Dr Rachel Bryan


  • Twentieth-Century Literature and Culture
  • Nineteenth-Century Realism
  • Literature and the Law
  • Extra-Legal Guilt
  • Henry James and Jamesian Afterlives
  • War Literature
  • Memory and Modern Narrative
  • Literature and Visual Culture

I work on and teach British and American literature of the nineteenth, twentieth and twenty-first centuries. My particular research interest concerns the writing of ‘aftermath’: literary texts that express the unique and challenging perspectives on selfhood and identity, personal and national history, made available to those who have lived through and beyond times of profound societal change. I am an Associate Fellow of the Higher Education Academy.

My first book, Twentieth Century Literature and the Aftermath of War (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, forthcoming in 2024), offers a long-overdue reconceptualization of the impact of modern mechanised warfare on the literary imagination. It does this by shedding light on a group of modern writers whose interest lay less in the shattering of faith and form that invigorated high modernist experimentation, than in those counterfactual modes of resistance deployed by individuals and nations in response to war and mass violence. Focusing on works by Henry James, Elizabeth Bowen, and Kazuo Ishiguro as case studies, the book offers an innovative study of the attention paid to such reparative, stabilising impulses in post-war writings from across the last century. In order fully understand the relationship between modern warfare and literary art, it contends, we must remain attentive to the subtly innovative qualities of texts whose modernity lies in their acknowledgement of the draw felt towards, and contested ethics of, consolatory counterfactuals.

I am currently working on two research projects. The first is co-editing (with Greg Zacharias) Henry James’s novel The Other House (1896) for The Cambridge Edition of the Complete Fiction of Henry James (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press). The second is an interdisciplinary research project exploring the writing of extra-legal guilt. Focusing on those dangerous feelings of collective and inherited guilt that Hannah Arendt described as ‘metaphorical’ in nature, my second monograph will explore how writers from across the nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first centuries sought to critique, supplement, or to uphold the assumptions about personhood, responsibility and culpability enshrined in legal discourse.

I work on and teach literature from across the nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first centuries. At present, I have particular interests in postwar writings, Henry James and Jamesian afterlives, psychological realism, and literature and the work of consolation. 

For the English Faculty in 2021-22, I co-convened the FHS Paper 6 'Writers and the Cinema' with Dr George Potts and delivered a lecture series, 'The Unlived Life in Twentieth Century Fiction', for students studying Prelims Papers 3 and 4. Since 2022, I have co-convened and taught the FHS Paper 6 'Tragedy' with Professor Laura Ashe. I am currently the Post-Doctoral Mentor for the MSt in English Language and Literature 1830-1914.

I welcome expressions of interest regarding BA and MSt dissertation supervision on topics related to my research. In recent years, I have supervised dissertations on a variety of modern writers, including Henry James, Eudora Welty, John Steinbeck, F Scott Fitzgerald, and Ernest Hemingway. 

I was brought up in Durham, where I attended Durham Johnston Comprehensive School. I completed my BA, MPhil, and PhD at Jesus College, Cambridge, and was a visiting student at Harvard. Since 2019, I have been a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow in English Literature at All Souls.