Bran Nicol

Professor Bran Nicol

Professor of English Literature
Personal Assistant: Abigail Sharpe
+44 (0) 1483 686335


Areas of specialism

Twentieth-Century Fiction; Modernism; Postmodernism; Psychoanalytic theory; Crime culture; Detective fiction; Contemporary fiction

University roles and responsibilities

  • Head of the School of Literature and Languages

    My qualifications

    PhD English Literature
    Lancaster University
    MA in English and Contemporary European Studies
    University of Dundee

    Previous roles

    2001 - 2012
    Reader in Modern and Contemporary Literature
    Senior Lecturer in English Literature
    University of Portsmouth
    1996 - 2001
    Lecturer in English
    University of Chichester


    Research interests

    Research projects


    Bran Nicol (2019)Holmes and Literary Theory, In: The Cambridge Companion to Sherlock Holmespp. 185-198 Cambridge University Press
    Bran Nicol (2023)The fiction of every-era/no-era, In: Kristian Shaw, Sara Upstone (eds.), Hari Kunzru Manchester University Press

    When it was published in 2011, Gods Without Men was described by one reviewer, Lisa Appignanesi, as ‘Kunzru’s great American novel’ (2011). There is a note of irony in this description, partly because the very idea of the Great American Novel, or ‘GAN’ as Henry James called it, the encapsulation of the ‘essence’ of a nation as vast, multifaceted, and multicultural as America in novel form (see Buell, 2014), is ironic in itself. But it is also because Hari Kunzru is neither American nor indeed easy to pigeonhole in any one national or racial category, for anyone minded to do

    Bran Nicol (2002)Postmodernism and the Contemporary Novel: A Reader Edinburgh Univ Pr

    Postmodernism and the Contemporary Novel: A Readeris the first book to collect the most important contributions to the theory of the postmodern novel over the last forty years and to guide readers through the complex questions and wide ...

    Emmanuelle Fantin, Bran Nicol (2022)Jean Baudrillard Reaktion Books. Coll.Critical Lives
    Bran John Nicol (2022)Post-Postmodernism, In: Zekiye Antakyalioglu (eds.), Post-Theories in Literary and Cultural Studiespp. 165-176 Lexington Books/Fortress Academic
    Bran Nicol (2019)Holmes and Literary Theory, In: Christopher Pittard, Janice M Allan (eds.), The Cambridge Companion to Sherlock Holmespp. 185-198 Cambridge University Press
    Bran Nicol (2019)Humanities Fiction: Translation and 'Transplanetarity' in Ted Chiang's "The Story of Your Life" and Denis Villeneuve's Arrival, In: American, British, and Canadian studies32(1)pp. 107-126 Sciendo

    One of the more interesting science fiction movies of recent years, at least to Humanities academics, is Denis Villeneuve's 2016 alien-invasion movie, Arrival. It is a film which not only features a Professor of Linguistics as its heroine, but the plot of which is organised around the critical global importance of a multi-million dollar translation project. This essay compares the film with the original novella upon which it was based - Ted Chiang's "Story of Your Life" (1998) - to examine the role translation plays in both, with the aim of placing this in the context of the crisis in the Humanities which has marked universities over the last few years, and can be linked to a more general crisis in liberal values. While founded upon a time-honoured science fiction scenario the movie also clearly articulates the sense of global peril which is typical of much of the cultural production of our current times, manifested in fears about ecological catastrophe, terrorist attacks, and the anthropocene, etc. Another of its crisis-points is also 'very 2016': its ability to use science fiction tropes to express an anxiety about how liberal values are in danger of being overtaken by a self-interested, forceful, intolerant kind of politics. Arrival is as much a work of 'hu-fi' as it is 'sci-fi', that is, 'Humanities fiction', a film which uses Chiang's original novella to convey a message about the restorative potential of 'Humanities values' in the face of a new global threat.

