Research Stream


Heather Kerr (Full term)†
The University of Adelaide

Varieties of Melancholy

'Varieties of Melancholy' explores pre-modern through to contemporary conceptualisations of melancholy and is part of a broader study of sympathy, sensibility and sentimentalism in literature.

Varieties of melancholy

 Allegorical Female Figure (Melancholia), by Antonio Maria Zanetti II, (circa 1760). From Varie pitture a fresco de'principali maestri veneziani ora per la prima volta con le stampe pubblicate (Frescoes by the Most Important Venetian Masters Published in Print for the First Time), plate 17. The Elisha Whittelsey Collection, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

‘Varieties of Melancholy’ examines the afterlives of pre-modern concepts such as ‘sympathy’ and ‘Social Love’. The project includes the study of mimetic and contagious  models of  the passions and affections in literature from the seventeenth to late-eighteenth centuries, and their continuities with contemporary ideas  about affect, emotion, mood and ‘atmosphere’.

This work also furthers the study of personification of the passions and affections in eighteenth century poetry. The latest facet involves a ‘natural history’ of ‘Social Love’, beginning with poetry that privileges Shaftesburyan ‘Philosophic Melancholy’ as an  epistemological  mood  (and prerequisite) of ‘Social Love’ in the early 1700s. This study will also consider the invocation of ‘Social Love’ in British Abolitionist poetry late in the century, a context in which ‘compassion’ seems neither ‘irresistible nor ‘universal’.

Publications and book chapters:

Kerr, H., D. Lemmings and R. Phiddian, eds. Passions, Sympathy and Print Culture: Public Opinion and Emotional Authenticity in Eighteenth-Century Britain. Palgrave Studies in the History of Emotions. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016.

Kerr, H. ‘Museal Moods and the Santos Museum of Economic Botany (Adelaide Botanical Garden)'. PAN: Philosophy Activism Nature 12 (2016): 143‒52.

Kerr, H.  ‘“Sociable” Tears in The Tempest’.  In Shakespeare and Emotions: Inheritances, Enactments, Legacies, edited by R.S. White, M. Houlahan and K. O’Loughlin, pp. 164‒72. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015.

Kerr, H. ‘Melancholy Botany: Charlotte Smith’s Bioregional Imaginary’. In The Bioregional Imagination: Literature, Ecology and Place, edited by T. Lynch, C. Glotfelty, K. Armbruster, pp.18199.  University of Georgia Press, 2012.

‘Petrarchan Melancholy and “Mimetic” forms in Nature’, forthcoming.