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Ray Stephanson

Ray Stephanson

B.A. (Saskatchewan), M.A., Ph.D. (McMaster)

Professor Emeritus


Keywords / Tags

  • 18th-Century Literature and Culture
  • 18th-Century Literature and Reproductive Biology
  • 18th-Century Literature and the History of Science
  • 18th-Century Literature and the History of Sexuality
  • 18th-Century Science Fiction

Raymond Stephanson studies eighteenth-century literature and culture, with a particular interest in the interdisciplinary aspects of literature and sexuality, science, medicine, and reproductive biology. His current work is a study of the origins of science fiction in the mid-eighteenth century.

He has published essays on Alexander Pope, Daniel Defoe, Henry Fielding, Samuel Richardson, Laurence Sterne, Tobias Smollett, and Elizabethan prose fiction. Recent articles have investigated the conjunction of reproductive biology and 18th-century culture. His book, The Yard of Wit: Male Creativity and Sexuality, 1650-1750 (2004), studies the function of reproductive tropes as they were widely used in literary and non-literary representations of male creativity.

An active musician, his interest in the history of reproductive biology has also informed musical projects that render the earliest sounds and rhythms of the species as musical compositions. (See Artistic Works).

Teaching & Supervision

Upcoming undergraduate courses are posted annually on the Department of English website at (click on “Undergraduate Students”). My senior undergraduate courses focus on aspects of Restoration and Eighteenth-Century British Literature.


A note about graduate student supervision: I am happy to supervise M.A. and Ph.D. students who wish to pursue literary or cultural studies projects in the following areas: poetry to 1760 (especially Alexander Pope); fiction (especially Behn, Defoe, Haywood, Fielding, or Smollett); topics in Restoration and Eighteenth-Century satire; Restoration and Eighteenth-Century science fiction; the life and works of Laurence Sterne; the histories of sex, gender, and deviance for the period; the conjunction of literature, science, and medicine; reproductive biology and eighteenth-century culture; Restoration and eighteenth-century topics requiring co-supervision. Prospective students are invited to e-mail me about their interests.


The next grad seminar I will be teaching is English 803.3 Topics in Literary and Cultural History: Literature and Science in the Long Eighteenth Century (January-April 2012, Wednesdays, 1:00 pm). Here’s the blurb: That century-long phenomenon usually called The Scientific Revolution has a huge impact on the literary scene, and the Literary also has significant influence on how the new scientific investigations narrate themselves. This research seminar explores the intersection of the histories of literature and science for the period 1660-1818, with focus on selected topics: the new empiricism and the Royal Society (Thomas Sprat, Jonathan Swift, Philosophical Transactions); the new optics (Robert Hooke, Margaret Cavendish); the new science of mind and body (Thomas Willis, John Locke); science and religion (Joseph Addison, William Cowper); plague and fears of contagion (Daniel Defoe, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu); the new cosmology (Sir Isaac Newton, Alexander Pope); reproduction and the new embryology (Aristotle's Master-Piece, Jane Sharp, Laurence Sterne); and the rise of science fiction itself (The Man-Plant, Shelley’s 1818 Frankenstein). Using selected readings which group the literary and scientific, we will examine the ways in which the “new” science can be understood in relation to literary history, and how literary developments also shape cultural perceptions of the scientific.

Honours, Awards & Distinctions (Most Recent)

  • American Society for 18th-Century Studies, awarded by McMaster University Library, August 1, 2012
  • Boydston Essay Prize, awarded by The Association for Documentary Editing (United States of America), November 1, 2007
  • American Society for 18th-Century Studies, awarded by McMaster University Library, October 1, 2004
  • American Society for 18th-Century Studies, awarded by McMaster University Library, May 1, 1994
  • Short Term Fellowship, awarded by William Andrews Clark Library, Los Angeles (United States of America), February 1, 1993
  • Short Term Fellowship, awarded by William Andrews Clark Library (United States of America), July 1, 1992
  • American Society for 18th Century Studies, awarded by William Andrews Clark Memorial Library, Los Angeles (United States of America), July 1, 1984