    BJ Nicol (2006)Iris Murdoch and the Aesthetics of Masochism, In: Journal of Modern Literature29(2)pp. 148-165 Indiana University Press
    Bran Nicol (2011)Detective Fiction and 'the Original Crime': Baudrillard, Calle, Poe, In: Cultural Politics7(3)pp. 445-464 Duke University Press
    BJ Nicol (2000)Normality and Other Kinds of Madness: Zizek and the Traumatic Core of the Subject, In: Psychoanalytic Studies2(1)pp. 7-20 Taylor and Francis
    Bran Nicol (2021)The ghosts of Elizabeth Wurtzel and David Foster Wallace: Depression, Sincerity, Hauntology, In: Comparative American studies18(2)pp. 242-259 Routledge

    This essay explores the relationship between Elizabeth Wurtzel and David Foster Wallace, two writers who are in different ways representative of the 'in-between' status of the 1990s, and who both pioneered different modes of writing which remain influential today: Wurtzel's 'obscene' (in Baudrillard's terms) confessional style, and Wallace's post-postmodern aesthetics of sincerity. In particular it considers Wallace's short story 'The Depressed Person' (from his collection Brief Interviews with Hideous Men), which is widely understood to be 'about' Wurtzel. While somewhat cruel and misogynistic on the surface, the hauntological dimension of this text - ie the effect created by the posthumous context of reading it now, when both writer and alleged subject are no longer with us - opens up a different reading, one which enables us to explore the association with depression which is central to understanding both authors. The essay compares 'The Depressed Person' to Wurtzel's own rather circumspect memorial of Wallace, 'Beyond the Trouble, More Trouble', published in 2008 shortly after his death. Read posthumously, both texts come to seem unlikely companion pieces. For all their substantial differences, both effectively advance a similar, bleak yet carefully considered, conclusion about what it means to suffer with depression which casts new light on Wallace's notion of sincerity and Wurtzel's 'obscene' approach to autobiography.

    BJ Nicol (2001)As If: Traversing the Fantasy in Zizek, In: Paragraph: a journal of modern critical theory24(2)pp. 140-155 Edinburgh University Press
    BJ Nicol (2001)Philosophy's Dangerous Pupil: Murdoch and Derrida., In: MFS Modern Fiction Studies47(3)pp. 580-601 Johns Hopkins University Press
    Bran Nicol (2018)Typical Eggers: transnationalism and America in Dave Eggers's 'globally-minded' fiction, In: Textual Practice33(2)pp. 300-317 Taylor & Francis (Routledge)

    Dave Eggers's What is the What and Zeitoun are transnational works in that their narratives detail a passage between nations and concentrate on the experiences of individuals of 'hyphenated identity'. The sequence of novels Eggers has published in the second decade of the twenty-first century mark a distinctive 'American turn' in his work which offers an alternative but complementary transnational perspective. Hologram for the King (2012), The Circle (2013), Your Fathers, Where Are They? And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever? (2014) and Heroes of the Frontier (2016) focus on 'unhyphenated' American protagonists, and examine the United States both as a specific place and as itself typical of a nation in the globalised twenty-first century world. In their post-postmodern ethical approach to fiction and their assumption that fiction's duty is to 'make reality credible', as Philip Roth once put it, these novels are themselves typical of the values and practices of a specifically US historical category, Mark McGurl's Program Era, but also of categories of transnational fiction critics have recently described as 'global' or 'planetary'. Eggers's US quartet critiques globalisation, but is ultimately more interested in asserting the value of connections between human beings in a globalised world.

    Bran Nicol (2004)The Flâneur and the Stalker, In: Leisure, Media and Visual CultureLSA Pu(4)pp. 61-72 Leisure Studies Association/University of Brighton
    Bran Nicol (2006)The Memoir as Self-Destruction: A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, In: J Gill (eds.), Modern Confessional Writing(6)pp. 100-114 Routledge

    Contributors discuss a range of poetry, prose and drama, including the work of John Berryman, Anne Sexton, Ted Hughes and Helen Fielding.

