Dr Helen Thaventhiran, Robinson




Biographical Information

I'm a University Lecturer in Literature from 1830-present, with particular interests in twentieth-century literature, criticism, and the philosophy of language. After studying for a BA and PhD in Cambridge and for an MSt. in twentieth-century literature in Oxford, I held a Research Fellowship at Christ's College. From 2013, I have been a Fellow and Director of Studies in English at Robinson College. I'm Reviews Editor at the Cambridge Quarterly.

For the English Tripos, I teach for Part 1 Paper 1 (Practical Criticism and Critical Practice) and Papers 7a/b (English Literature and its Contexts, 1830-1945 / 1870 to the present). For Part II, I teach Papers: 1 (Practical Criticism and Critical Practice), 2 (Tragedy), 11 (Prose Forms: 1936-56, 12 (Contemporary Writing), 15 (Ethical Imagination), 16 (History and Theory of Literary Criticism).

Research Interests

Nineteenth-, twentieth- and twenty-first century literature, especially modernism. The history, theory, and practice of literary criticism. Intellectual history and philosophy. Contemporary critical prose and lyric. Early twentieth-century socialism. Dance, grace, gesture.

My current book project, Margins of Philosophy, offers an alternative history of twentieth-century philosophy of language as it encounters literature and literary criticism. Its central characters are Victoria Welby, C.S. Peirce, Vernon Lee, William James, Zora Neale Hurston, Alain Locke, Susan Stebbing, George Moore, Susanne Langer, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Margaret Masterman, Thomas Kuhn, Iris Murdoch and J.L. Austin.

Areas of Graduate Supervision

I teach for the MPhils in Modern and Contemporary Literature and Criticism and Culture and would be glad to hear from potential graduate students wishing to work on any of my research interests. Projects by recent and current PhD students include: prose rhythms; classical meters in English verse (1860s-1930s), notation and choreography (1950s-80s), performing grace in modernism, philosophies of the limit in Wittgenstein and Proust, the modernist poet-scholar.

Selected Publications


    William Empson’s The Structure of Complex Words and Related Writings, edited by Helen Thaventhiran & Stefan Collini (Oxford University Press, 2020).

    Radical Empiricists: meaning and modernist criticism (Oxford University Press, 2015). 



    'Passage Work', British Literature in Transition, 1900-1920 (forthcoming, 2021)

    ‘Feelings under the Microscope: new critical affect’, Cambridge Critical Concepts: Affect, ed. Alex Houen (Cambridge University Press, 2018)

    ‘The Literary Criticism of T.S. Eliot’, chapter in The Cambridge Companion to T.S. Eliot, new edition, ed. Jason Harding (Cambridge University Press, 2016).

    ‘Well-versed: Wittgenstein and Leavis read Empson’, chapter in Wittgenstein Reading, ed. Wolfgang Huemer and Garry Hagberg (De Gruyter, 2014). 

    ‘War Lords in the Republic of Letters: Empson and Richards among the Mandarins’, Cambridge Quarterly, 41.1, March 2012

    ‘Empson and the Orthodoxy of Paraphrase’, Essays in Criticism, 61.4, October 2011

     [Helen Crawforth], ‘Phantom Pentameters’, Essays in Criticism, 60.3, July 2010