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School of English and Drama

Professor Catherine Maxwell, MA DPhil (Oxford)


Professor of Victorian Literature



I studied for my undergraduate and doctoral degrees at St Hugh’s College, Oxford. My doctoral thesis was titled ‘Looking and Perception in Nineteenth-century Poetry’, and imaginative vision has remained a key interest of mine ever since, informing two of my major monographs – The Female Sublime from Milton to Swinburne: Bearing Blindness (Manchester University Press, 2001) and Second Sight: The Visionary Imagination in Late Victorian Literature (Manchester University Press, 2008). After completing my D.Phil., I was a British Academy Post-doctoral Fellow at St Hugh’s before I joined Queen Mary in 1993 to teach Victorian literature.

My last project examined the role played by scent and perfume in Victorian literary culture, particularly the period 1860-1900. My monograph Scents and Sensibility: Perfume in Victorian Literary Culture (Oxford University Press, 2017) won the 2018 European Society for the Study of English (ESSE) award for Literatures in the English Language.

I am co-founder and co-editor (with Stefano Evangelista) of the MHRA Jewelled Tortoise series of scholarly editions of Aesthetic and Decadent literature. I am currently working on a new monograph The Flowers of Victorian Poetry, contracted to Oxford University Press.

Undergraduate Teaching

In 2023-4, I am teaching the following modules:

  • ESH279 Victorian Fictions (Convenor)
  • ESH385 Gender and Imagination in Victorian Poetry (Convenor)
  • ESH6083 Reading Late Victorian Literature (Convenor)

Postgraduate Teaching

In 2023-4 I will be teaching

  • ESH 7030: Aestheticism and Fin-de-Siècle Literature (Convenor)


Research Interests:

Victorian Literature, with particular reference to:

  • Aestheticism and Decadence
  • vision and visuality
  • gender and sexuality
  • Hellenism and Classical myth
  • the influence of Romanticism
  • perfume
  • plants and flowers

Recent and On-Going Research

In addition to the general interests listed above, I have specialist interests in the poet and critic Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837-1909) and the cosmopolitan critic and writer of fiction Vernon Lee (1856-1935). I have co-edited with Patricia Pulham Vernon Lee’s Hauntings and Other Fantastic Tales (Broadview Press, 2006) and a collection of essays Vernon Lee: Decadence, Ethics, Aesthetics (Palgrave Macmillan, 2006). My recent publications on Swinburne include Swinburne in the British Council series Writers and Their Work (Northcote House, 2006) and the collection Algernon Charles Swinburne: Unofficial Laureate (Manchester University Press, 2013), co-edited with Stefano Evangelista. 

In addition to articles on Swinburne and Vernon Lee, I have published essays on Shelley, Browning, Christina and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, George Eliot, Ruskin, Pater, Hardy, Theodore Watts-Dunton, Oscar Wilde, Arthur Symons, John Addington Symonds, and Rider Haggard. My book Scents and Sensibility: Perfume in Victorian Literary Culture was published by Oxford University Press in October 2017. This project was funded by a two-year Major Research Fellowship from the Leverhulme Trust for the period 2014-16.




Recent Articles

  • ’Swinburne, Pater, and the Cult of Strange Beauty’, 19: Interdisciplinary Studies in the Long Nineteenth Century, 34 (2023), 1-19. <

  • ‘Atossa to Pansie: Walter Pater, Edmund Gosse, and their Cats’, Studies in Walter Pater and Aestheticism 7 (2022), 1-27.

  • ‘“Unguent from a carven jar”: Odour and perfume in Arthur Machen’s The Hill of Dreams (1907)’, for The Fragrant and the Foul: The Smells and Senses of Antiquity in the Modern Imagination, ed. Adeline Grand-Clément and Charlotte Ribeyrol, Bloomsbury Studies in Classical Reception (London and New York: Bloomsbury 2022), pp. 27-51.

