Graham Borland, Hughes Hall

Degree: PhD
Course: English
Supervisor: Prof Michael Hurley
Dissertation Title:

Delicious Draughts of Silence: Apophatic Desire and the Limits of the Secular in the Works of Virginia Woolf, H.D., Hugh MacDiarmid, and D. H. Lawrence

Biographical Information

Originally from Ireland, I previously studied at Maynooth University, County Kildare, where I completed an MA in Gender & Sexuality in Writing & Culture, funded by the Maynooth University Taught Master's Scholarship. My master's dissertation concerned mysticism and poetic form in H.D.'s long poems, exploring how apophasis and apocalypticism function as poetic and narrative techniques in her post-war writing. My undergraduate degree in English and philosophy is also from Maynooth.


Research Interests

Here at Cambridge, my current research concerns apophasis, secularity, and epistemic or linguistic limits in modernist literature. This project focuses on how ideas about fundamental limits to human knowledge or language bounce between religious, secular, and esoteric discourses. Of particular concern is how early-twentieth-century writers use silence, failure, and negation to gesture towards things deemed otherwise inexpressible – and the paradoxical relationships that therein emerge between the religious and the secular, enchantment and disenchantment, certainty and doubt. Currently, the project examines these dynamics in the works of Virginia Woolf, H.D. (Hilda Doolittle), Hugh MacDiarmid (Christopher Murray Grieve), and D. H. Lawrence.

My doctoral studies are generously supported by the Robert Gardiner Memorial Scholarship, and the Cambridge Trust Vice-Chancellor’s/Hughes Hall PhD Scholarship.

When I'm not contemplating the abyss, I can normally be found in my flat playing very sad songs on the ukulele.

Please direct noise complaints, and any other queries, to gkb25[at]

General areas of interest include: modernism; twentieth-century British and Irish literature; literature and philosophy; literarature and religion; secularity; Western esotericism; gender and sexuality.


Selected Publications

Articles, book chapters, and reviews

‘Signets Reborn: H.D.'s Serpent-and-Thistle Signet Ring and Louvre Museum Item Number BJ 1212’. Notes and Queries 71.1 (March 2024). 117-120. DOI: 10.1093/notesj/gjad131 <>

‘Incidents in the order of time: epic and apocalyptic form in H.D.’s Helen in Egypt and Trilogy’, in The Sound of the Past: Modernist Echoes and Incantations (Delaware: Vernon Press). Commissioned.

‘Review: Christian Heresy, James Joyce, and the Modernist Literary Imagination: Reinventing the Word, by Gregory Erickson’. The Modernist Review. Commissioned.

‘Review: Modernism and Religion: Between Mysticism and Orthodoxy, by Jamie Callison’. Reading Religion. Commissioned.

Conference presentations

‘How to Steal a Ghost: Methods of Plagiarism and/or Psychical Research in Hugh McDiarmid’s Annals of the Five Senses (1923)’. Graduate Research Forum: ‘Discovery’, University of Cambridge, 2024.

‘Obviously, Helen has walked through time: apocalypse as anti-epic in H.D.’s Helen in Egypt’. Apocalypse Poetry II Symposium, University of Huddersfield, 2022.

‘Writing with porpoise: Woolf, “mysticism”, and aquatic life’. Virginia Woolf, Europe, and Peace: The 28th Annual International Virginia Woolf Society Conference, University of Kent, 2017.

Public engagement

Guest talk: ‘Introduction to the academic study of Western Esotericism: rejected knowledge and the myth of disenchantment’. Mystics Society, University of Cambridge Student Union, 2023.