Liam Michael Plimmer, St John's

Degree: PhD
Course: English
Supervisor: Dr Ross Wilson
Dissertation Title:

Theorising the Künstlerroman [artist-novel]: Transatlantic Encounters, c.1875-1928

Biographical Information

I first came to Cambridge in 2017 as a first-generation student from a low-income family to study for a BA in English at Downing College, graduating with a double first with distinction in 2020. During my time as an undergraduate, I was the recipient of a number of academic awards, including the Betha Wolferstan Rylands Prize, the F. R. Leavis Prize (twice), and the Whalley-Tooker Prize. After leaving Cambridge, I completed an MSt in English Literature, 1900-Present as a Clarendon Scholar at Jesus College, Oxford, graduating with a distinction in 2021. I have now returned to Cambridge to study for a PhD as a Benefactors' Scholar at St. John's College.

Research Interests

My PhD thesis concerns the paradoxically fraught relationships between the Künstlerroman [artist-novel], philosophical aesthetics, and art history, as revealed in the Künstlerroman’s “translation” out of German romanticism into Anglo-American realism and modernism. The four main chapters concern a series of works by American authors that thematise cultural translation. They discuss the deferral of artistic creation and the problem of narrative scene in transatlantic fiction by Henry James; the question of artistic origin and the ideal of impersonality, or “Germanness”, in Willa Cather’s novel of the Great Plains, The Song of the Lark (1915); racism, civil rights activism, and artistic “renunciation” (à la Goethe) in the early novels of Jessie Redmon Fauset – an important, though neglected, writer of the Harlem Renaissance; and the Orientalist return to nature for cultural renewal and liberation from Western technology in Mary McNeil’s virtually unknown novel, The Dragon Painter (1906), and the more famous writings on Japanese art history by her husband, Ernest Fenollosa. In their explicit consideration of the politics of art, these last two chapters continue the work of the first two, showing how the Künstlerroman forces us to rethink some of the most urgent questions in modern aesthetics.

My other areas of interest include medieval literature, religion, and intellectual history, especially Wycliffism/Lollardy (about which I have an article published in Neophilologus); the Bildungsroman; German idealism and romanticism; modernist prose fiction; Virginia Woolf, Leonard Woolf, and the Bloomsbury Group; Vladimir Nabokov; twentieth-century philosophy and literary criticism; Martin Heidegger, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and Theodor W. Adorno; Marxism; literature and religion; the nuclear imagination; and the literature of the Rwandan genocide.

Selected Publications

'The Invisibility of the Soul and the Rhetoric of Dissent: Conscience and the Wycliffite Heresy', Neophilologus 107 (2023), 485-502. (