Although I have been rather quiet in this space, in the past year I have been able to devote more attention to my research endeavours. Although Victorian literature remains a core concern (more about that in a later post), European literature from the first half of the twentieth century is vying in importance. I have just returned from the bi-annual conference of the Europe Society for the Study of English, where I gave a paper on William Gerhardie's The Polyglots, a hilarious novel in which the breakdown of technologies of transport and communication echoes a breakdown in the form of the novel. My interest in European modernism has yielded two chapters (one on infrastructure in Stefan Zweig's Beware of Pity, the other on trauma and cosmopolitanism in Sándor Márai's Sirály), which are now under review. And most concretely, my thinking about Auden's "In Time of War" has materialized as an article in Partial Answers. In all these investigations, it has been hard not to be struck by the parallels with our own contemporary moment.
In 1937, the English poet W. H. Auden travelled to China to report on the second Sino-Japanese War. His experience led to the writing of a sonnet sequence “In Time of War,” in which the poet reflects on this particular conflict while levelling a critique at Romantic theories of the aesthetic. In Auden’s critique, the present article suggests, the concept of the creature emerges as a site of reconciliation, a site where differences are allowed to co-exist. The co-existence of differences is also mimicked in the poem’s literary style: its language, its play with sound, and its manipulation of syntax create a paratactical aesthetic that joins disparate elements in a relational (rather than a hierarchical) structure. By attending to the vagaries of meaning and form, this inquiry concludes that “In Time of War” differs from other literary responses to aerial bombing by attempting to instill a cosmopolitan attitude in its readers.
The conference in Mainz also gave me an opportunity to meet with the editorial board of the European Journal for English Studies. Earlier this year, I was invited to take over from Adam Piette as the book reviewer editor. It is a privilege to hold this position and am looking forward to putting the exciting work of European anglicists in the spotlight.