Prof Robert W Jones

Prof Robert W Jones

Professor of Eighteenth Century Studies

+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 has concentrated on the inter-relationship between literature and politics in the eighteenth-century. The ambiguities of eighteenth-century conceptions of gender has enriched this work and provided a persistent point of departure and heuristic principle. 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), which have explored these ideas. My new work builds on this interest, but moves the focus towards different forms of political and theatrical performance. Sheridan is an abiding concern.

Together with Professor Martyn J Powell (History Department, Aberystwyth) I have embarked on a major editorial 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. 

Alongside the editorial project, I am 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 animating political and cultural contexts of late eighteenth-century Britain. 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 becomes the 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

“‘Grief Mingled with Deep Execrations”: Thomas Moore and the Death of Richard Brinsley Sheridan’ in Sarah McCleave and Brian Caraher eds., Thomas Moore and Romantic Inspiration: Poetry, Music and Politics, New York: Routledge, 2017, 215-30.

‘Principles, Prejudices and the Politics of James Macpherson’s Historical Writing’ in Dafydd Moore ed., James Macpherson and ‘Ossian’, Glasgow: Association for Scottish Literary Studies, 2017, 119-33.

‘Revised, Amended, and Licensed: What the Larpent Manuscripts Reveal’, Eighteenth Century Drama: Censorship, Society and the Stage, Adam Matthew Digital, 2016:


Recent Activities

‘Towards a Foxite Theatre: Performance and Political Association at Sheridan’s Drury Lane’ paper Presented to the Sociability and Democratic Practices in Great Britain 1760-1850, University Bordeaux Montaigne 5-6 October, 2017.

'Drury Lane Theatre: A Family-Run Business’ paper presented to the 48th ASECS Annual Meeting in Minneapolis, MN, 30 March-2 April, 2017.

‘Introducing Sheridan: Celebrity, Theatre, and Politics’ paper presented at ‘Richard Brinsley Sheridan: Satirist, Playwright, Orator’ Day School at Stoke and Staffordshire Record Office, Stafford, 18 March, 2017.

‘An Irish Proposition; or, why does “Manchester” appear in The School for Scandal?’ paper presented to the ‘Irish and the London Stage: Identity, Culture, and Politics, 1680-1830’, Trinity College, Dublin, 17-18 February, 2017.


Undergraduate Modules

Eighteenth-Century Literature

Literature of the Romantic Period

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 or have recently supervised students working on ‘Suicide and the Sentimental Tradition’, ‘Eighteenth-Century Slave Narratives and their Contemporary Re-Writings’, 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 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.