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You are here: FRIAS Fellows Fellows 2020/21 Dr. Joseph Harris

Dr. Joseph Harris

University of London,
French and Comparative Literature
External Senior Fellow
Marie S. Curie FCFP Fellow
September 2019 - July 2020

Room 02 009
Phone +49 (0) 761-203 97384
Fax +49 (0) 761-203 97451


After my undergraduate and postgraduate study at Trinity Hall, Cambridge (10/94-03/03), I spent three years as Fellow at St Catharine’s College, Cambridge (10/03-09/06). I then got a post in the School of Modern Languages, Literatures and Cultures (SMLLC) at Royal Holloway, University of London (RHUL; 09/06), where as of January 2015 I am currently Reader in Early Modern Studies. I hold various administrative positions at RHUL and beyond, including (at RHUL) Chair of Learning and Teaching Committee, Chair of Staff-Student Committee (2015-), and Student Experience and Learning Officer (2013-), and External Examiner at Kings College London and the University of Cambridge (2014-). I have also served on the committee of the Society for Seventeenth-Century French Studies as Conference Officer (2005-06; 2010-11) and Treasurer/Membership Secretary (2005-09). I have published widely on early modern French literature, especially drama; alongside my current research into death and violence, I am also interested in psychology and irrationality; reception and audience response; laughter; identification; gender, sexuality, and cross-dressing. I am currently co-editing two volumes of essays, one on ‘Anticipated Afterlives: Envisaging Posterity in Early Modern France’, the other called ‘Guilty Pleasures: Theater, Piety and Immorality in Seventeenth-Century France’. My most recent book, Inventing the Spectator, was ‘Commended’ by the Society for French Studies R. Gapper Prize committee, and was described as ‘required reading for students and scholars of French theatre, literary theory, and cultural history’ by Restoration & Eighteenth-Century Theatre Research. I am currently co-organising a comparative research network on ‘Violence and the Early Modern Stage’.

Selected Publications

  • Inventing the Spectator: Subjectivity and the Theatrical Experience in Early Modern France (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014)
  • Hidden Agendas: Cross-Dressing in Seventeenth-Century France, Biblio 17 (Tübingen: Gunter Narr, 2005)
  • ed., J.-F. Marmontel and C.-A. Demoustier, ‘Le Misanthrope corrigé’: Two Eighteenth-Century Sequels to Molière’s ‘Le Misanthrope’ (London: Modern Humanities Research Association: forthcoming, 2019)


The Misanthrope’s Progress: Hating Humanity in the Age of Reason

My project explores the developing status of misanthropy in the European literary and philosophical imagination from the late Renaissance to early Romanticism. Interweaving material from a range of sources (mostly English, French, German, and Italian), it addresses fictional representations of the misanthrope as literary figure (Shakespeare’s Timon of Athens, Molière’s Le Misanthrope, Schiller’s Der Menschenfeind) alongside ‘misanthropically’ critical theories of human nature and society (Pascal, Hobbes, La Rochefoucauld, Rousseau, Leopardi), in the light of theories of misanthropy from Plato to the present day. Intellectually, the period sees a shift from understanding society as containing the corruption and viciousness endemic to an irredeemably ‘fallen’ humanity (Machiavelli, Pascal, Hobbes) to a new, more Rousseauist, sense that society is itself what corrupts ‘natural’ human virtue. Yet as the period thus becomes increasingly critical of social practices and institutions, it remains uneasy with those who articulate such criticisms too starkly. This unease is often reflected in literary depictions of misanthropes. Earlier works like Timon of Athens, Le Misanthrope and Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels tend to support their protagonists’ negative assessment of human nature, but typically end up depicting the misanthrope’s self-imposed banishment from society. As the eighteenth century progresses, however, we find a greater attempt to redeem, revalorise, or rehabilitate the misanthrope, often neutralising in the process misanthropy’s radical potential as a mode of social critique.