Professor Robert Vilain

Modern Languages
Lecturer in German (and Professor of German and Comparative Literature at the University of Bristol)


MA, DPhil (Oxon)

Academic Background

I studied French and German at Christ Church in the 1980s, staying on to complete a DPhil in comparative literature. My first teaching position was at the University of Manchester (1990-1991); from there I moved to Royal Holloway, where I was promoted to Professor in 2003. In September 2010 I took up the Chair of German at the University of Bristol. From October 2003 to September 2006, I held a Leverhulme Trust Major Research Fellowship for work on the reciprocal influence of French and German Literature in the period between the Franco-Prussian War and the Annexation of the Rhineland. For the first term of 2004-2005, I held a Fellowship at the Columbia University Institute for Scholars at Reid Hall in Paris. I was Warden of Wills Hall at the University of Bristol between 2015 and 2018. In September 2021 I took up the position of Senior Tutor at St Hugh’s College, Oxford.

Undergraduate Teaching

I teach German language and German literature from c. 1750 to the present day, with a particular focus on the late 19th and 20th centuries and on poetry.

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 and the inter-relations of words and music in opera and song. Authors on whom I have particularly concentrated include Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Rainer Maria Rilke, Yvan Goll and Paul Valéry. I have co-edited the international journal Austrian Studies, was Germanic editor for the Modern Language Review, and was Co-Investigator on a major AHRC-funded project to edit the works of Arthur Schnitzler.

Publications include:

A selected list of publications can be viewed on the Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages website.


Apart from the usual cultural pursuits linked to my work – music, theatre, opera, travel and reading (especially crime fiction) – I am an enthusiastic cook with an enormous and ever-growing collection of cookbooks, ready to try out new recipes on unsuspecting guests. My wife and I have three wonderful children, Nathaniel and Imogen, twins born in January 2008, and Genevieve, born in August 2014.