Bran Nicol

Professor Bran Nicol

Head of the School of Literature and Languages, Professor of English Literature
+44 (0)1483 682822
01 LC 03
Personal Assistant: Alison Stubley
+44 (0) 1483 686170


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

    My publications


    The Gothic in the post-millennial period offers writers an anchoring point, a site of familiarity for the reader, in the midst of an evolving culture of reading. Moving beyond recognising the binary conception of old vs new media, at stake in this thesis is the reader’s approach to the text in light of digital developments to reading habits. The evolution of digital technologies that have influenced approaches to reading include our ability to process vast amounts of data in quick succession through hyperlinks, and the capacity to locate relevant data amongst an endless flow in a non-linear, multi-cursal format: recognised as ‘browsing or ‘surfing’ the web. This style of reading is indicative of the pathways through a labyrinth: a key motif for the digital posited by a range of critics included in this thesis such as Pierre Lèvy (1997), Espen J. Aarseth (1997), N. Katherine Hayles (2008) and Marie-Laure Ryan (2015). For the post-millennial novel, it is the changes that have occurred in light of digital reading practices that has led to the re-birth of the reader, not as an individual, but as a collective. Readers of the multimodal novel are driven by the physical responses required of them by the Gothic mode in a moment of boundary transgression of the storyworld and actual world: a Gothic faultline. In the following chapters, I locate the authors’ use of familiar Gothic tropes in Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves (2000), Bret Easton Ellis’ Lunar Park (2005), JJ Abrams’ and Doug Dorst’s S. (2013) and Zachary Dodson’s Bats of the Republic (2015) as a way of situating the reader in familiar territory. These tropes anchor the reader’s navigation through complex narrative structures. It is then possible to identify the moment at which the reader becomes conscious of their direct involvement in the storyworld, an affective and physical experience that can be conceptualised through the Lacanian term extimacy. Spanning both the interior of the print novel and external digital platforms that expand the storyworld, I conceptualise the reader’s experience using Garrett Stewart’s (1997) ‘Gothic of reading’ to underpin the process of activation a reader of Gothic fiction experiences. Consequently, I argue that the reader is no longer a mere consumer of entertainment, but an investigator, collaborator, code-breaker, and sometimes even a translator. The Gothic, it seems, is the ideal mode to capture both the anxieties of the digital present whilst harnessing recognisable forms to ease readers into the demands of the multimodal novel.
    This thesis seeks to understand the relationship between satire, parody and genre. The project is based on the principle that satire is a mode of rhetorical discourse that uses parody to distinguish itself from other modes, as well as perpetrate a specific socio-political message. Whereas, genre is a type of literature that is defined by distinct codes. A novel was written to test these principles and to discover if a genre can be changed by the inclusion of satire. Two genres were included in this novel, one that traditionally contains a satiric purpose (campus fiction) and one that does not (crime fiction). The satirical message used in the novel focuses on the barriers that marginalised groups face when participating in higher education, which is included in the campus fiction stream of the novel. The crime fiction stream features a man-eating monster. The novel is entitled The Life and Times of a Doctoral Thesis.
    Bran Nicol (2006)The Memoir as Self-Destruction: A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, In: 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.
    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.
    Bran Nicol (2010)Reading Spark in the Age of Suspicion, In: Muriel Spark: Twenty-First Century Perspectives(5)pp. 112-128 Johns Hopkins University Press/Modern Fiction Studies
    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 (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 (2011)Police Thy Neighbour: Crime Culture and the Rear Window Paradigm, In: Crime Culture: Figuring Criminality in Fiction and Film(11)pp. 192-209 Continuum Books
    BJ Nicol (2013)The Urban Environment, In: Edgar Allan Poe in Context(8)pp. 75-84 Cambridge University Press
    Bran Nicol (2015)X-Ray Detectives: Ishmael Reed, Clarence Major and Black Postmodern Detective Fiction, In: Postmodern Literature and Race(4)pp. 65-81 Cambridge University Press
    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

