Dr Kathryn Murphy

Dr Kathryn MurphyFellow and Tutor in English Literature

Organising Tutor for English

Oriel College




I was an undergraduate at the University of Glasgow, where I studied Czech and English Literature. After spending a year teaching and studying in Berlin, I came to Oxford in 2004, for a Masters in English Literature 1550-1780, at Balliol College. I then wrote a doctoral thesis on Aristotle and seventeenth-century literature, and spent three years as a Junior Research Fellow at Jesus College. I moved to Oriel in 2010.

Research Interests

My research focuses on the literature and intellectual history of the seventeenth century, especially the relationship between literature and the rise of empiricism; prose style; non-fiction genres, especially the essay; the interpretation and representation of nature; and the relationship between literature and philosophy.

I am currently working on three main projects. The first is a book entitled The Tottering Universal: Metaphysical Prose in the Seventeenth Century. It examines how seventeenth-century writers engaged with what I call the anxiety of variety: the concern that the world is so perplexingly various, particular, and changeable that it is impossible to know it properly. I'm particularly interested in the literary ramifications of the generative tension between traditional Aristotelian styles of thinking, and new discourses of experience and experiment. It contains chapters on Michel de Montaigne, Francis Bacon, Robert Burton, Lancelot Andrewes, Thomas Browne, John Milton, Thomas Traherne, and Robert Boyle.

I am also involved in various editorial projects. I am preparing two scholarly editions for Oxford University Press, which complement the interests which inform my book: first, Francis Bacon’s Sylva Sylvarum (1626), which I am editing for the Oxford Francis Bacon with colleagues in Manchester and at the Warburg Institute. This crucial text both for Bacon and for the study of the rise of experiment and natural history in the seventeenth century has not been edited since the mid-nineteenth century. Secondly, I am in the early stages of work on an edition of Thomas Browne’s Urne-Buriall, Garden of Cyrus, Letter to a Friend, and Christian Morals, with Claire Preston, of Queen Mary, University of London. I am in the final stages of The Literary Essay, a volume of essays on the essay from Montaigne to the present, which I am editing with Thomas Karshan and which is forthcoming in 2016; and I have just begun work on The Penguin Book of Early Modern Prose.

I have a secondary interest in modern poetry and philosophy, and have published articles on Geoffrey Hill. In the longer term I am planning a book on poetry, scholasticism, and metaphysics, including chapters on Donne, Coleridge, Hopkins, Eliot, and Hill. I also write occasional reviews on poetry and Czech literature for the TLS and PN Review, and essays on art for Apollo


In college, I teach Papers 1 (Shakespeare), 3 (1550-1660), 4 (1660-1760), and 5 (1760-1830), as well as supervising dissertations in those periods. I also teach Classics and English Bridge Papers in Epic, Tragedy, and Comedy, and occasional classes on poetry, etymology, and stylistics.

Selected Publications


The Emergence of Impartiality, ed. with Anita Traninger (Leiden, Brill: 2013) 

A Man Very Well Studyed: New Contexts for Thomas Browne, ed. with Richard Todd (Leiden: Brill, 2008)

Journal Articles:

‘The Physician's Religion and salus populi: The Manuscript Circulation and Print Publication of Religio Medici’, Studies in Philology 111/4 (2014), 845-75

'Robert Burton and the Problems of Polymathy', Renaissance Studies 28/2 (2014), 279-97

'Thomas Traherne, Thomas Hobbes, and the Rhetoric of Realism', The Seventeeth Century 28/4 (2013), 419-39

‘Jesuits and Philosophasters: Robert Burton’s Response to the Gunpowder Plot’, Journal of the Northern Renaissance 1/1 (2009). See http://www.northernrenaissance.org/articles/Jesuits-and-Philosophasters-...

Book Chapters:

'Geoffrey Hill and Confession', in Geoffrey Hill: Essays on his Later Work, eds John Lyon and Peter McDonald (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 127-42.

‘The Anxiety of Variety: Knowledge and Experience in Montaigne, Burton, and Bacon’, in Fictions of Knowledge: Fact, Evidence, Doubt, ed. Yota Batsaki, Subha Mukherji, and Jan-Melissa Schramm (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011), 110-30.

‘Geoffrey Hill's Conversions’, in Geoffrey Hill and His Contexts, ed. Piers Pennington and Matthew Sperling (Oxford: Peter Lang, 2011), 61-80.

‘The Best Pillar of the Order of Sir Francis: Thomas Browne, Samuel Hartlib, and Communities in Learning’, in Murphy and Todd (eds.), A Man Very Well Studyed, 273-94.

‘A Likely Story: Plato’s Timaeus in The Garden of Cyrus’, in Sir Thomas Browne: The World Proposed, eds. Reid Barbour and Claire Preston (Oxford, 2008), 242-57.

Selected Reviews and Short Articles:

'Thomas Browne', 'Robert Boyle', and 'William Harvey', in The Blackwell Companion to Renaissance Literature, eds Alan Stewart, Rebecca Lemon, Nicholas McDowell, and Jennifer Richards (Oxford, 2011)

'In My Opinion, Having Read These Things', review of Geoffrey Hill, Collected Critical Writings, in PN Review 191 36/3 (2010), 18-21.

 ‘A Man of Excellent Parts: the manuscript readers of Thomas Browne’s Religio Medici’, Commentary, TLS 5492 (4 July 2008), 14-15.


I am keen to supervise research students in any of my areas of specialism: early modern prose literature, particularly in relationship to philosophy, science, or ideas of nature; the literary essay; late modernist poetry, especially Geoffrey Hill; connections between early modern and twentieth-century literature. I would welcome queries from potential students interested in these areas.  

Outreach and Schools

I am happy to speak to school pupils and teachers about studying English at Oxford. Any queries in this regard should be directed to the Outreach Officer.