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University of Oxford Faculty of English

Womersley, David

Position: Thomas Warton Professor of English Literature; Fellow, St Catherine's College
College: St. Catherine's
Period/Subject: 18th Century

Email address:

Research Interests:

I have research interests in the ‘long eighteenth century’, and also to a lesser extent in the early modern period. My doctorate was on the historian Edward Gibbon, on whom I have written two monographs, and whose Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire I have edited for Penguin. I also have a long-standing interest in sixteenth-century historiography and historical drama, on which subject my monograph, Divinity and State, was published by OUP in 2010. I was a General Editor of the CUP ‘Complete Writings of Jonathan Swift’, for which I have edited the volume devoted to Gulliver’s Travels (CUP, 2012). Two current research projects are: first, a reading of English literature of the period 1760-1788 in the context of the public language of colonial tension and war; and second, a reading of Defoe's novels against the backdrop of his earlier involvement in public affairs.

I am the General Editor of the 'Thomas Hollis Library', published by Liberty Fund of Indianapolis.  This series publishes modern editions of a selection of the most important books sent by the Whig Thomas Hollis to the library of Harvard College, in order to nourish and direct the attachment of the colonists to liberty.  Volumes already published are: Locke, On Toleration; Molesworth, An Account of Denmark; and Nedham, The Excellencie of a Free State.  Volumes in preparation include: Montagu, Reflections on the  Rise and Fall of the Ancient Republics; John Brown, Estimate of the Manners and Principles of the Times and Other Writings; John Trenchard et al., Standing Army Pamphlets; Nevile, The Isle of Pines and Plato Redivivus.

I am involved in a collaboration with the University of Lausanne, focused on the rich holdings of the Archives Cantonales and the Archives de la Ville.

Teaching Areas:

I have recently given classes or lectures on the following subjects: ‘English Literature and the French Revolution’; ‘Jonathan Swift’; ‘Alexander Pope’; ‘Some Versions of Gothic’; ‘Shakespearean Tragedy’; ‘Elizabethan History Plays’; 'Defoe'; and 'Gulliver's Travels'. I have recently supervised graduates working in the following areas: Catholic Writing, 1660-1750; The Depiction of Law in the Novel of the 1790s; Philosophic Historiography in England and France; Science and Satire, 1660-1730; The Past / Present Topos in English Literature, 1680-1796; Shaftesbury and Manners; the English Deists; Literature and Economics in the Eighteenth Century; Defoe and the Civil War.

Recent Publications:

James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson (Penguin, 2008)

‘Swift’s Shapeshifting’, in Swift’s Travels: Eighteenth-Century British Satire and its Legacy, ed. N. Hudson and A. Santesso (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), pp. 108-23

‘Dean Swift Hears a Sermon: Robert Howard’s Ash Wednesday Sermon of 1725 and Gulliver’s Travels’, RES, 60 (2009), pp. 744-62

Divinity and State (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010)

‘ “Now deaf 1740”: Entrapment, Foreboding and Exorcism in Late Swift’, in Claude Rawson (ed.), Politics and Literature in the Age of Swift: English and Irish Perspectives (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), pp. 162-84

‘A Certain Freedom’ (A New Gibbon Manuscript), TLS, 17 August 2012

Gulliver's Travels (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012)

Other Information:

I read English at Trinity College, Cambridge before holding a Junior Research Fellowship at Pembroke College, Cambridge and then a Lecturership in the School of English at the University of Leeds. I was a Tutorial Fellow in English at Jesus College, Oxford from 1984 until 2002, when I became Thomas Warton Professor of English Literature and took up a fellowship at St. Catherine’s College.
I am a Fellow of the British Academy and of the Royal Historical Society.

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