Modernist Profiles: Brittany Moster

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 one of our doctoral researchers, Brittany Moster.

To start with, can you tell us about your PhD project revolving around the work of John Middleton Murry?

I became interested in Murry when I was doing my master’s dissertation and came across several issues of his magazine The Adelphi in UoB’s Cadbury Research Library. My master’s dissertation focused on how The Adelphi borrowed tactics from the popular press to market itself to its audiences. I enjoyed the work very much, and from there it was an easy transition to researching Murry’s editorial practices more widely. 

My thesis tracks Murry’s editorial career from 1911, when he began editing the artistic magazine Rhythm, to 1927, when he was editor of the literary magazine The Adelphi. He also edited Rhythm’s follower, The Blue Review; the pamphlet The Signature, which he produced with Katherine Mansfield and D. H. Lawrence; and The Athenaeum, the weekly review which published T. S. Eliot, Leonard and Virginia Woolf, and many other modernist writers.

My research focuses specifically on the ways in which Murry used his role as editor of these periodicals to interact with his audiences, and how the nature and purpose of this interaction changed over the course of his career. He developed from being a proponent of the artistic elite to speaking out against traditional, hierarchical criticism in favour of a more democratic appreciation of art and literature.

 He was also a very personal writer – one of the most frequent criticisms of his writings is that he has a hard time keeping himself out of it. This means that sometimes his writing is perceived to be overly emotional; however, my research presents this distinctively personal voice as a particularly insightful line of modernist inquiry which allows us to see precisely how Murry was responding to the financial and social pressures which shaped modernism. I feel very lucky to be researching such a personal, sometimes performative, and always interesting voice like Murry’s.

That sounds fascinating. What are you currently working on thesis-wise? What are you particularly keen on at the moment?

 I’m nearing the end (Ahhhhhhhh)! I’m reworking my first chapter at the moment, and it’s very strange going back over work I initially wrote more than two years ago. Once I’ve finished reshaping Chapter 1, I’ll put all of my chapters together and have a full thesis draft!

Working on Chapter 1, which was the first part of the thesis that I wrote, is making me realise what an incredible set of magazines Rhythm, The Blue Review, and The Signature are. Rhythm is visually very beautiful, and can be viewed online through the Modernist Journals Project (I strongly suggest taking a look!) It’s amazing to recognise that the voice I’m writing about now – Murry in his early 20s – is the voice of the same man who writes for the Adelphi 15 years later. It’s crazy to think that you can track the voice of a person you never knew and really experience his progression, his growth, and his personality. Increasingly, I wonder what Murry’s speaking voice sounded like.

Recently, I did some work on the gorgeous advertisements in Rhythm, particularly those for Heal & Son furniture company. These advertisements completely blur the line between advertisement and art, and I have thoroughly enjoyed looking at furniture advertisements from the early 1900s and placing Rhythm’s ads in that context.

What are your other research interests?

Thanks to Murry, magazines have become my main line of work. I’m particularly interested in magazine editorials and manifestos, and the ways in which magazines facilitated the creation of communities amongst their contributors and audiences.

This is directly related to breaking down barriers between contributors and readers, challenging the idea of an artistic elite. Rhythm’s advertisements have also made me very interested in the history of advertising, and particularly in the relationship between the businesses being advertised and editors of the periodicals in which those advertisements appeared. This collaboration sometimes resulted in the crafting of advertisements which were specific to certain magazines and therefore to specific audiences. The 20th century is so frequently thought of as an era of mass-produced newspapers and garish advertising, and I think that this surprisingly personal relationship is really fascinating.

Do you have other activities which are central to your approach and research?

I am the editorial assistant for the academic journal Modernist Cultures, and in the past have been on the editorial teams of various university publications. Seeing the editorial process first-hand, while not being exactly relevant to my research as such, has certainly given me some insights about the work Murry was doing as a magazine editor. It’s also broadened my perspective about the incredible research that other scholars are doing in the field of modernism.

I am also a writing tutor, a role I enjoy immensely not only because I love sharing my love of academic writing, but because giving feedback on other people’s writing helps me to keep on top of my own writing practices! 

This is all so exciting, thank you very much, Brittany – and all the very best with your thesis!