Professor Wes Williams

Professor of French Literature and Tutor in Modern Languages (French)

Professor Wes Williams teaches French language and literature, with a particular focus on the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries; he also teaches European film, and literary theory.

Wes’s main research interests are in the field of Renaissance literature: the critical study of genre and of subjectivity; investigations into the politics of literature, experience, and the popular and professional cultures of the early modern period. His first book – Pilgrimage and Narrative in the French Renaissance: ‘The Undiscovered Country’, Clarendon Press (OUP, 1999) – was the first full-length study of the place of Christian pilgrimage in European Renaissance culture. An exploration of certain interlinking themes – the location, representation, and politics of the sacred, the experience of the everyday and the extraordinary, religious and secular travel – it concerns the literary formation of the subjective narrative voice, and its relationship to the rituals and practices of pilgrimage. He continues to explore, and to write about, travel narratives of various kinds across the period.

In 2012 he completed Monsters and their Meanings in Early Modern Culture; Mighty Magic, a book exploring the cultural meanings of monsters from, roughly, Rabelais to Racine (by way of Montaigne, Titian, Shakespeare and a few others).

He is a founder-member and Director of Oxford Amnesty Lectures.

In 2020, Wes became the Director of The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities (TORCH).

Wes was born in Rangoon, grew up in India, and moved in his early teens to Croydon. After a first degree in French and German at St John’s, Oxford he studied in Germany for two years, in Hamburg and in Berlin, before starting a DPhil in Renaissance French writing back at St John’s. He taught as a College Fellow at New College for fifteen years, before moving to a University Lectureship and Fellowship at St Edmund Hall at the start of 2006.

Alongside academic work, Wes writes and directs for the theatre. He has co-written and directed a number of solo shows in collaboration with Emily Woof (Sex II; Sex III; Going, going…), Nick Whitfield (Albert Camus, what’s the score?; Roadmovie), and Ed Gaughan (Radioplay). His most recent show is a double act, with Ed Gaughan and Andy Buckley, entitled Saints and Superheroes.

Pilgrimage and Narrative in the French Renaissance: ‘The Undiscovered Country’ , Clarendon Press (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999)

Translator, with Nicolas WrightFrank WedekindLulu, Classics in Translation (London: Nick Hern Books, 2001)

‘D’un ami l’autre: la figure du compagnon chez les pèlerins de Jérusalem’, “Le voyage en Europe à la Renaissance”, Romanic Review, 94:1-2 (2003), 93-114

Monsters and their Meanings in Early Modern Culture; Mighty Magic, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012)

‘For your eyes only: Corneille’s view of Andromeda’, Classical Philology [special number on Ecphrasis] (forthcoming)

”’Out of the frying pan …’: Curiosity, danger, and the poetics of witness in the Renaissance traveller’s tale’, in: Curiosity and Wonder from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment, eds. Robert Evans and Alex Marr (Ashgate, forthcoming)

Where next?

Modern Languages (and Joint Schools)

Undergraduate course page

View Subject


View Subject