Ellen Nicholls


School of English

Research Student

  • MA in Nineteenth-century studies at the University of Sheffield
  • BA in English Literature at the University of Sheffield.
Research interests
  • John Keats
  • Romantic poetry
  • Medical humanities
  • New formalism

My thesis, entitled ‘The “Aching Pleasure[s]” of Keats’s Poetry’, explores the complex interdependence of pleasure and pain in the poetry and letters of John Keats.

As a medical student, surgeon’s dresser, and qualified apothecary, Keats’s engagement with pleasure and pain has often been viewed through the critical lens of the ‘physician-poet’ who uses language to ease suffering or ‘pour out a balm upon the world’ (The Fall of Hyperion, I, 201).

However, pleasure and pain also transcend the life of the body in Keats’s works, entering into the more obscure or ‘negatively capable’ (Letters: John Keats I, p. 193) space of thought and imagination.

My thesis considers how far Keats engages with, advances, and departs from a medical understanding of bodily experience by thinking about how poetry becomes the means by which Keats tests, explores, and experiments with the idea that pleasure and pain are intrinsically linked.

Research group

I co-founded and am currently running the University of Sheffield's Lyric Reading Group which is available to both staff and postgraduate students.

The group meets twice a month to discuss lyric poetry from a range of periods, with each session focusing on a specific poet's work. Get in touch with either myself or Dr Sophie Baldock (sophie.baldock@sheffield.ac.uk) if you would like to attend or are interested in leading a session.


  • Dr Madeleine Callaghan
  • Dr Katherine Ebury
Teaching activities
  • LIT108: Studying Poetry (Spring semester 2017)
  • LIT2000: Genre (Spring semester 2018)
  • Book review of Jeremy Davies’ monograph: Bodily Pain in Romantic Literature (Oxon: Routledge, 2014) for the online journal of the British Society for Literature and Science.
  • Conference paper: 'Tears and the Fluidity of the Keatsian Sonnet' — University of Sheffield Postgraduate Colloquium 2017, ‘Tensions’ (Sheffield)
  • Conference Paper: '"On Seeing the Elgin Marbles" and the "Gentle Luxury" of Keats’s Tears'— Keats Conference 2017 (London, Hampstead).
  • Conference Paper: '"[T]o Write, and Plunge into Abstract Images": Keats’s Escape from the Pains of the Sickroom'— Keats Conference 2016 (London, Hampstead).
  • Conference Paper: '"To Unperplex Bliss from its Neighbour Pain": Terror and Negative Capability in Christabel and Lamia'— Summer of 1816: Creativity and Turmoil (Sheffield).
  • Keats-Shelley Association of American Communications Fellow (2017-2018).