  • ‘“Bringing the perfume out of everything”: Vernon Lee, Scent and Memory’, Smell and Social Life: Aspects of English, French and German Literature (1880-1939), ed. Katharina Herold and Frank Krause. London German Studies 17 (Iudicium, 2021), pp. 178-196. Open access.

  • ‘Cultivating the Imagination: Plants and Flowers in Later Victorian Poetry’, for From Queen Anne to Queen Victoria: Readings in 18th and 19th Century British Literature and Culture, ed. Grazyna Bystydzienska and Emma Harris, Vol. 7 (University of Warsaw Press, 2021), pp. 113-38.

  • ‘Sarah Grand and Oscar Wilde: Decadence, Desire, and the Double Life’, Victorian Literature and Culture, Vol. 49, No. 4: Special Issue ‘Scales of Decadence’, guest ed. Dennis Denisoff (2021), pp. 731–751.

  • ‘Perfume and Olfaction’, The Oxford Handbook of Decadence, ed. Jane Desmarais and David Weir. Published online January 2021. 21 pages. See Print version: (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2022), pp. 525-42.

  • ‘Decadent Poetics after Swinburne’, Decadence: A Literary History, ed. Alex Murray (Cambridge University Press, 2020), pp. 183-200

  • ‘Michael Field’s Fragrant Imagination’, Michael Field: Decadent Moderns, ed. Sarah Parker and Ana Parejo Vadillo (Ohio University Press, 2019), pp. 151-66
  • ‘Vernon Lee's Handling of Words’, Thinking Through Style: Non-Fiction Prose of the Long Nineteenth Century, ed. Michael D. Hurley and Marcus Waithe (Oxford University Press, 2018),  pp. 282-297
  • ‘Michael Field, Death, and the Effigy’, Word and Image vol. 34. 1 (2018) 31-39
  •  ‘Carnal Flowers, Charnel Flowers: Perfume in the Decadent Literary Imagination’, Decadence and the Senses, ed. Jane Desmarais and Alice Condé (Cambridge: Legenda, 2017), pp. 32–50
  • ‘She and Shelley: Rider Haggard’s Romanticism’, Victorian Romantics Special Issue, La Questione Romantica 5: 1-2 (June-December 2013) ed. Stefano Evangelista and Carlotta Farese, 83-100. Published 2015
  • 'Scents and Sensibility: The Fragrance of Decadence', in Decadent Poetics: Literature and Form at the British Fin de Siècle, ed. Jason David Hall and Alex Murray (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), pp. 201-25
  • ‘Atmosphere and Absorption: Swinburne, Eliot, Drinkwater’, in Algernon Charles Swinburne: Unofficial Laureate, ed. C. H. Maxwell and S. Evangelista (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2013), pp. 213-231
  • ‘In the Artist's Studio’, in The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Poetry, ed. Matthew Bevis (Oxford: University Press, 2013), pp. 726-744
  • ‘Paterian Flair: Walter Pater and Scent’, The Pater Newsletter, 61/62 (2012), 21-42
  • ‘Algernon Charles Swinburne’, in The Cambridge Companion to the Pre-Raphaelites, ed. E. Prettejohn (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), pp. 236-249
  • ‘Shelley’s Alchemy, Pater’s Transformations’, in Legacies of Romanticism, ed. C. Casaliggi and P. March-Russell (London: Routledge, 2012), pp. 85-100
  • ‘Swinburne's Friendships with Women Writers’, in A. C. Swinburne and the Singing Word: New Perspectives on the Mature Work, ed. Y. Levin (Farnham and Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing, 2010), pp. 127-148
  • ‘Whistlerian Impressionism and the Venetian Variations of Vernon Lee, John Addington Symonds, and Arthur Symons’, Yearbook of English Studies, 40 (2010), 217-245
  • ‘Swinburne and Thackeray’s The Newcomes’, Victorian Poetry, 47 (2009), 733-746 doi:10.1353/vp.0.0088
  • ‘Sappho, Mary Wakefield, and Vernon Lee's “A Wicked Voice”’, Modern Language Review, 102 (2007), 960-974
  • ‘"It once should save as well as kill": Dante Gabriel Rossetti and the Feminine’, in Outsiders Looking in: The Rossettis Then and Now, ed. D. Clifford and L. Roussillon (London: Anthem Press, 2004), pp. 223-36

See also my Queen Mary Research Publications profile


I would welcome enquiries from potential doctoral students interested in any of the areas of my research.

