Menu Close

Matthew Reynolds

Professor of English and Comparative Criticism; Tutorial Fellow, St Anne's College, University of Oxford

I am interested in how literature germinates between and crosses languages; in translation as a creative process, especially as it involves Italian, French, the classics and the many languages of English; in the grounds and purposes of literary criticism; in writing about visual art; and in the practice of fiction. I am most at home in the 19th & 20th & 21st centuries but my work has ranged back as far as the early modern period.

My first book, The Realms of Verse (2001) explored interactions between aesthetic and political unity during the mid-nineteenth century: it uncovered ‘a politics of form … very different from that which prevails in most criticism’ (Studies in English Literature). I then become interested in modes of un-Englishness in literary writing, for instance when the writing is set abroad and/or the language used in foreign-seeming ways. This led me to focus on translation and ‘versioning’ as creative practices: I wrote essays about several poet-translators and co-edited a collection of English responses to Dante. The award of a Leverhulme Major Research Fellowship allowed me to develop this work into The Poetry of Translation: From Chaucer & Petrarch to Homer& Logue (2011). This book shows that the idea of translation as a carrying-across of meaning is inadequate to all translation and especially to the translation of poetry. Different metaphors are needed to describe the work-across-languages that occurs in poetic translation: for instance, ‘opening’ the source text, pursuing desire, succumbing to passion, taking a view, zooming in, dying, metamorphosing, or bringing to life. What's more, these metaphors can be shaped by the texts that are being translated, so that source-texts can determine something of what is done to them: this is what I call ‘the poetry of translation’. I then published Likenesses: Translation, Illustration, Interpretation (2013): it gathers the best of my essays and articles from the last decade or so and weaves them together with new work that extends the argument of The Poetry of Translation towards the visual arts and various translational kinds of writing in poetry and recent fiction.

I have recently finished Translation: A Very Short Introduction for OUP: it should come out in October 2016. I am now working on Translationality: Literature Across Languages for OUP's 21st Century Approaches series. Other current endeavours include Minding Borders: Resilient Divisions in Literature, the Body and the Academy (co-edited; forthcoming), Prismatic Translation, an ongoing research project which is now AHRC-funded (two volumes are in preparation, one co-edited with Sowon Park, the other with Adriana Jacobs), Portable Stories with Marina Warner, andTranslation as a Common Language with Tiphaine Samoyault and Yen-Mai Tran-Gervat (CERC-Paris III). All these projects are nourished by Oxford Comparative Criticism and Translation (OCCT), the interdisciplinary research programme based in TORCH and St Anne's College, which I initiated and chair. We pursue comparative research across languages and media, and are especially interested in involving writers, composers and artists in our work. We hold regular seminars, readings, a graduate-led discussion group and an annual conference. Much of our work in progress is available as podcasts and drafts through our website; a special issue of a journal, Comparative Criticism: Histories and Methods gives an outline of our approach; a book series, Transcript, pubishes more of our research.

I am committed to the practice of fiction. Designs for a Happy Home: A Novel in Ten Interiors came out in 2009, and The World Was All Before Them in 2013; my current writing has to do with autobiography and with sculpture. My creative work tends to explore space, languages, trust and mistrust in ways that have some points of contact with my criticism and scholarship.


  • –present
    Professor of English and Comparative Criticism; Tutorial Fellow, St Anne's College, University of Oxford