    BJ Nicol (2013)The Private Eye: Detectives in the Movies Reaktion Books

    Since the early days of cinema, the private eye has been one of its most memorable characters, often viewed as a romantic hero, a ‘lone wolf’ who confronts and tries to make sense of a violent and chaotic modern world. In The Private Eye Bran Nicol challenges this stereotype, offering a fresh take on iconic figures such as Sam Spade, Philip Marlowe and Jake Gittes, and a cogent reappraisal of film noir. Analysing a wide range of films, including classics such as The Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep, Chinatown, and The Long Goodbye, Nicol traces the history of the private eye movie from the influential film noirs of the 1940s, through innovative 1970s neo-noir cinema, to the presence of the private eye in movie mythology today. He reveals that although these films are exciting thrillers, they are nevertheless preoccupied by ‘domestic’ issues: work, home and love. Rather than fearless investigation, Nicol argues, the private eye’s job is really about unveiling the private lives and private spaces of others, an achievement which comes at the expense of his own private life. Combining a lucid introduction to an under-explored tradition in movie history with a novel approach to the detective in film, this book casts new light on the private worlds of the private eye.

    Bran Nicol (2011)Police Thy Neighbour: Crime Culture and the Rear Window Paradigm, In: BJ Nicol, P Pulham, E McNulty (eds.), Crime Culture: Figuring Criminality in Fiction and Film(11)pp. 192-209 Continuum Books
    Bran Nicol (2010)Reading Spark in the Age of Suspicion, In: D Herman (eds.), Muriel Spark: Twenty-First Century Perspectives(5)pp. 112-128 Johns Hopkins University Press/Modern Fiction Studies
    Bran Nicol (2012)In the Private Eye: Private Space in the Noir Detective Movie, In: V Miller, H Oakley (eds.), Cross-Cultural Connections in Crime Fictionspp. 121-140 Palgrave McMillan
    Bran Nicol (2015)X-Ray Detectives: Ishmael Reed, Clarence Major and Black Postmodern Detective Fiction, In: L Platt (eds.), Postmodern Literature and Race(4)pp. 65-81 Cambridge University Press
    Bran Nicol, P Pulham, E McNulty (2011)Introduction: Crime Culture and Modernity, In: BJ Nicol, P Pulham, E McNulty (eds.), Crime Culture: Figuring Criminality in Fiction and Film(Introd)pp. 1-9 Continuum Books
    Bran Nicol (2006)Stalking Reaktion Books

    Bran Nicol traces here the history of stalking and chronicles how acts of extreme obsession have created a public fixation of their own.

    Bran Nicol (2010)Murdoch's Mannered Realism: Metafiction, Morality and the Post-War Novel, In: A Rowe, A Horner (eds.), Iris Murdoch and Moralitypp. 17-30 Palgrave Macmillan

    This volume, featuring contributions from a number of leading scholars, explores the ways in which the moral positions Iris Murdoch adopts in her philosophy and theology can be aligned with her fiction, demonstrating how Murdoch's work can ...

    Bran Nicol (2006)Iris Murdoch, In: DS Kastan (eds.), The Oxford encyclopedia of British literature
    Bran Nicol (2007)Postmodernism, In: D Bradshaw, KJH Dettmar (eds.), A Companion to Modernist Literature and Culture(62)pp. 565-570 Wiley
    Bran Nicol (2007)The Curse of The Bell: The Ethics and Aesthetics of Narrative, In: A Rowe (eds.), Iris Murdoch: A Reassessment(8)pp. 100-112 Palgrave Macmillan

    The book not only questions established critical and philosophical positions, but also Murdoch's own pronouncements about her work. It suggests fresh influences and interpretations, and celebrates Murdoch's interdisciplinary modernity.

    Bran Nicol (1999)Iris Murdoch: The Retrospective Fiction Macmillan
    Bran Nicol (2004)Iris Murdoch: The Retrospective Fiction (2nd Edition). Palgrave Macmillan

    This new edition includes detailed readings of novels not discussed in the original (The Bell, The Sacred and Profane Love Machine, and The Philosopher's Pupil) and includes a new preface, an updated bibliography and three new chapters ...

