Which book has had the biggest impact on you?
Can I give you two? The first is Virginia Woolf’s Orlando. I read it as a teenager – I think I was 16 – while on a family holiday and I was utterly blown away by it. Overnight, it changed the way I thought about storytelling, history, and character. For me, it’ll always be a summer book, a book that is summer. The second is T. J. Clark’s The Sight of Death, which I read about ten years ago. In it, Clark revisits the same two paintings of Nicholas Poussin day after day, recording on each occasion what he sees, whether for the first time or in a new way. It’s a book that concerns the nature of attention and the words we use to describe images, and it’s profoundly shaped my thinking.
What do you do in your spare time?
I’m a lifelong Man Utd fan and watch a lot of football. “Not football again, Daddy”, as my four-year-old daughter is fond of saying. I also love going to the theatre, and to art galleries and museums. But, to be honest, thanks to the aforementioned four-year-old, I don’t have much spare time these days!
Describe your ideal day.
A long lie in. Pancakes with strawberries and maple syrup for breakfast. A walk in the countryside (it’s a warm summer’s day, with a slight breeze) followed by a picnic lunch with friends. Then reading – and napping – in the shade of a tree through the afternoon. Finally, a show (or perhaps a seat at the Theatre of Dreams!) in the evening.
If you could live anywhere in the world, where would that be?
For the weather, southern California. For the art, Florence. But I might have to be boring and say London – e.g. Bloomsbury – because there’d be so much culture on my doorstep and I’d be close to friends and family.
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
An astronaut. I loved the idea of exploring space. But I could never be an astronaut: I’m a terrible coward.
Who were your childhood heroes?
Eric Cantona. The Ghostbusters.
What teacher had the greatest impact on you?
Dot Emm, who taught me English Lit at GCSE and then Theatre Studies at A-level. She took us to see so many wonderful shows. Shakespeare, Harold Pinter, Caryl Churchill, Conor McPherson, Mark Ravenhill, Foresight Theatre. I dedicated my first book to Dot because I owe my love of theatre to her – and my understanding that plays are for the stage, not the page.
Do you have pets?
No. I’m afraid I’m not an animal person at all.
Were you popular as a teenager?
No. To be honest, until sixth form I didn’t even like school. I did have friends but I found the complex social dynamics of it all – especially the expectation (from peers) that boys had to show themselves “men” – intensely stressful. I tried to keep my head down and avoid attracting attention. In that, I was largely successful.
What is your favourite music?
If we’re talking classical, Shostakovich and Vaughan Williams are up there, but above all I love choral music by the likes of Tallis and Byrd. If we’re talking popular, I’m a fan of the Australian synth-pop band Cut Copy. And I don’t mind a bit of the Spice Girls.
If you could have dinner with five famous people from history, who would they be?
Rembrandt. Aphra Behn. Ignatius Sancho. James Gillray. George Eliot. But ask me tomorrow and I’ll give you a different five!
Tell us an unusual fact about yourself.
I was once an extra in a Hollywood movie.
How would your friends describe you?
They’d say I have a very sweet tooth. I once hosted a “custard party”. I provided the custard, friends brought the puddings. Win.
What do you like most about your job? What do you like least?
Like: That I’m still a student: reading, exploring, and writing about the things that interest me. And that I get to teach young people who are full of ideas and determined to change the world. God knows, it needs to change.
Dislike: That most of my family really don’t have a clue what I do. They’re convinced I spend most of my life “on holiday”.
Why are we here?
I’m definitely the wrong person to ask. Try my four-year-old.
If you weren’t a member of the English Faculty, what would you be?
I’d like to say a Premier League footballer but, as my former five-a-side team-mates will tell you, my footballing skills are limited at best.
David Taylor is associate professor of English Literature, specializing in the literature and culture of the eighteenth century. He’s the author of Theatres of Opposition: Empire, Revolution, and Richard Brinsley Sheridan (Oxford, 2012) and The Politics of Parody: A Literary History of Caricature, 1760-1830 (Yale, 2018). He’s currently completing an edition of the plays of Joseph Addison as well as beginning work on a book that explores how concepts and practices of spectacle negotiate the relationship between text and image.