I have recently supervised the following successful PhD projects:

  • Matthew Kibble, 'The ‘Still-Born Generation’: Decadence and Modernity in H.D.’s Fiction', co-supervised with Suzanne Raitt (1998)
  • Patricia Pulham, 'Grown-Up Toys: Aesthetic Forms and Transitional Objects in Vernon Lee’s Supernatural Tales' (2001)
  • Sarah Hussain, '"Said to be a Writer": Tradition, Gender, and Identity in the Poetry of Charlotte Mew' (2002)
  • Ana Garza, '"Art for the sake of life": The Critical Aesthetics of Vernon Lee' (2009)
  • Peter Bland Botham, '"That forgotten thing, the normal active man": W. B. Yeats, Modern Manliness, and the Middle-Class Male Body' (2012)
  • Sara Lyons, '"Life as the End of Life": A.C. Swinburne, Walter Pater, and the Aesthetics of Victorian Secularism' (2012)
  • Daichi Ishikawa, ‘For Curiosity’s Sake: British Aestheticism and Cosmopolitan Notions of Curiosity in Walter Pater, John Addington Symonds, and Lafcadio Hearn, 1864-1904’ (2018).
  • Melissa Tricoire, ‘The Victorian Remediation of Alfred Tennyson's Poetry: Word, Image, Aesthetics’ (2018)
  • Michael Craske: ‘Swinburne and Wagner: Poetry and Music’ (2020)
  • Ruth Hobley, ‘Fragmentation and the Feminine: Women’s Poetry, 1820-1921’ (2023)

Public Engagement

Online entries: ‘Algernon Charles Swinburne’ and ‘Theodore Watts-Dunton’, The Yellow Nineties Online, ed. Dennis Denisoff and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra  (2011).

Public Lecture: ‘Scents and Sensibility: The Fragrance of Decadence’, Dimbola Museum, Freshwater, Isle of Wight, 6 April 2013.

Online Book Review: ‘Smelling the Past’, on Past Scents: Historical Perspectives on Smell by Jonathan Reinarz, QM History of Emotions Blog (7 August 2014).

My transcription of the British Library MS of Swinburne’s unpublished poem ‘Pasiphae’ was also acknowledged as the basis for the short film and exhibition ‘Swinburne’s Pasiphae’ by the New York artist Mary Reid Kelley, which showed at the Pilar Corrias Gallery, London, 10 September-4 October 2014.

Panel Speaker in Q&A session, after screening of the independent film Sea Without Shore (dir. André Semenza and Fernanda Lippi), Barbican Cinema (5 March 2015). I was also credited in the film’s Acknowledgements (regarding the voicetrack, which features Swinburne’s poetry), and quoted in publicity material for the film.

Public Lecture: ‘Perfumed Melodies: Literary Scent Memory from Shakespeare to Michael Field’, Keats-Shelley House, Rome, 16 March 2015.

Online Exhibition Review: ‘The Fallen Woman’, The Foundling Museum, London, 25 September 2015–3 January 2016.
Miranda 12 (2016)    

Public Lecture: ‘Perfume in the Victorian Era’, ‘Remembrance of Perfumes Past’ Study Day, V&A, London, 19 March 2016.

Radio Interview with Patrick Geoghegan: ‘Best of May Books’, 27 May 2018, Talking History, Newstalk Radio. Podcast available at

Public Lecture: ‘Scents and Sensibility: Perfume and Literature in the Victorian Era’, 10 May 2018, Institute of Art and Olfaction, Los Angeles.

Internet article: ‘Sweet artifice’, Aeon (18 July 2018).

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