Biography

I studied for my undergraduate, master’s, and doctoral degrees at Oxford, with a year at Harvard as a Kennedy Scholar, before working as a Junior Research Fellow at Christ Church, Oxford, and a Leverhulme Post-Doctoral Research Fellow at Queen Mary, University of London. I joined UEA in 2011.

I teach and write on, mainly, modernism and post-1945 writing in Britain, Europe, and America. I also run our MA in Modern and Contemporary Writing. My particular interests, described in more detail below, include: Vladimir Nabokov; play, nonsense, and parody; the essay; modernism, the message, and anti-didacticism; and various aspects of the relationship between the creative and the critical. I’m especially interested in creative-critical PhD proposals which thoughtfully explore that relationship.

From 2018 – 2019 I served as the President of the International Vladimir Nabokov Society; I’m the editor of Nabokov’s Collected Poems (Penguin/ Knopf, 2012), the co-translator of his verse play, The Tragedy of Mister Morn (Penguin / Knopf, 2013), and the author of Vladimir Nabokov and the Art of Play (Oxford University Press, 2011). My work on Nabokov has been reviewed, among other places, in the TLS, the New York Review of Books, the New York Times, and the New Yorker.

My work on Nabokov and play has developed in various directions. In my teaching, it has led to a specialist third year module, Through the Looking-Glass: Nonsense and Modern Literature, and an MA module, Ludic Literature, through which I have developed an interest in playful teaching practices of parody, imitation, and transposition which hark back to the principle of ‘imitatio’ in Renaissance humanist education (this is how Shakespeare, for one, studied literature).

For my work developing these modes of creative-critical teaching I’ve been awarded a University Teaching Fellowship from 2020 - 2022. I’m currently writing about imitative pedagogy and about the linked question of what it might mean to call creative writing research. As part of these interests in the creative-critical I am on the board of the Beyond Criticism book series and edit the beyondcriticism website:

This interest in kinds of writing which unsettle the modern distinction between the creative and the critical, and which defy method, is also expressed in my work on the long tradition of the literary essay, which is very nearly the opposite of the methodical essays students now write at school and university. I am co-editor of On Essays: Montaigne to the Present (Oxford University Press, 2020), which is the most substantial book to date on the essay in Britain and America. I have also contributed a chapter, ‘What is an Essay? Thirteen Answers from Virginia Woolf’, and co-authored the introduction.

I am working on a second monograph on modernist writing, Undelivered Letters: Modern Literature and the Message. Through the metaphor of the impossible, interrupted, or undelivered letter, modernist writers asked what it would mean for a work of literature not to deliver a message. What does it mean for literature not to teach, and not even to ‘say’ anything? What happens to the treatment of desire, faith, childhood, conspiracy, and madness in the space of the undelivered letter? Key authors in this project are Joyce, Auden, Nabokov, Bellow, and Pynchon, though many others are touched upon.

I’ve also written articles and essays on a number of other subjects, including Ivan Bunin, ‘evolutionary criticism’, Wyndham Lewis’s portraits, John Updike as a humourist, and Virginia Woolf, and publish occasionally in the London Review of Books and the TLS

As well as my academic projects, I am working on an essayistic book intended for a broad audience, entitled City of Words, about forty words and their ambiguities in contemporary speech - a book superficially akin to Raymond Williams’s Keywords.

View graph of relations

ID: 121806