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Durham University

Department of English Studies


Academic Staff

Dr Noreen Masud, BA (Oxon) MPhil (Cantab) DPhil (Oxon)

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Leverhulme Early Career Fellow in the Department of English Studies

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My research centres on the literature of the early-to-mid-twentieth-century, particularly Stevie Smith, Edith Sitwell, D. H. Lawrence, Gertrude Stein and Willa Cather. I work on writers who, in one way or another, disrupt narratives about what good literature should be or do: who present themselves variously as absurd, unrevealing, embarrassing or useless. I enjoy pursuing these resistant modes of writing through a range of motifs: these have included aphorisms, flatness, spivs, puppets, nonsense, leftovers, earworms, footnotes, rhymes, hymns, surprises, folk songs, colours and superstition.

My first monograph, under review at a university press, is based on my doctorate (2018) on aphorism in the work of Stevie Smith (1902-1971). It frames an original approach to Smith’s enigmatic poetry and novels by drawing up a new theory of the aphorism: the form, I argue, most fundamental to Smith’s aesthetics. Finding that the aphorism can act as a tool for the social management of emotions – both displaying and concealing embarrassing feelings – the monograph’s conclusions help to reframe a range of short-form writing across the twentieth century.

I am now working on a new monograph project: on 'flatness' (of landscape, tone, style and affect) in twentieth-century literature. It investigates how and why Lawrence, Cather, Stein and Samuel Beckett repeatedly position flat landscapes as worthy of attention, demanding that readers direct their gaze towards expanses which seem dull, unrevealing and plain. Intervening in the fields of ecocriticism, affect theory and literary style, the monograph argues that looking closely at literature’s flat spaces can help answer an urgent contemporary question: how we might live, observe and feel in a world whose historical and ecological orientation-points have been levelled.

I review for the Year's Work in English Studies, surveying publications on British poetry from 1900-1950, and am delighted when authors bring relevant essays, articles and books to my attention.

I maintain active interests in the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century literary contexts of my main research foci, especially poetry, with work published and forthcoming on the writer Edward Lear.

Selected Publications

Book review

Chapter in book

  • Masud, Noreen (2020). Shady Pleasures: Modernist Nonsense. In The Edinburgh Companion to Nonsense. Barton, Anna & Williams, James Edinburgh University Press.
  • Masud, Noreen (2019). Aphoristic Interruption in Stevie Smith. In Aphoristic Modernity: 1890 to the Present. Shallcross, Michael & Boyiopoulos, Kostas Brill.
  • Masud, Noreen (2019). Wild as a Cat: Stevie Smith and Sylvia Plath. In Sylvia Plath in Context. Brain, Tracy Cambridge University Press.

Journal Article

Other (Digital/Visual Media)

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