Thesis Title: "Unreal Wishes:" Negation and Epiphany in English Literature
Supervisor: Prof. Seamus Perry
Doctoral Research: In Western Christianity, 'epiphany' refers to the visit of the Magi to the Christ Child. Wordsworth’s transformations of life into beauty are the origins of modern literary epiphany. His "spots of time" are enigmatic suggestions of truth. Romantic literature, and much writing since, whether Keats or Hardy or Proust or Joyce, made of the profane epiphany the end of art. Since the late-eighteenth century, writers have used negation (inordinately, when compared to their 'classical' predecessors) at the most ecstatic moments of their work. From the "trackless field" of Wordsworth and the "unheard melodies" of Keats come Hardy's "unweeting way," Larkin's "unmolesting meadows" and the "Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is" of Wallace Stevens. When these poets have designs upon Romantic awe, they select a grammar that denies and obscures.
Through studies of Donne, Shakespeare and Milton, Keats, Hardy and Larkin, the thesis asks why the secular revelations of Romanticism are constructed in negative grammar. It investigates, too, whether Romantic negation indeed transports the reader to a place of wonder, or whether the neologistic quality of much negation (take Hardy's "unbe") is as finite and generative as Metaphysical conceit. The thesis applies such ideas to the construction of lyric and to theories of endings. Romantic conclusion seeks to free the reader into an imaginative state beyond the poem or the novel. Did this alter our tastes in endings? Did "Bid the soldiers shoot" become objectionable after Keats? The thesis approaches other generic and formal concerns, such as the development of the lyric paragraph, and it shows how negative epiphany infiltrated writing about Romanticism, by considering its presence in the canon of Romantic criticism.
-- Other book reviews, on writers such as Jose Eduardo Agualusa, Paul Kingsnorth and Ian Buruma, have appeared in Prospect and Literary Review
I am currently supervising an undergraduate dissertation on Lord Byron and the lyric. I also hold a PGCE and have extensive experience teaching in secondary schools. I work in adult education, as well, and have delivered over a hundred evening seminars on topics related to literature and cinema. This year, I gave ten-week courses on James James, on Leo Tolstoy, on English Literature 1660-1750 and on British and Japanese film.
You can find an online lecture, about 'Epiphanies in Literature,' here.