Professor Max Saunders
Professor of English: Fellow of the English Association
Director of the Arts & Humanities Research Insitute (AHRI)
BA (Cambridge), AM (Harvard), PhD (Cambridge)
Tel +44 (0)20 7848 2342
Address Department of English
King's College London
London WC2R 2LS
I am primarily a literary critic, specialising in the 19th and 20th centuries, and especially in turn-of-the-century and Modernist fiction, criticism, and poetry.
The three main strands of my current and projected research, which frequently intertwine, are:
The development of Modernist writing; in particular the literary networks associated with Ford Madox Ford, and the relation between Modernism and the First World War;
Life-Writing, with a particular emphasis on the relation between auto/biography and fiction from 1870-1930;
Literary Impressionism and its relation to Modernism.
Ford, Modernism and the First World War
Ford Madox Ford still ranks as one of the most under-researched of the major Modernist writers. Part of the fascination of working on my critical biography Ford Madox Ford: A Dual Life, 2 vols (OUP, 1996) was in exploring his role in three of the most significant Modernist groupings. At the turn-of-the-century he lived on the Romney Marsh on the Kent/Sussex borders, befriending Henry James, Stephen Crane and HG Wells, and collaborating for a decade with Joseph Conrad.
When he moved to London before the First World War Ford founded the influential English Review, launching new writers like Ezra Pound, DH Lawrence, and Wyndham Lewis, and publishing them alongside established talents like James, Conrad, Wells, Bennett, and Hardy; and in the process shaping early Modernism.
His novel The Good Soldier (1915) is recognised as a Modernist masterpiece. I have co-edited this for the new Everyman’s Library with Alan Judd (1989), and edited Ford’s other major fictional work, the tetralogy Parade’s End (1924-28), for Penguin (2002). Parade’s End is increasingly seen as the best British fiction about the War, in which Ford served.
After the war he moved to Paris, where he founded the transatlantic review, becoming a central figure among the expatriate Modernists of the 1920s, publishing Joyce and Stein, and discovering a new generation of talents such as Hemingway, Jean Rhys and Basil Bunting. He was an innovative poet and poetic theorist; an inaugurative novelist and editor; a prolific auto/biographer; and also a significant critic. I have edited his Selected Poems (Carcanet, 1997, 2003); War Prose (Carcanet, 1999); and (with Richard Stang) Critical Essays (Carcanet, 2002).
My interest in the criticism and theory of life-writing arose not only from writing literary biography, but from researching the extraordinary fertility of Modernist experimentation with forms of auto/biography. My most recent book, Self Impression: Life-Writing, Autobiografiction, and the Forms of Modern Literature (Oxford University Press, 2010), is on the ways in which life-writing increasingly becomes a fictional resource in turn-of-the-century and early 20th century literature.
This study traces the precursors of more familiar Modernist games with life-writing such as Woolf’s Orlando and Stein’s Autobiography of Alice B Toklas in turn-of-the-century fictionalised auto/biographies by figures such as Walter Pater, ‘Mark Rutherford’, and Arthur Symons, and autobiographical artist-novels by writers such as Proust and Joyce, arguing that whereas traditional accounts of Modernism deemed auto/biography irrelevant to art, Modernism in fact continually engages with life-writing.
