Francesca Southerden

Fellow & Tutor in Italian; Professor of Italian

Professor Southerden’s main area of research is in medieval Italian literature, particularly the works of Dante and Petrarch, and the relationship between language and desire in lyric poetry.

Academic background

Francesca Southerden holds a BA (Honours) in Italian and French from Somerville College, Oxford and a D.Phil in Italian literature from Hertford College, Oxford. Her thesis considered the modern poet Vittorio Sereni’s relationship to the preceding lyric tradition and his reframing of a discourse of desire that goes back to Dante and Petrarch. Before joining Oxford she was Assistant Professor of Italian and Medieval-Renaissance Studies at Wellesley College, MA (2010-16) and Mary Ewart Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Somerville College (2007-10). She was made a full professor of the university in the 2023 Recognition of Distinction.


Francesca Southerden’s research focuses on the relationship between language and desire in the works of Dante and Petrarch. Her current book, Dante and Petrarch in the Garden of Language (forthcoming with Legenda), explores the significance of the garden for Dante and Petrarch’s thinking about language and desire and how the authors reimagine Eden in their poetic works. This book develops, within a medieval context, the concern with the relationship between desire, subjectivity, and poetic space that was at the heart of her first monograph, Landscapes of Desire in the Poetry of Vittorio Sereni (Oxford University Press, 2012). She is interested in the relationship between literature and critical theory, and in the concept of lyric from the Middle Ages to the present day.


Francesca Southerden teaches a broad range of topics within medieval Italian literature. She is interested in hearing from graduate students who would like to work on thirteenth- or fourteenth century Italian literature and culture, especially Dante, Petrarch and the early lyric tradition. She is also happy to supervise projects with an interdisciplinary focus within medieval Italian literature.

In addition to being Professor of Medieval Italian at the University of Oxford, and Fellow of Somerville College, Professor Southerden holds the post of Lecturer in Italian at St Catherine’s College and at Lady Margaret Hall. Prior to Oxford, she held the post of Assistant Professor of Italian and Medieval-Renaissance Studies at Wellesley College, MA (2010-2016).

A list of publications can be found on Professor Southerden’s departmental page.



Landscapes of Desire in the Poetry of Vittorio Sereni (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012).

Co-authored books

The Possibiities of Lyric: Reading Petrarch in Dialogue, with an Epilogue by Antonella Anedda Angioy (Berlin: ICI Berlin Press, 2020), co-authored with Manuele Gragnolati

Co-edited books

The Oxford Handbook of Dante, co-edited with Manuele Gragnolati and Elena Lombardi (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2021)

Desire in Dante and the Middle Ages, co-edited with Manuele Gragnolati, Tristan Kay, and Elena Lombardi (Oxford: Legenda, 2012).

Articles and Chapters in Books

‘The Art of Rambling: Errant Thoughts and Entangled Passions in Petrarch’s “Ascent of Mont Ventoux” (Familiares IV,1) and RVF 129’, in Medieval Thought Experiments: Poetry and Hypothesis in Europe, 1100–1500, ed. by Philip Knox, Jonathan Morton, and Daniel Reeve. Forthcoming.

‘Faith’s Embrace: Paradiso 24’, in California Lectura Dantis: Paradiso, ed. by Anthony Oldcorn and Charles Ross (Berkeley: University of California Press). Forthcoming.

‘From Paradox to Exclusivity: Dante’s and Petrarch’s Lyrical Eschatologies’, co-authored with Prof. Manuele Gragnolati, in The Unity of Knowledge in the Pre-Modern World: Petrarch and Boccaccio between the Middle Ages and Renaissance, ed. by Igor Candido (Berlin: De Gruyter). Forthcoming.

‘Vittorio Sereni’, entry for The Literary Encyclopedia ( Forthcoming.

‘Between Autobiography and Apocalypse: The Double Subject of Polemic in Petrarch’s Liber sine nomine and Rerum vulgarium fragmenta’, in Polemic: Language as Violence in Medieval and Early Modern Discourse, ed. by Almut Suerbaum and others (London: Ashgate, 2015), pp. 17-42.

‘The Ghost of a Garden: Seeds of Discourse and Desire in Petrarch’s Triumphus mortis II’, Le tre corone: Rivista internazionale di studi su Dante, Petrarca, Boccaccio, I, 2014, 131-52.

‘Desire as a Dead Letter: A Reading of Petrarch’s RVF 125’, in Desire in Dante and the Middle Ages, pp. 185-207.

‘Introduction: Transforming Desire’, co-authored with Gragnolati, Kay, and Lombardi, in Desire in Dante and the Middle Ages, pp. 1-11.

‘“Per-tras-versioni” dantesche: Post-Paradisiacal Constellations in the Poetry of Vittorio Sereni and Andrea Zanzotto’, in Metamorphosing Dante: Appropriations, Manipulations and Rewritings in the Twentieth and Twenty-first Centuries, ed. by Fabio Camilletti and others (Berlin; Vienna: Verlag Turia und Kant, 2010), pp. 153-74.

‘Lost for Words: Recuperating Melancholy Subjectivity in Dante’s Eden’, in Dante’s Plurilingualism: Authority, Knowledge, Subjectivity, ed. by Sara Fortuna and others (Oxford: Legenda, 2010), pp. 193-210.

‘Performative Desires: Sereni’s Re-staging of Dante and Petrarch’, in Aspects of the Performative in Medieval Culture, ed. by Manuele Gragnolati and Almut Suerbaum (Berlin; New York: De Gruyter, 2010), pp. 165-96.

‘Dialogo col paesaggio’, in Luino e gli immediati dintorni: Geografie poetiche di Vittorio Sereni (Varese: Insubria University Press, 2010).

Where Next?