    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, 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: The Cultural Afterlives of Sherlock Holmes and Arthur Conan ...pp. 124-139 Palgrave Macmillan
    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 ...
    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 ...
    Bran Nicol, P Pulham, E McNulty (2011)Introduction: Crime Culture and Modernity, In: Crime Culture: Figuring Criminality in Fiction and Film(Introd)pp. 1-9 Continuum Books
    Bran Nicol (2012)In the Private Eye: Private Space in the Noir Detective Movie, In: Cross-Cultural Connections in Crime Fictionspp. 121-140 Palgrave McMillan
    Bran Nicol (1999)Iris Murdoch: The Retrospective Fiction Macmillan
    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’.
    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
    Bran Nicol (2007)Postmodernism, In: A Companion to Modernist Literature and Culture(62)pp. 565-570 Wiley
    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 (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 (2001)Philosophy's Dangerous Pupil: Murdoch and Derrida., In: MFS Modern Fiction Studies47(3)pp. 580-601 Johns Hopkins University Press
    Bran Nicol (2010)Patricia Highsmith (1921-1995), In: A Companion to Crime Fictionpp. 503-509 Wiley-Blackwell
    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 (2006)Iris Murdoch, In: The Oxford encyclopedia of British literature
    Bran Nicol (2007)The Curse of The Bell: The Ethics and Aesthetics of Narrative, In: 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 (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: 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 ...
    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)
    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
    Translation into Italian of Stalking (Reaktion Books, 2006)
    This thesis is an investigation into live stand-up comedy performance, producing a phenomenological methodology for its examination. The introduction starts with a justification for the project, detailing the development of stand-up comedy, in recent years, both as a research area and as a taught undergraduate subject, mainly in the Performing Arts, comparing this with the limitations of extant literature. Specifically, it is argued, that current literature often identifies performance as being important to stand-up comedy yet has serious limitations, and omission, these being critical, theoretical and methodological. The research goal of this thesis is to address these problems, and provide a coherent methodology for analysing live stand-up comedy. It is argued that phenomenology provides a key to such a methodology, with its focus on inter-subjectivity, the body, and other areas, that are crucial to understanding the performance of live stand-up comedy. The phenomenological method values human experience, and the subjective personal narrative. Accordingly Chapter One examines over 200 interviews, and questionnaire responses from stand-up comedians and stand-up comedy audience members. It is shown that the experiences that are described overwhelmingly focus on issues relating to performance. Chapter Two develops a basic model of live stand-up comedy based in performance theory. Chapter Three analyses humour and laughter theory, placing the analysis of humour and laughter in phenomenological and performance paradigms. Chapter Four, drawing from the previous three chapters, identifies key concepts that inform, and define, a phenomenology of stand-up comedy performance, offering a methodology for analysing live stand-up comedy, based in post-performance writing and a performance questionnaire. This is then practically employed, and critically reflected upon, with reference to a number of visits to comedy clubs and live stand-up comedy performance. The conclusion assesses the strengths, and weaknesses, of the project, the possibilities for future research, and argues for a need for a multi-disciplinary Humour research centre.
    James Ellroy is an eccentric and divisive popular novelist. Since the publication of his first novel Brown’s Requiem in 1981, Ellroy’s outré ‘Demon Dog’ persona and his highly stylised, often pornographically voyeuristic and violent crime novels have continued to polarise both public and academic opinion. This study considers Ellroy’s status as an historical novelist, critically evaluating the significance and function of voyeurism in his two collections of epic noir fiction The L.A. Quartet and The Underworld U.S.A. Trilogy. Using a combination of psychoanalysis, postmodern and cultural theory, it argues that Ellroy’s fiction traces the development of the voyeur from a deviant and perverse ‘peeping tom’ into a recognisable, contemporary ‘social type’, a paranoid and obsessive viewer who is a product of the decentred and hallucinatory, ‘cinematic’ world that he inhabits. In particular, it identifies a recurring pattern of ‘ocularcentric crisis’ in Ellroy’s texts, as characters become continually unable to understand or interpret through vision. Alongside a thematic analysis of obsessive watching, this project also suggests that Ellroy’s works - particularly his later novels - are themselves voyeuristic, implicating the reader in these broader narrative patterns of both visual and epistemophilic obsession. While principally a study on Ellroy’s work, this thesis also attempts to situate his texts within the broader contexts of both the contemporary historical novel and our pervasive ‘culture of voyeurism’. This thesis will therefore be of interest not only to Ellroy critics and readers, but also to scholars of both contemporary fiction and contemporary cultural studies.