Community profiles

Robert Vilain

Robert Vilain

Professor of German
Department of German

It’s an extraordinary privilege to be working with and teaching German literature, reading and sharing writers who use German as powerfully and beautifully as Rilke, Hofmannsthal, Thomas Mann and Celan. Nevertheless, my research is usually as much comparatist as anything else, looking at a combination of French, German and to an extent, English literature, most often poetry, in the 19th and 20th centuries. I also have a strong interest in the work of Austrian writers. This is what I’ve done since I was a student, reading French and German as an undergraduate, then completing a doctorate in comparative literature, and going on to teach it, first in Manchester, then in London and now at Bristol, which is where I hope to stay.

“One of the features of Bristol’s School of Modern Languages that most attracted me is the extraordinary range of languages and disciplines represented in it – German, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Catalan, Czech and Russian, which students can study in a variety of combinations, with specialists in literature of all periods, history, film, theory, politics, cultural studies and much more. That means a lot to a comparatist. I’m inspired here by the breadth of expertise and the ability to collaborate with like-minded people. The arts and humanities used to be dominated by the ‘lone-scholar model’, but now research funding encourages collaboration, benefiting staff and students alike, and Bristol is an ideal place in which to exploit this trend to the full.

“Bristol is a big University, a strong University and it has a real national presence. I moved here last year because of its reputation, the quality of staff in the School and, just as importantly, because of the students. The students here are great – they work hard, they’re motivated and they’re high-achievers. And I work in what is widely regarded as the friendliest Department of German in the country, with colleagues who share my love of the subject and of teaching, and who are fabulously supportive of each other.”