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Professor Max Saunders

Research interests

I am primarily a literary critic, specialising in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and especially in turn-of-the-century and Modernist fiction, criticism, and poetry. The four 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.
  • Literary Impressionism and its relation to Modernism.
  • Life-Writing, with particular emphases on the relation between auto/biography and fiction from 1870-1930; and on how digital and social media are transforming self-presentation.
  • The idea of the future in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

 

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 H. G. 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, D. H. 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 edited this for the Oxford World’s Classics, and introduced 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. I also edited its first volume, Some Do Not . . ., for the first annotated critical edition of Parade’s End (Carcanet, 2010-11), and acted as literary consultant for the 2012 BBC/HBO film of the series adapted by Sir Tom Stoppard and starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Rebecca Hall.

 

After the war Ford 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). In 2002 I launched the annual series International Ford Madox Ford Studies, of which I was General Editor for all of its 15 volumes.

 

I would be interested to hear from prospective research students interested in any aspects of Ford’s work; or in related areas of Modernist studies, or the literature of the two World Wars.

 

Life-Writing

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. Self Impression: Life-Writing, Autobiografiction and the Forms of Modern Literature (Oxford University Press, 2010) explores 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, Joyce, Lawrence and May Sinclair, arguing that whereas traditional accounts of Modernism deemed auto/biography irrelevant to art, Modernism in fact continually engages with life-writing.

 

Life Writing has long been a strength in the Department, whose staff have included several eminent biographers and biographical critics, as well as others working on literary networks and other life-writing such as letters. Life-writing has been a marked feature of our research culture and departmental seminars since 2001. I co-direct the interdisciplinary Centre for Life-Writing Research formed by the Department in 2006, which organises events bringing together scholars and life-writing practitioners. I would welcome applications from students wishing to research any aspect of life-writing, including the critical study of auto/biography and the writing of literary biography.

 

See web pages for:

The Centre for Life-Writing Research

 

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.

See the website relating to my research on the painter Alfred Cohen: http://www.kcl.ac.uk/ip/maxsaunders/Cohen/index.htm

 

King’s is well-situated for such interdisciplinary work on literature and visual culture. London’s premier collection of Impressionist painting is in the Courtauld Galleries, next door in Somerset House. The National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery are a short walk away; and the College is equidistant between Tate Modern and Tate Britain. There is also an important art collection at the Imperial War Museum. The Department is strengthening its links with such cultural institutions, and I would be interested to hear from prospective research students hoping to work in this area too.

 

Besides the work mentioned above, I have published these:

‘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)

 

I am committed to European collaboration, and have been a partner in and member of the ‘Scientific Committee’ of three EC-funded thematic networks run from the University of Bologna, COTEPRA (on Comparative Literature in Theory and Practice), ACUME (on cultural memory), and ACUME-2, focusing on the interface between the sciences and humanties.

 

The last led to my current project, a study of the brilliant book series ‘To-Day and To-Morrow’, published by Kegan Paul between 1923 and 1931, combining some of the century’s best popular science writing by scientists such as J. B. S. Haldane, J. D. Bernal, and James Jeans, with volumes by well-known writers such as Robert Graves, Vera Brittain, Bertrand Russell, Hugh MacDiarmid, Winifred Holtby, André Maurois and others. The series covered a huge range of subjects, outlining their present situation and predicting their futures. Most of the 110 volumes were reissued by Routledge in 2008. See my review:

 

‘Future Sublime’, ‘Commentary’ essay for the TLS on the To-Day and To-Morrow series (26 June 2009), 14-15.

 

 

Teaching

 

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 Autobiography and Modern Self-Representation. I teach MA modules on Autobiographical Writing and Biographical Writing in collaboration with the Department’s creative writers.

 

 

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