Dr Luke O'Sullivan

BA, MA (York), PhD (Durham)


My research focuses on the intellectual and literary cultures of sixteenth and seventeenth century France. After undergraduate and master’s degrees at the University of York, I completed a PhD at Durham on Seneca, Plutarch, and ‘doubtful writing’ in Montaigne’s Essais. In 2018, I was awarded a Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship, held at King’s College London. I joined St Hilda’s in 2020 as a Career Development Fellow.


I teach across the first year course in French literature and teach sixteenth and seventeenth century literature for FHS (Papers VII and X). I also teach translation into English.


My research interests lie principally in the relationships between literary writing and philosophical thinking. I am currently completing a book based on my doctoral dissertation in which I reassess Montaignian doubt and early modern scepticism by looking at two authors who seem, on the face of it, to have very little to do with philosophical uncertainty: Seneca and Plutarch. These ancients, both ‘dogmatists’, were seen by Montaigne to have ‘une forme d’escrire douteuse et irresolue’. It is in tracing this counterintuitive reception that I explore Montaigne’s own form not as a literary expression of ancient scepticism but as a distinct mode of doubtful thinking.

A second research project, for which I was awarded a Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship in 2018, considers the relationships between truth-telling and contradiction (of oneself and others, of common opinion and common sense) across the sixteenth century and into the seventeenth. This project focuses on major authors of the period (Rabelais, Ronsard, Montaigne, Pascal) as well as less well-known writers including Guillaume Bouchet (the subject of a forthcoming article) and various authors of ‘paradoxes’, ‘contredits’, and ‘étranges opinions’. I explore truth-telling’s social, affective, and literary dimensions to ask how these authors developed novel and counterintuitive conceptions of truth shaped by a period of dissemblance and dissensus.

More broadly, my research interests are grounded in an attention to early modern reading practices and classical imitation.


Doubtful Writing: Seneca and Plutarch in Montaigne’s Essais (in progress)

‘“Des responses et rencontres”: Frank Speech and Self-Knowledge in Guillaume Bouchet’s Serées’, Renaissance and Reformation/Renaissance et réforme, 43, 3 (2020), forthcoming.

‘“Un traict à la comparaison de ces couples”: Seneca’s Poets and Epicurean Senecanisms in Montaigne’s Essais’, Imitative Series and Clusters in Classical to Early Modern Literature, ed. by Colin Burrow, Stephen Harrison, Martin McLaughlin, and Elisabetta Tarantino (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2020), pp. 223-242.

‘In-Between Authorship in Montaigne’s Essais’, Early Modern French Studies, 41, 2 (2019), 106-125.

‘“Double et divers”: Writing Doubly in Montaigne’s Essais’, Modern Language Review, 112, 2 (2017), 320-340.