Modernist Profiles: Nathan Waddell

Modernist Profiles meets the members of the Centre for Modernist Cultures to explore their research interests, the work they are doing, and exciting developments in the field of modernist studies. This month we spoke to the CMC’s co-director, Dr Nathan Waddell.

To start us off, what’s your role at the University of Birmingham?

I'm a Senior Lecturer in Early Twentieth-Century and Modernist Literature, based in Birmingham's Department of English Literature. I'm also a Co-Director of the Centre for Modernist Cultures (CMC). The CMC is a research hub for modernist scholarship bringing together approximately 40 staff and student members from across the School of English, Drama, and American & Canadian Studies. It's a wonderful community of people, and I feel very privileged to be able to help the CMC scholars develop their work (mainly through organizing training events and research meetings, and by providing small amounts of funding). 

What are your main research interests?

I tend to work on material to do with the modernist painter and writer Wyndham Lewis, but I also have longstanding research interests in the work of George Orwell and Aldous Huxley. I began my career working on utopian and quasi-utopian ideas in early modernist writing. That focus has since structured a lot of my undergraduate teaching, much of which focuses on modernist literature and on dystopian writing.  

You have a book in press at the moment, Moonlighting: Beethoven and Literary Modernism. What is it about and what led you to the project?

It's a book about my main passion in life: classical music. I adore reading, and I always have several books on the go, but I genuinely feel an emptiness if I haven't listened to classical music for a day or two. Moonlighting is an attempt to bring these two sides of my life together. It's main claim is that ideas about Beethoven's music--particularly ideas which in the nineteenth century turned into habit, myth, cliché, and fantasy--structure a meaningful proportion of modernist literature, and especially the work of figures like E. M. Forster, Aldous Huxley, Wyndham Lewis, Dorothy Richardson, Rebecca West, and Virginia Woolf. It's not a book about how modernist writing is 'like' Beethoven's music (how a modernist novel resembles a symphony, for example, or how a modernist poem reads like a quartet sounds). Instead, the emphasis of the book falls on how modernist writers profited from Beethovenian legend, from the customs of depiction which formed around accounts of the composer’s life and music throughout a century’s worth of commentary and acclaim. 

When is the book due out?

It should, I think, be out in late 2019. That will represent roughly 7 years from start to finish: from the first glimmer of thoughts about the argument, to holding the finished book in my hand. 

What upcoming projects are you working on now?

The Beethoven project took me away (albeit not completely away) from Lewis's work, which is now going to return as my main focus for the foreseeable future. I'm researching a scholarly edition of Lewis's little-known novel Snooty Baronet (1932); researching a book on Lewis and tyranny; and editing The Cambridge Companion to 'Nineteen Eighty-Four'. I also want to write some articles on Orwell's and Huxley's work, when I can find the time.