Dr Rachel Bryan

BA, MA, MPhil, PhD
Post-Doctoral Research Fellow since 2019

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.