Professor Bran Nicol
Bran Nicol is Professor of English Literature and was appointed as Interim Pro-Vice-Chancellor and Executive Dean of FASS on 1 April 2022, having previously been Head of the School of Literature and Languages. He joined the University of Surrey in 2012, having previously been Director of the Centre for Studies in Literature at the University of Portsmouth. His books include The Private Eye (Reaktion, 2013), Postmodern Fiction: An Introduction (Cambridge University Press, 2009), and Stalking (Reaktion, 2006), which was translated into Italian, Japanese and Korean, Iris Murdoch: The Retrospective Fiction (Palgrave, second edition, 2004), and two edited collections: Postmodernism and the Contemporary Novel (Edinburgh University Press, 2002) and Crime Culture (Bloomsbury, 2010). His main interests are in modern and contemporary British, European and American fiction, literary theory, and 'crime culture', and he has presented his research in these areas at universities around the world. He welcomes applications from postgraduate students in any of these areas. He is currently working on the 'Novel Transmissions: The Global Novel' project which brings together specialists in nineteenth-century, twentieth- and twenty-first century fiction at both the University of Surrey and the University of São Paulo, Brazil, funded by The University Global Partnership Network (UGPN). His teaching at undergraduate and master's level has reflected these research interests, including modules on postmodernism, literary theory, psychoanalysis, and detective fiction. He has supervised PhD students working on a wide range of topics in the areas of contemporary British and American fiction, literary theory, and literature and translation.
Areas of specialism
University roles and responsibilities
- Head of the School of Literature and Languages
Senior Lecturer in English Literature
16 JAN 2020
Centre for Translation Studies teaching fellow awarded international Alumni Award of Excellence
13 MAY 2019
Fuel your imagination as Surrey’s creative writing experts bring literary festival to Guildford
08 MAY 2019
International visitors to benefit from student translations of Watts Gallery – Artists' Village guidebook
17 OCT 2018
Internationally renowned writer and film-maker Iain Sinclair joins Surrey as Distinguished Writer-in-Residence
My main interests are in modern and contemporary British, European and American fiction, literary theory, and 'crime culture'. I welcome applications from postgraduate students in any of these areas.
Please note: e-versions of some of the publications listed on the tab on the right can be found on my academia.edu webpage: https://surrey.academia.edu/BranNicol
Or here: https://www.surrey.ac.uk/englishandlanguages/staff_list/complete_staff_list/bran_nicol/
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.
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
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 ...
Translation into Italian of Stalking (Reaktion Books, 2006)
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.
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 ...
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 ...
An introduction to Hammett which considers his credentials as a 'popular' and 'literary' author.
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.
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.
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 ...
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’.
Contributors discuss a range of poetry, prose and drama, including the work of John Berryman, Anne Sexton, Ted Hughes and Helen Fielding.
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 traces here the history of stalking and chronicles how acts of extreme obsession have created a public fixation of their own.