Relevant essays I have published in this area include:
'Ford, Eliot, Joyce, and the Problems of Literary Biography', in Writing the Lives of Writers (Macmillan and St Martin's Press, 1998);
'"Things Passed Over": Ruskin, Modernism, and Autobiography', in Ruskin and Modernism (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2001);
‘Reflections on Impressionist Autobiography: James, Conrad and Ford’, in Inter-relations: Conrad, James, Ford, and Others (Lublin/Columbia University Press, 2003);
‘Biography and Autobiography’, Cambridge History of Twentieth-Century English Literature (CUP, 2004);
‘Forster’s Life and Life-writing’ for the Cambridge Companion to E. M. Forster (CUP, 2007)
‘Life-Writing and Fiction in First World War Prose’, in A Part of History: Aspects of the British Experience of the First World War, introduced by Michael Howard (London: Continuum, 2008)
‘Burgess, Joyce, and Ford: Modernity, Sexuality, and Confession’, Anthony Burgess and Modernity, ed. Alan Roughley (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2008)
‘Life-Writing, Cultural Memory, and Literary Studies’, in
Cultural Memory Studies: An International and Interdisciplinary Handbook,
Edited by Astrid Erll and Ansgar Nünning in collaboration with Sara B. Young (Berlin and New York: Walter de Gruyter, 2008)
‘Autobiografiction: Experimental Life-Writing from the Turn of the Century to Modernism’, Literature Compass, 6:2 (2009)
Literary Impressionism, Modernism and Visual Culture
Like life-writing, ‘impressionism’ too tended to be repudiated by accounts of Modernism celebrating ‘hardness’, objectivity, impersonality, and machismo. More recently, literary impressionism has begun to be rehabilitated as a critical category that can help account for the transition from Realism to Modernism. My interest in this area grows out of my research on Ford - arguably the most sustained exponent of impressionist aesthetics in English - and on life-writing; but also out of a long-standing interest in visual culture, and particularly the history of painting from the 1870s to the 1960s.
I have also given papers on: ‘Impressionism, Fiction, and the Location of the Ethical’ (University of Giessen, Germany, 2006); and on ‘Ford and Impressionism’, at the conference ‘Ford Madox Ford: Literary Networks and Cultural Transitions’ (Birmingham, 2006).
‘Modernism, Impressionism, and Ford Madox Ford’s The Good Soldier’, Études Anglaises, 57:4 (Oct.-Dec. 2004), 421-37;
‘Ford, the City, Impressionism and Modernism’, Ford Madox Ford and the City, International Ford Madox Ford Studies, no.4, ed. Sara Haslam (Amsterdam and New York: Rodopi, 2005), 67-80;
‘Literary Impressionism’, A Companion to Modernist Literature and Culture, ed. David Bradshaw and Kevin Dettmar (Blackwell, 2006)
Most of my recent BA teaching has been on courses on Modernist fiction and poetics, the Literature of the First World War, Literature and Impressionism, and Comparative Fiction. I introduced our innovative ‘Writing Lives’ MA pathway in 1997, and more recently a BA module in ‘Autobiography and Modern Self-Representation’. Other MA courses I have taught include ‘Conflict: 20th Century War Literature’ and ‘Turn of the Century Representations of Sexuality’.
I am convener the new MA Life Writing, starting in 2010. The new MA Life Writing will offer students the chance to explore a range of topics and texts from 18th century to the present, inviting them to think broadly across conventional boundaries of period and genre. The main emphases will be on literary biography and autobiography, though attention will also be paid to letters, diaries, journals, and travel-writings.
I welcome enquiries from prospective research students in any of my areas of research interest.
Expertise and Public Engagement
In 2002 I launched the annual series International Ford Madox Ford Studies, of which I am General Editor. Future volumes are planned on Ford’s literary editing; his involvement with the visual arts; his relations with French and German literature and culture; his writings on gender; on the First World War; and his Edwardian fiction.
I am the Co-Director of the interdisciplinary Centre for Life-Writing Research formed by the Department in 2006, which continues to organise related events bringing together scholars and life-writing practitioners. I would welcome applications from students wishing to research any aspect of life-writing, including the writing of literary biography and the critical study of auto/biography.
I am committed to European collaboration, and have been a partner in and member of the ‘Scientific Committee’ of two EC-funded thematic networks, COTEPRA (on Comparative Literature in Theory and Practice) and ACUME (on cultural memory), run from the University of Bologna. I am currently also a partner in ACUME-2, focusing on the interface between the sciences and humanties.