Dr Robert W Jones

Senior Lecturer in English Literature

+44(0) 113 343 4747

Summary: My work examines the inter-relationship between literature and politics in the long eighteenth-century. I have particular interests in the theatrical and political career of Richard Brinsley Sheridan.

Research Interests

My research focuses on the inter-relationship between literature and politics in the long eighteenth-century (1660-1830). Gender has also been a persistent focus. I have written two books, Gender and the Formation of Taste in Eighteenth-Century Britain: The Analysis of Beauty (Cambridge University Press, 1998) and Literature, Gender and Politics in Britain during the War for America (Cambridge University Press, 2011)

Together with Professor Martyn J Powell (History Department, Aberystwyth) I have recently embarked on a major new project, ‘The Political Work of Richard Brinsley Sheridan’, which will culminate in an edition of his political speeches to be published by Oxford University Press in print and on-line. Sheridan was one of the House of Commons’ most engaging and politically astute speakers, intervening regularly on contentious issues including imperial governance, press freedom, the French Revolution and prison reform. Newspapers printed lengthy extracts from his speeches, clearly aware that his verbal skills as well as his political acuity made for good copy. Sheridan was therefore prominent not only in parliament, but on the pages of the morning and evening papers. Sheridan was more than a dazzling orator, he was also the chief propagandist and political operator of the Foxite Whigs, a manipulator of the press, and the sometime controller of radicals and mavericks. Perhaps alone amongst the Foxites Sheridan could connect Westminster politics with the wider culture of radical protest, often addressing rallies in taverns and on hustings. He was throughout the MP for Stafford (for 26 years) and later for Westminster and Ilchester. We shall investigate how Sheridan interacted with his constituents and how he came to represent them. All three aspects of his political career merit further study. Our work will be funded by a generous Leverhulme Trust Project Grant (RPG-2016-106), awarded in March 2016. 

I am also writing a book length study to which I have given the title The Theatre of Richard Brinsley Sheridan: Drury Lane, Politics and Performance 1775-1787. The book examines Sheridan's most famous plays - The Rivals, The School for Scandal and The Critic – placing them within the political and cultural context of the late eighteenth-century. The book is not solely a single-author study, however. I equally interested in the processes by which a play was produced, not just on its first performance but as it claimed a place in the repertory. The technical aspects of theatre are just as important. Casting, staging and the practice of rehearsals all played a role in the creation of an effective production. Sheridan did not work alone but relied on a variety of co-workers, including actors, scene designers, musicians and prompters, all of whom helped shape how the theatre developed its repertoire. In this way The Theatre of Richard Brinsley Sheridan will become a study of a creative institution, Drury Lane Theatre. 

As part of my research on Sheridan I have been awarded an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Fellowship at the Huntington Library in 2009, a Katharine F. Pantzer Fellowship in Descriptive Bibliography at the Houghton Library, Harvard (2010), and a short-term fellowship at the Folger Shakespeare Library (2010).


Recent and Forthcoming Publications

‘Revised, Amended, and Licensed: What the Larpent Manuscripts Reveal’, Eighteenth Century Drama: Censorship, Society and the Stage, Adam Matthew Digital, 2016: http://www.eighteenthcenturydrama.amdigital.co.uk/Explore/Essays/Jones

‘Texts, Tools and Things: An Approach to Manuscripts of Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s The School for Scandal’, Review of English Studies, 66, 276 (2015), 723-43. 

‘Sir Joshua Reynolds’ in The Encyclopaedia of British Literature 1660-1789 edited by Jack Lynch and Gary Day, Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2015, III, 1024-28.

“‘Unfit to Serve’”: Honour, Masculinity and the Fate of Lord George Sackville’ in Frans De Bruyn and Shaun Regan eds, The Culture of the Seven Years’ War: Empire, Identity, and the Arts, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2014, 213-34.


Recent Activities

‘Editing Sheridan: Problems, Pitfalls and Potential’ paper presented to the ‘Sheridan, Theatre and Public Opinion Conference’ at the Centre for Eighteenth-Century Studies, University of York, 17-18 June, 2016

‘Sheridan, Speech and the Limits of Art’ paper presented to the ‘Speaking in Parliament: History, Politics, Rhetoric’, at Queen Mary, University of London, 6-7 April, 2016

“‘Thy Last Memorial to the Age”: Byron, Sheridan and Regency Politics’ paper presented to the Byron and the Regency: An International Conference, Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution, 3-4 December, 2015

‘Byron, Moore and the Death of Sheridan’ paper presented to the Romantic Imprints – BARS Conference, 16-19 July, 2015



Undergraduate Modules

Eighteenth-Century Literature

Sex and Suffering in in Eighteenth-Century Narratives

Postgraduate Modules
The Literature of Crisis: Politics and Gender in 1790s Britain

PhD Supervision

I am currently supervising students work on ‘Suicide and the Sentimental Tradition’ and ‘Newtonianism and Literature’.

I would be happy to supervise dissertations or PhD thesis on almost all aspects of eighteenth-century literature and culture, though I have a special interest in politics, theatre, and gendered approaches to the period. I also teach on the Romantic Literature and Culture MA programme, and would be pleased to hear from anyone who is thinking about enrolling on that scheme.