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Cambridge AHRC Doctoral Training Partnership - Student Profiles



I read English at Jesus College, Cambridge, graduating with Class I with Distinction in 2014. My Part II dissertation on limited vision and first person narration in Henry James’s short fiction won the 2014 Gillian and John Beer Prize. I returned to Cambridge from 2014-15 as a CHESS/Newton scholar to study the MPhil in Modern and Contemporary Literature, where I was additionally supported by Jesus College’s Albert Goh and Elizabeth Coupe Scholarship for graduate research in the humanities or social sciences. My MPhil thesis was on Henry James, Pragmatism and the Last Word. I also hold a Honarary Vice Chancellor’s Award at the University of Cambridge.    

My PhD looks at the optative - lives unlived, desires not enacted, what might been – as a psychological and syntactical force in modern and contemporary literature. Focusing both on Henry James’s optative, and its treatment by Rebecca West, Elizabeth Bowen and Kazuo Ishiguro, I shall investigate how these distinctly ‘Jamesian’ writers allow unfulfilled lives to stand for, intrude upon, and by negation inscribe, actual narrative events. My aim is to investigate the optative as a conception of identity, prose style and haunting which spans the modernist psychological novel from fin de siècle to contemporary fiction.

Other academic interests

Within the wilder field of literary modernism(s), I am interested in the prose stylings of Virginia Woolf, James Joyce and Ernest Hemingway, particularly as manifest in their short fiction.

I have also developed an interest in literature and the law, having written on Rebecca West, Hannah Arendt, the Nuremberg and Eichmann trials as an undergraduate, and a piece on illegitimacy and inheritence in Dickens’s Bleak House as part of my MPhil.

Department: Faculty of English
Supervisor: Dr Tamara Follini
College: Jesus
AHRC Subject Area: Literature
Title of Thesis: ‘The life one has not chosen to live’: Optative Prose and Unlived Lives from Henry James to Kazuo Ishiguro
 Rachel  Bryan