Thesis title: Cryptic Modernism: Reading Puzzlement, c. 1866-1966
Supervisor: Robert Douglas-Fairhurst
I work on (and often with) difficulty in modernist literature, with specific regard to ‘puzzlement’ and the emergence of broadsheet word games. My doctoral project aims both to cast a fresh light on canonical poets whose puzzle addictions have been relegated to mere anecdote, as well as to resurface critically neglected puzzlers whose rebukes to literary orthodoxy turned ambiguity into a game. Far from being peripheral to modernism, puzzlement was in fact foundational to a hermeneutics which seized on difficulty as its guiding epistemological and structural condition. ‘Puzzle interest’ — which Empson identified as the cousin of obscure poetry in The Gathering Storm — delighted in exploiting the materiality of language to resurrect words from the inert familiarity into which they had fallen: taking the injunction to ‘make it new’ as a principle not only of refreshment, but also reassembly.
Research Interests: Oulipo, nonsense, the essay, print culture, periodicals, Victorian poetry, botany, anagrams, atomism
"Richard E. Maltby Jr.'s Cryptics" [Podcast], Harper's Magazine (2023)
"Beastly Clues: T. S. Eliot, Torquemada, and the Modernist Crossword", Public Domain Review (2022)
"This is a Dog: On Footnoting and the Absurd", Oxford Review of Books (2019)
Puzzle Editor, Harper's Magazine (2022-present); Cryptic setter, The Independent (2021-present), The Oxford Review of Books (2018-present)