William McKelvy

​Associate Professor of English
PhD, University of Virginia
research interests:
  • Nineteenth-century British literature and culture
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    • Washington University
    • CB 1122
    • One Brookings Dr.
    • St. Louis, MO 63130-4899
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    Professor McKelvy studies and teaches British literature of the long nineteenth century with particular interests in the fields of Literature and Religion, the History of Reading, and Literature and the Arts.

    William R. McKelvy's essays and reviews have appeared in English Literary History, Essays in Criticism, George Eliot-George Henry Lewes Studies, the Journal of British Studies, Nineteenth-Century Prose, Style, Victorian Institutes Journal, Victorian Literature and Culture, Victorian Poetry, and the Yearbook of English Studies. His award-winning, revisionary literary history The English Cult of Literature: devoted readers, 1774-1880 (2007) is widely recognized as an important contribution to an early stage of the current religious turn in nineteenth-century British cultural studies. Recent works in this scholarly field include “The Importance of Being Ezra: Canons and Conversions in The Moonstone” in ELH (2019) and the chapter “Empire, Race, and Nation” in The Cambridge Companion to Religion in Victorian Literary Culture (forthcoming, 2024). McKelvy is currently completing a monograph entitled Portraits of the Artist in the Age of Steam. Earlier publications drawn from that research include “Iconic Destiny and ‘The Lady of Shalott’: Living in a World of Images” and “The Woman in White and Graphic Sex” in Victorian Literature and Culture (2007).

    Since 2013, McKelvy has been Associate Editor of the Victorian Literature and Culture Series published by the University of Virginia Press, and in 2020 he started serving as Associate Editor of the widely subscribed Oxford Bibliographies: Victorian Literature.


    • Graduate Student Senate Special Recognition for Mentoring Award, 2007
    • Faculty Research Grant, Washington University, 2002
    • Dissertation Fellowship, Department of English, University of Virginia, Fall 1996
    • McGregor Scholarship, Saint Deiniol's Library, Wales, 1996
    • Arnstein Prize for Dissertation Research in Victorian Studies, 1995
    • DuPont Fellowship, University of Virginia, 1993-95
    • Winner, Memphis Magazine Fiction Writing Awards, 1989


    • L14 151: Literature Seminar for Freshmen: The Detective Fiction from Poe to Doyle
    • L14 462: Topics in English Literature II: Best Sellers and Baggy Monsters: Victorian Serial Fiction
    • L14 2152: Literature in English: Modern Texts and Contexts
    • L14 325: Selected English & American Writers: Charlotte Bronte
    • L14 418: Victorian Literature & Postcolonial Studies
    • L14 519: Seminar: Work of Art in the Age of Steam
    • L14 376: The Victorian Period
    The English Cult of Literature: Devoted Readers, 1774–1880 (Victorian Literature and Culture)

    The English Cult of Literature: Devoted Readers, 1774–1880 (Victorian Literature and Culture)

    What constitutes reading? This is the question William McKelvy asks in The English Cult of Literature. Is it a theory of interpretation or a physical activity, a process determined by hermeneutic destiny or by paper, ink, hands, and eyes? McKelvy seeks to transform the nineteenth-century field of "Religion and Literature" into "Reading and Religion," emphasizing both the material and the institutional contexts for each. In doing so, he hopes to recover the ways in which modern literary authority developed in dialogue with a politically reconfigured religious authority.The received wisdom has been that England’s literary tradition was modernity's most promising religion because the established forms of Christianity, wounded in the Enlightenment, inevitably gave up their hold on the imagination and on the political sphere.