MA, DPhil (Oxon)

Academic background

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.

Undergraduate teaching

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.

Research interests

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.

Featured publications

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.