Most of my research and publications in the past decade have been about the interdisciplinary conjunctions of eighteenth-century reproductive biology and eighteeth-century literature and culture.  A book, articles, graduate student supervision, graduate teaching, curated art exhibitions at the Diefenbaker Center and at the Snelgrove gallery, a President's SSHRC grant, a Saskatchewan Arts Board Grant, and many conference presentations have all been part of my larger research and artistic interest in the ways that reproductive biology and its history have informed culture both in the past and now.

I am curently working on two books. The first is tentatively titled The Man-Plant: Ectogenesis and the Birth of Science Fiction in the Mid-Eighteenth Century. The second is an edited collection of essays on reproduction in the "long" eighteenth century.

Publications (Most Recent)

  • Stephanson, R. "Tristram Shandy and the Art of Conception." In Vital Matters: Eighteenth-Century Views of Conception, Life, and Death, edited by Helen Deutsch and Mary Terrall, 93-108. Toronto, Ontario: University of Toronto Press, 2012.
  • Stephanson, R. "The Epistemological Challenge of Nashe's The Unfortunate Traveller." In Thomas Nashe, edited by Georgia Brown, 553-548. : Ashgate, 2011.
  • Stephanson, R, & Pierson, Roger. "Special Issue on 'Imagining Reproduction in Science and History'." Journal of Medical Humanities 31, 1 (2010): 90 pp.
  • Stephanson, R, & Pierson, Roger. "Imagining Reproduction in Science and History." Journal of Medical Humanities 31, 1 (2010): 1-9.
  • Stephanson, R. "Letters of Mr. Alexander Pope and the Curious Case of Modern Scholarship and the Vanishing Text." Eighteenth-Century Life 31, 1 (2007): 1-21.
  • Stephanson, R. The Yard of Wit: Male Creativity and Sexuality, 1650-1750. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004.
  • Stephanson, R. "The Symbolic Structure of 18t-Century Male Creativity: Pregnant Men, Brain-Wombs, and Female Muses (With Some Comments on Pope's Dunciad)." Studies in Eighteenth-Century Culture 27 (1998): 103-130.
  • Stephanson, R. "'Epicoene Friendship': Understanding Male Friendship in the Early 18th Century, With Some Speculations About Pope." The Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation 38 (1997): 151-170.
  • Stephanson, R. "Perilous Crossings and Borders: G. S. Rousseau and the Anthropology of Eighteenth-Century Culture." University of Toronto Quarterly 62, 3 (1993): 388-400.
  • Stephanson, R. "'Silenc'd by Authority' in Joseph Andrews: Power, Submission, and Mutuality in 'The History of Two Friends'." Studies in the Novel 24, 1 (1992): 1-12.
  • Stephanson, R. "The Love Song of Young Alexander Pope: Allusion and Sexual Displacement in the Pastorals." English Studies in Canada 17, 1 (1991): 21-35.
  • Stephanson, R. "The (Non)Sense of an Ending: Subversive Allusion and Thematic Discontent in Roderick Random." Eighteenth-Century Fiction 1, 2 (1989): 103-118.

Artistic Works

In June 2009, I was awarded a Saskatchewan Arts Board grant for a music project entitled "Baby Talk."  Completed in January 2011. "Baby Talk" is an electroacoustic project using data and audio files collected from Doppler ultrasound and post-natal infants to compose and record a series of eight musical pieces with musicians that in different ways capture the aural and rhythmical qualities that emanate from us before we can speak.  The master CD that I produced offers a dramatic instance of how we literally and physically embody sound, rhythm, and the potential for musicality at our earliest phase of development.  The underlying assumption of the project is that the natural sounds emanating from pre- and post-natal humans are in themselves worthy sources of musical treatment.