Peter Murphy

Peter Murphy

John Hawley Roberts Professor of English, Emeritus


My training at Yale and Johns Hopkins was not in English departments; it was more along Comp Lit lines, with some serious study of science added in. For me the study of literature has always been connected to the Study of Everything. Over the years at Williams, I have, like most members of the department, done a number of different things. I have, for one, slowly drifted back from Romanticism (ca. 1800) to the eighteenth century, in pursuit of the causes that produce Romanticism as their effects. I have often taught novels, including historical surveys of the novel, and have always been interested in all the many different storytelling modes, from old poems to comic books. I love thinking and talking about images and image-making. My recent writing has been about things that have come up in my Romanticism classes, an essay about an old grammar book, and a book about the life of a single poem, Thomas Wyatt’s “They Flee from Me,” as it finds its way from 1535 to our world, which took me sixteen years to write and which is coming out soon. I love thinking about forms, about time, and I love the Long View.

Areas of Expertise

the history of literary forms; the history of popular storytelling; comic strips, comic books, and contemporary graphic storytelling; the novel; British Romanticism

Scholarship/Creative Work

Selected essays

• “Language Mastery, Language Mystery” in Raritan 5.4 (1986)

• “Climbing Parnassus & Falling Off” in At the Limits of Romanticism: Essays in Cultural, Feminist, and Materialist Criticism, edited by Mary Favret and Nicola Watson (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1994)

• “Glory and Nothing: Byron Remembers Wordsworth” in Studies in Romanticism 50.4 (2011)

• “Sweet Trouble: Coleridge, Demoralized” in Modern Language Quarterly 77.4 (2016)

• “Good Sentences, Good Behavior” in Raritan (forthcoming)



• Poetry as an Occupation and an Art in Britain, 1760 – 1830 (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1993)

• They Flee From Me: The Long History of a Short Poem (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2019)

  • Dean of the College (1995 – 2000)
  • Chair of the English department (2007 – 2010)
  • Dean of Faculty (2011 – 2014)