Juliette Bretan, Newnham

Degree: PhD
Course: English
Supervisor: Dr Leo Mellor
Dissertation Title:

Poland, that is to say Nowhere: Modernism, political geography, and East-Central Europe

Biographical Information

I attended a state school in rural Lincolnshire, before reading English for my BA (1st Class) at Murray Edwards College, Cambridge (2016-2019). I then completed a two-year MRes in East European Studies at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies (Distinction, and nominated to the Dean's List for academic excellence) at UCL, funded by an MRes Studentship (2019-2021). I am now back in Cambridge at Newnham College for a PhD, funded by a Vice-Chancellor's and Newnham College scholarship.

I have also worked as a freelance journalist over the last few years, covering Polish and Eastern European arts, history and current affairs. I regularly write and present on various topics related to interwar Polish culture - including literature, music, dance (especially tango), migration, trams and trains. My articles have featured in The Public Domain Review, The Sunday Times, Engelsberg Ideas, World Literature Today, Apofenie, The Arts Desk, The Modernist Review, Notes from Poland, Culture.pl, The Calvert Journal, CultureTrip, New Eastern Europe, and the European Literature Network, among others. In 2018, I contributed to the BBC World Service for a programme about Poland’s Syrena recording company, and was interviewed for the Notes from Poland and History Hack podcasts in 2020. I have also given invited talks at the Polish Heritage Society (2018), the College of Europe in Natolin (2019), and Ognisko Polskie (2019).

In 2021, I led one of the 'Social Dance and Collaboration' reading group sessions at the University of Cambridge, exploring tango as it travels across countries and culture, and particularly into Poland. I also worked as a guest producer for a concert at POSK Polish Centre for Polish Heritage Days 2021, about Polish-British cultural connections in the early 20th century. I have appeared on several podcasts, including the Stories from the Space Between podcast, created by The Space Between society, describing my research into representations of Poland in interwar British literature; and on the Lost Ladies of Lit podcast, discussing Polish-Jewish writer Debora Vogel. I also co-organised a reading group, 'Peripheral Modernists in Translation', which explored modernist writing from perceived peripheries of Europe. Recently, I have co-organised several events in Cambridge, including the Cambridge British-Polish Cultural Symposium (a one-day event with 100 attendees, which featured talks on the relationship between Britain and Poland in literature, visual arts, history, diplomacy, and social media - with special guests including the British Ambassador to Poland; the Polish Ambassador to Britain; Sanchia Berg; and Clare Mulley); a panel at the Cambridge Festival on literary connections between the 1920s and 2020s; and a one-day graduate symposium at the English Faculty on how stories shape our world.

I was a co-convenor of the faculty's Graduate Research Forum, and also co-convenor of the 20th Century and Contemporary Graduate Research Seminar. I also co-organise the Slavonic Studies Graduate Symposium in MMLL.

More details on my work and research can be found on my Twitter page (@jcbretan) and on my portfolio.

Research Interests

My current research examines representations of East-Central Europe - particularly focusing on Poland, but also with a broader emphasis on the region - in Anglophone and Polish modernism. I am also interested in cross-cultural collaboration between Britain and Poland in the first half of the 20th century. Authors of particular interest include: Joseph Conrad, D.H. Lawrence, Wyndham Lewis, T.S. Eliot, Rose Macaulay, Debora Vogel, Bruno Schulz, Joseph Roth, Jozef Czechowicz, Paul Celan, Franz Kafka, Eric Ambler, Patrick Hamilton, Geoffrey Household, Rex Warner, Alan Furst, Jonathan Safran Foer.

Wider areas of interest include: twentieth-century literature; the modernist short story; European avant-gardes; Central Eastern European modernism; ideas of genre; popular culture; modern music and dance; migration; quotidian objects; little magazines; crime, spy and thriller novels; war writing; medical humanities; modernist anthropology; sensory modalities; visual culture; Lincolnshire in fiction.

Selected Publications




Other recent essays:





Media appearances:


Conferences and lectures:

  • ‘Bruno Schulz’s “Pan”, nature, and the nation’, Pan and the Anthropocene, University of Bristol (July 2023)
  • ‘“Over Polish plains”: Poland, geopolitics, and Eliot’s Waste Land’, Polish Studies Group Northern Workshop, University of Manchester (May 2023)
  • ‘D.H. Lawrence’s non-representational Polishness’, Slavonic Studies Graduate Symposium, University of Cambridge (May 2023)
  • ‘“Her long blanks and darknesses of abstraction were Polish”: Faith and faithlessness in DH Lawrence’s depictions of Poles’, BASEES Annual Conference, Glasgow (March-April 2023). Also chairing panels on ‘Crime Fiction and Prison Culture’ and ‘Polish Literature and Culture’.
  • ‘“Swarming over Polish plains”: Invasion, survival, and East-Central Europe in The Waste Land’, Centre for the Study of Global Human Movement – GradCafe, University of Cambridge (March 2023)
  • 'The Lincolnshire Ulysses: or, Modernism in the Midlands', Signal and Sign Symposium, LMU Munich (January 2022)
  • '"A good bicycle can go anywhere": Bernard Newman, Pedalling Poland, and experiential topography', Cambridge British-Polish Cultural Symposium (December 2022)
  • 'The Lincolnshire Ulysses, or Modernism in the Midlands', Graduate Interdisciplinary Network Flash Forum, University of Cambridge (December 2022)
  • '"Words beyond the life of ships dream on": Conrad, language and foreignness', Polish Studies Conference, online (September 2022)
  • '"To create a new world"?: Poland, ambiguity, stereoscopes', BAMS Hopeful Modernisms, University of Bristol (June 2022)
  • 'Conrad, catadioptric: Fresnel lenses and the literature of connection', Signal and Sign Symposium, University of Cambridge (June 2022)
  • 'Milonga in Mitteleuropa: Prose, form and nationality in Bruno Schulz and Debora Vogel', Faculty of English Postgraduate Lecture Series, University of Cambridge (May 2022)
  • 'Poles through the looking glass: cultural dis/connections in modernist language, image and media', Cultural Trajectories Through Language, Literature and Media, The LNM Institute of Information Technology, Jaipur, online (April 2022)
  • 'Modernist Poles: peripheric, peripatetic, periphrastic, periscopic', Slavonic Studies Graduate Symposium, University of Cambridge (April 2022) - also co-organiser
  • '"As if she were passing unseen": Masks in depictions of Poles and Poland in the early 20th century', (un)Masked - 15th annual EGSA conference, University of Ottawa, online (March 2022)
  • '"I hope he won't talk": Joseph Conrad and Esperanto', New Work in Modernist Studies, online (December 2021)
  • 'Carriages, (dis)comfort, and the Polish counter-state', Graduate Interdisciplinary Network Flash Forum, University of Cambridge (December 2021)
  • '"Suffering in its grave": ghosts, afterlives, Poland', 20th Century and Contemporary Graduate Symposium, University of Cambridge (November 2021)