I’m interested in ideas of emotion, the history of how we feel, and how books shape feelings, and this is what drove my first book On Sympathy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008).
I am currently working on a number of projects.
The first, a project called Reading Well, considers the relationship between reading and bodily feeling, looking specifically in the intersection between medicine and acts of reading. My research considers a variety of intriguing collisions between medicine and literature, such as the phenomenon of the drugseller-bookstore, the use of reading images on medical trade cards, invalid literature, literary 'prescriptions', and hospital libraries. I have recently delivered papers on the subject at the Leeds Library Conference as a keynote speaker at the University of Giessen. I am particularly interested in the 'curative' properties of libraries, and the idea of what libraries do. In 2017, I curated Unsilencing the Library an ongoing exhibition at Compton Verney Art Gallery and Museum, about why books mattered in the nineteenth century, and why they still do. Our team was delighted that the project won one of the 2017 Vice Chancellor's Awards for Public Engagement. You can visit the exhibition in its virtual form, or see the real thing at Compton Verney.
I also have a longstanding interest in what might be called the 'applied' Medical Humanities - in the ways in which literature and medicine interact today. For the last three years, I have led a series of seminars for those who work in the health service, You can find out more about the seminars here
My second project focuses on the idea of attention and the senses in nineteenth and early twentieth-century literature. Here I am focusing on the contemporary concern with over-stimulation, the emergence of what could be seen as an ‘attention economy’, and the ways in which artists posit a nineteenth-century version of ‘mindfulness’ and its relationship with ideas of conscience. An account of Anthony Trollope’s interest in narrative and episodic models of selfhood in his novels and short stories forms has formed one part of my research. This was published in the journal Victorian Studies in the Autumn of 2016. A related piece about Robert Browning’s attempt to still and fix the minds of the spectators at the Great International Exhibition of 1862 can be read here.
I also review fiction and criticism for the national press,. You can read some of my recent reviews here, here and here
I have always been interested, broadly, in the way in which we tell stories, in the idea of embodiment, and the question of how one writes a life. This, together with my my interest in reading and feeling led me to publish a work of creative non-fiction with William Collins in March 2019 called The Lost Properties of Love: An Exhibition of Myself. You can read a review of it here.
You will find me teaching and lecturing at undergraduate level on authors including Dickens, Trollope, Browning, T. S. Eliot, James Joyce. Samuel Beckett, W. H. Auden. Elizabeth Bishop, Geoffrey Hill, Martin Amis and Zadie Smith. I am currently supervising doctorates in both nineteenth and twentieth century literature