Jonathan Coleman Williams

Jonathan C. Williams (PhD, English, University of Maryland, 2016) specializes in eighteenth-century and Romantic British literature, and has taught a range of courses, including on the long eighteenth century, Romanticism, the early modern period, the medieval period, the history of the novel, Milton, and Shakespeare. His current book project is titled Melancholy’s Wake: Feeling and Social Life, Burton to Keats, and argues that, for eighteenth-century writers such as Daniel Defoe, James Thomson, Thomas Gray, Samuel Johnson, and William Cowper, the feeling of melancholy presented the most forceful way of talking about some of the contingencies associated with the emergence of sociability, global commerce, consumer culture, and print capitalism. For the writers that this book examines, melancholic feeling incorporated the language of both the depressive and the genial, but it was also more capacious than either of those categories might be on their own. This definitional capaciousness afforded melancholy a wide range of literary significance: it was a figure for the alienating character of modern life; for the slippage between the categories of the personal, the historical, the sociopolitical, and the cosmological; and for the compensatory work of literary expression. An attention to melancholic expression in the eighteenth century, this project argues, has implications for critical understandings of the vexed connections in the period between the embodied self and the historical present it inhabits.

He is also beginning work on a second book project about the concept of futurity in pre-Romantic and Romantic British poetry, and about how this concept emerges out of the tension between grammar and rhetoric that poetry evokes. This project, which focuses on the poetry of William Collins, Thomas Gray, William Wordsworth, Charlotte Smith, John Keats, and others, suggests that poetry unfolds a model of rhetorical reading that is not mechanical or retrograde (descriptors often associated with rhetorical reading and its most famous advocate, Paul de Man), but is instead the basis of spiritual knowledge and political enthusiasm.


Selected publications

“Melancholy’s Ends: Thomson’s Reveries.” Criticism: A Quarterly for Literature and the Arts 64.1 (2022): 53-76.

“Thomas Gray’s Elegy and the Politics of Memorialization.” Studies in English Literature 1500-1900 58.3 (2018): 653-72.

“Deathly Sentimentalism: Sarah Fielding, Henry Mackenzie.” Eighteenth-Century Fiction 30.2 (2018): 175-93.

“Happy Violence: Bentley, Lucretius, and the Prehistory of Freethinking.” Restoration: Studies in English Literary Culture, 1660-1700 38.1 (2014): 61-80.