    BJ Nicol (2013)Reading and Not Reading 'The Man of the Crowd': Poe, the City, and the Gothic Text, In: Philological Quarterly: devoted to scholarly investigation of the classical and modern languages and literatures91(3)

    Poe’s ‘The Man of the Crowd’, as Patricia Merivale has observed, be justifiably be considered a counterpart to ‘The Purloined Letter’ in its significance in cultural theory. It has been particularly valued as a kind of sociological document which reveals and critiques aspects of the scopic and material conditions of the modern city.Yet despite an almost universal acknowledgement that the tale is about ‘reading’, most critics have worked with a rather impoverished model of reading. Following the example of Tom Gunning, who has argued that the tale provides premonitions of a range of spectator positions in cinema, this essay argues that the story dramatizes typical responses to the literary text which are more complex than the flan flanerie. To place the text in a more explicitly literary context opens it up to an analysis which takes account of how complex its structure is, and the fact that the narrator has typically-Poe-esque ‘delusional’ credentials, and acknowledge how this might compromise or complicate some of the arguments about urban reading. As such it demands to be considered in terms of the capacity of Poe’s fiction to seduce readers into what Joseph Kronick has called, ‘identifying the intepretation with the text’, particularly in relation to the particular self-reflexive effect Garrett Stewart has termed the ‘gothic of reading’.

    B Nicol, E McNulty, P Pulham (2011)Crime Culture: Figuring Criminality in Fiction and Film Continuum International Publishing Group

    By broadening the focus beyond classic English detective fiction, the American ‘hard-boiled’ crime novel and the gangster movie, Crime Cultures breathes new life into staple themes of crime fiction and cinema. Leading international scholars from the fields of literary and cultural studies analyze a range of literature and film, from neglected examples of film noir and ‘true crime’, crime fiction by female African American writers, to reality TV, recent films such as Elephant, Collateral and The Departed, and contemporary fiction by J. G. Ballard, Kazuo Ishiguro, and Margaret Atwood. They offer groundbreaking interpretations of new elements such as the mythology of the hitman, technology and the image, and the cultural impact of ‘senseless’ murders and reveal why crime is a powerful way of making sense of the broader concerns shaping modern culture and society.

    B Nicol (2009)The Cambridge Introduction to Postmodern Fiction Cambridge University Press

    Postmodern fiction presents a challenge to the reader: instead of enjoying it passively, the reader has to work to understand its meanings, to think about what fiction is, and to question their own responses. Yet this very challenge makes postmodern writing so much fun to read and rewarding to study. Unlike most introductions to postmodernism and fiction, this book places the emphasis on literature rather than theory. It introduces the most prominent British and American novelists associated with postmodernism, from the 'pioneers', Beckett, Borges and Burroughs, to important post-war writers such as Pynchon, Carter, Atwood, Morrison, Gibson, Auster, DeLillo, and Ellis. Designed for students and clearly written, this Introduction explains the preoccupations, styles and techniques that unite postmodern authors. Their work is characterized by a self-reflexive acknowledgement of its status as fiction, and by the various ways in which it challenges readers to question common-sense and commonplace assumptions about literature.

    Bran Nicol (2015)The Hard-Boiled Detective: Dashiell Hammett, In: The Bloomsbury Introduction to Popular Fiction(14)pp. 241-253 Bloomsbury Academic

    An introduction to Hammett which considers his credentials as a 'popular' and 'literary' author.

