March/April 2009

'Coleridge's Most Unfortunate Borrowing from A. W. Schlegel' in Christoph Bode and Sebastian Domsch (eds.), British and European Romanticisms (Trier: WVT, 2007), 131–42

'Greek Myths, Christian Mysteries, and the Tautegorical Symbol', The Wordsworth Circle, 36 (2005), 6–8

'Northrop Frye's Fearful Symmetry', Essays in Criticism, 55 (2005), 159–72

Introduction to 'Opera and Nineteenth-Century Literature', guest-edited special issue of Romanticism on the Net, 34/35 (May/August 2004)

'Lucy, Lucia, and Locke', Romanticism on the Net, 34/35 (May/August 2004) [on Scott's Bride of Lammermoor and Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor]

'How Coleridge Was Wilder than Byron', Romanticism, 10 (2004), 144–57

'The Metaphysical Context of Frye's Monadology', in Jeffrey Donaldson and Alan Mendelson (eds.), Frye and the Word: Religious Contexts in the Writings of Northrop Frye (University of Toronto Press, 2004), 97–104

Seven articles in C. J. Murray (ed.), Encyclopedia of the Romantic Era, 1760–1850, 2 vols. (New York: Fitzroy Dearborn, 2004): 'Art and Classical Antiquity', 'Boullée, Étienne-Louis' (French architect), 'Jacobi, Friedrich Heinrich' (German philosopher and novelist), 'Klenze, Leo von' (German architect), 'Robinson, Henry Crabb' (English diarist and journalist), 'Schinkel, Karl Friedrich' (German architect and painter), 'Symbol and Allegory'

'Walter Benjamin's Unacknowledged Romanticism', Lingua Humanitatis, 2 (2002), 97–104

'When Is a Symbol Not a Symbol? Coleridge on the Eucharist', The Coleridge Bulletin, 20 (2002), 85–92

Broadcasts and blog posts:

'Byron: Judging and Judged', Oxford Scholary Editions Online, published 25 August 20015

Interview, 'From Radical Engraver to Canonical Poet: How Did William Blake's Reputation Change?', Oxford Arts Blog, University of Oxford, published 4 December 2014

'Incorporating Oxford Scholarly Editions Online into Undergraduate Teaching', Oxford Scholarly Editions Online, published 14 October 2013

'Snapshots in Time: Critical Editions and Changes in Editorial Practice', Oxford Scholarly Editions Online, published 31 July 2012

Audio slideshow on William Blake's Illustrations of the Book of Job, BBC News, published 19 May 2011

Radio interview about the Romantic symbol, KZSU FM, Stanford University, 8 Feb. 2011

Other Information:

Before coming to Oxford I had a tenured appointment in the departments of English and Comparative Literature at the University of Washington, Seattle. In winter 2011 I was a Visiting Professor of English at Stanford University.

Personal website profile

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Romantic and Eighteenth-Century Studies Oxford (online forum)

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