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Musico-Literary studies

My PhD research is in musico-literary studies, part of the wider area of word and music studies, exploring the thematic use of classical music as a source of identity and survival in contemporary novels set during twentieth- and twenty-first-century conflict. I have wider interests in this area in the thematic use of music in novels as a form of metaphor or analogy to convey difficult concepts, such as identity and memory, while always being aware of the difficulty present when trying to include music in the silent written text.

It is thanks to George Eliot's Adam Bede that I took my path into the world of literature and music. When I read her description of a character's mood as "falling at once from the key of B with five sharps to the frank and congenial C", I began to wonder whether there existed more texts which included technical musical language in them, as simile and metaphor. Researching for my BA dissertation topic, I eventually settled primarily on the contemporary novel, a form which is impacted by recent technological developments and studies in its presentation and use of music, and my BA dissertation was titled 'Music, Identity, and the Self in Three Contemporary Novels: "Does it alter us more to be heard, or to hear? Is it better to have been loved, or to love?", focussing on Do Not Say We Have Nothing (2016) by Madeleine Thien, An Equal Music (1999) by Vikram Seth, and Cloud Atlas (2004) by David Mitchell.

During my PhD studies I have unearthed a long list of these novels which are thematically concerned with music, leading me to focus down on a sub-trend amongst these texts: a preoccupation with conflict. My current research considers how Western classical music (in its most general of definitions) is described and used metaphorically in a selection of contemporary novels, which currently include: Fugitive Pieces (1996) by Anne Michaels, Do Not Say We Have Nothing (2016) by Madeleine Thien, The Concert Ticket (2010) by Olga Grushin, The Noise of Time (2016) by Julian Barnes, A Life’s Music (2002) by Andreï Makine, Orfeo (2014) by Richard Powers, Bel Canto (2001) by Ann Patchett, and The Cellist of Sarajevo (2008) by Steven Galloway. My work is on-going at the moment, and I currently cross multiple disciplinary borders, as I consider elements of trauma theory, conflict transformation studies, ethical issues regarding the re-writing of war, sound studies, musicology, music philosophy, and literature, to name but a few. My focus remains primarily on the literary presentation of music in the contemporary novel, as I analyse how these novels present conflict and upheaval through their thematic use of music.


Dr David Ashurst (English Studies, Durham)

Dr Samuel Thomas (English Studies, Durham)

Professor Martyn Evans (Music Department, Durham)

Old Norse and Medieval Studies

I also have research experience in Old Norse literary studies, with a particular focus on translation choices, an area which I keep up alongside my PhD research.

While this may seem vastly different to my PhD research, the aspect that fascinates me about both music in literature and Old Norse studies is the attempt to translate a seemingly untranslatable concept. In musico-literary studies, this is the translation of music into the soundless text, while in Old Norse studies, this is the attempt to translate the Old Norse language into English while maintaining the cultural sense of the 'original'.

In 2018 I published my research on Guðrún Gjúkadóttir in the Poetic Edda, in which I compare twentieth- and twenty-first-century English translations of the poems alongside the Old Norse text, revealing new understandings to Guðrún's ambiguous character. Titled 'The Mediation and Re-creation of Guðrún Gjúkadóttir in English Translations of the Poetic Edda in the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries', an open-access PDF of this publication can be found here.