Corpus Christi College Oxford

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Dr David Russell

David Russell

Fellow and Tutor, Associate Professor (CUF) in English


Dr Russell came to Corpus in 2015, after holding positions as lecturer at King’s College London, fellow of the Society of Fellows in the Humanities at Columbia University, and fellow of the Mahindra Center for the Humanities at Harvard University. He obtained his PhD in English from Princeton University.


His research interests focus on the long nineteenth-century, and attend in particular to questions of style, aesthetics, ethics, politics and ideas in creative nonfiction prose. Dr Russell’s book, A Literary History of Tact: Sociability, Aesthetic Liberalism and the Essay Form, (forthcoming with Princeton University Press) identifies the development of an ethic and aesthetic of tact in nineteenth-century Britain. The meaning of tact travelled in this period from the realm of politesse, and the prerogative of an elite, to the field of politics and an everyday urban sociability. The project challenges readings of nineteenth-century sociability as an assertion of power relations, proposing instead that tact provided the basis of an ‘aesthetic liberalism’: a speculative and aesthetic response to the question of how people are to live together. In the essays of Matthew Arnold, George Eliot and Walter Pater, this liberalism demanded the freedom of a more just distribution of aesthetic experience - the "freedom to see and feel," in Pater's words - in critique of and complement to John Stuart Mill's freedom of procedural conflict and rational consensus. The book concludes with a study of the ways in which British psychoanalysis in the 20th century made use of the literature of tact and incorporated it into their clinical practice.

Currently, Dr Russell is working on a project called Learning from Experience, which is about education, the history of literary and cultural criticism, and how writers like John Ruskin, George Eliot and Alfred, Lord Tennyson sought to change their readers through the words of their essays, novels and poems. He is interested in a broad range of literary, cultural, queer, and psychoanalytic theory.


Dr Russell’s tutorial teaching covers the romantic period to the present, as well as theoretical approaches to literature. He lectures for the faculty across these fields, and he co-convenes the MSt in English, 1830-1914.

Selected Publications

A Literary History of Tact: Sociability, Aesthetic Liberalism and the Essay Form (Princeton University Press, 2018)

‘Matthew Arnold and the Idea of Criticism’, in Thinking Through Style: Non-Fiction Prose of the Long Nineteenth Century ed. M Waithe and M Hurley, (Oxford University Press, 2018)

‘Stupid Like Tennyson’, Raritan Vol. 35 No. 1 (2015)

‘Aesthetic Liberalism: John Stuart Mill as Essayist’, Victorian Studies Vol. 56 No.1 (Autumn 2013)

‘Teaching Tact: Matthew Arnold on Education’, Raritan Vol. 32 No. 3 (2013)

‘“Our Debt to Lamb”: The Romantic Essay and the Emergence of Tact,’ ELH Vol. 79 No. 1 (2012)


Updated 23/1/18

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