MA, DPhil (Oxon)
I studied French and German at Christ Church in the 1980s, staying on for a DPhil in comparative literature. My first teaching position was at the University of Manchester (1990–91); from there I moved to Royal Holloway, University of London, where I was promoted to Professor in 2003. In September 2010 I took up the Chair of German at the University of Bristol, where I was also Warden of Wills Hall (2015–18) and Director of the South, West, and Wales Doctoral Training Partnership (2020–21). I am Honorary Professor of German and Comparative Literature at Bristol. In 2021, I joined St Hugh’s as Fellow and Senior Tutor.
I have held a number of research Fellowships including a Leverhulme Trust Major Research Fellowship, a Fellowship at Columbia University’s Institute for Scholars at Reid Hall in Paris, and a Princeton University Library Special Collections Fellowship. I have co-edited the international journal Austrian Studies, was Germanic editor for the Modern Language Review, and was Co-Investigator on an AHRC-funded project to edit the works of Arthur Schnitzler. I am currently President of the UK Alexander von Humboldt Association.
I teach German language and German literature for Prelim, and for FHS I teach translation into English and a range of literary topics for Papers VIII (c. 1750-1950), X (notably Rilke, Mann, Heine, Hoffmann and Kleist), and XII (Modernist Poetry). I regularly supervise Paper XIV dissertations and link/bridge essays for students of German and English or History and EMEL.
My research interests are in German, French and Comparative Literature in the 19th and 20th centuries, with a particular focus on Franco-German literary relations, Austrian literature, classical reception, the interrelations of words and music in opera and song, and literature and the visual arts. Authors on whom I have particularly concentrated include Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Rainer Maria Rilke (whom I have also translated), Goethe, and Yvan Goll.
A selected list of publications can be viewed on the Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages website: https://www.mod-langs.ox.ac.uk/people/robert-vilain.
Other interests and activities
Apart from the usual cultural pursuits linked to my work – music, theatre, opera, travel and reading (especially crime fiction) – I am an enthusiastic cook, always ready to try out new recipes on unsuspecting guests.