    BJ Nicol (1999)Reading Paranoia: Paranoia, Epistemophilia, and the Postmodern Crisis of Interpretation, In: Literature and Psychology: A quarterly journal of literary criticism as informed by depth psychology45(1&2)

    Translation into Italian of Stalking (Reaktion Books, 2006)

    BJ Nicol (2013)The Urban Environment, In: Edgar Allan Poe in Context(8)pp. 75-84 Cambridge University Press
    Bran Nicol, B Council (2004)D.M. Thomas (Writers and their Work) Northcote House Publishers Ltd

    D. M. Thomas is one of the most controversial writers of our time - considered by some a major voice in contemporary fiction, by others a dubious literary 'impostor' who repeatedly appropriates female sexuality, the holocaust, and the work ...

    Bran Nicol (2013)Sherlock Holmes Version 2.0: Adapting Doyle in the Twenty-First Century, In: S Vanacker, C Wynne (eds.), The Cultural Afterlives of Sherlock Holmes and Arthur Conan ...pp. 124-139 Palgrave Macmillan
    Bran Nicol (2015)Those Who Follow: Homosocial Choreography in Highsmith's Queer Gothic, In: Clues: a journal of detection33(2)pp. 97-108 McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers

    In Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction (1966), Patricia Highsmith’s “how-to” book (and a work of characteristically displaced autobiography), the author describes the genesis of her 1964 novel The Two Faces of January: "My impetus for this book was strong but quite fuzzy at the beginning. I wanted to write a book about a young, footloose American (I called him Rydal [Keener]) in search of adventure, not a beatnik but a rather civilized and intelligent young man, and not a criminal, either. And I wanted to write about the effect on this young man of encountering a stranger who closely resembles his own domineering father." Despite her evident pride that the novel ended up on “the bestseller list in England” (Highsmith, Plotting 11), The Two Faces of January was poorly received by Joan Kahn, her editor at the U.S. publisher Harper and Brothers, and then by reviewers, all of whom found the plot—especially the question of Keener’s motive for his subsequent involvement with Chester MacFarland, the older man who leads him into crime—too implausible. In demanding a rewrite Kahn insisted: “The book makes sense only if there is a homosexual relationship between Rydal and Chester” (Wilson 230). Apparently furious at the prospect of rewriting the book, Highsmith nevertheless complied and, according to her biographer, Andrew Wilson, began to “completely rethink the motivation of her characters.” In doing so, however, she tried even harder to “eliminate any suspicion of a homosexual relationship between the two men” (Wilson 231). Deducing a homosexual motive is a temptation to which readers and interpreters of Highsmith’s work often succumb. The flaw of Anthony Minghella’s otherwise excellent film adaptation of The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999), for example, is its decision to make Ripley’s latent homosexuality manifest. “Queering” him in this way is a mistake, precisely because it provides a motivation for Ripley’s behavior that is never apparent in the novel and turns him into someone with whom viewers can identify. Ripley’s attitude toward Dickie Greenleaf is darker and more complicated. As Slavoj Žižek has put it, "Minghella’s Ripley makes clear what’s wrong with trying to be more radical than the original by bringing out its implicit, repressed content. By looking to fill in the void, Minghella actually retreats from it. Instead of a polite person who is at the same time a monstrous automaton, experiencing no inner turmoil as he commits his crimes, we get the wealth of a personality, someone full of psychic traumas, someone whom we can, in the fullest meaning of the term, understand." Motivation is rarely clear-cut in Highsmith. In fact, perhaps the most fascinating mystery in each of her novels is about the personalities of the characters she creates. Although we identify with their predicament and remain absorbed in their web of intrigue, their identities remain strangely opaque. Arguably, this is also true of their sexual identities. This essay aims, therefore, to suggest not that homosexuality is irrelevant to Highsmith’s fiction, but rather that the obscurity of the question of motive in her fiction makes it more profitable to consider its overall homosocial context—that is, the “social bonds between persons of the same sex” (Sedgwick, Between 1). To do so, it will interrogate Highsmith’s relation to tropes of crime fiction and gothic, and point to her significance as a chronicler of the late-twentieth-century world

    Bran Nicol (2010)Patricia Highsmith (1921-1995), In: CJ Rzepka, KY Fang (eds.), A Companion to Crime Fictionpp. 503-509 Wiley-Blackwell