English MATTERS — SPRING 2011


Kathleen Blake

Before most of us knew Kathleen Blake, whose work at the UW began in 1971 and culminated with her retirement in 2010, she was a dancer. Ballet, that most whimsical and disciplined of the arts, is an art that reflects upon itself when it creates mechanical perfection in the form of mobile automatons…and then smiles at its own creation. Kathleen has never abandoned her passion for dance, but much of the discipline and whimsy that she may have learned there was to become the defining feature of her work as a scholar and a teacher in the English Department.

Her scholarship began with the drollery of Lewis Carroll in Play, Games, and Sport (Cornell,1974). Her most recent book, Pleasures of Benthamism: Victorian Literature, Utility, and Political Economy (Oxford, 2009) would seem, in its very title, to strain the meaning of amusement—or “Pleasures”—by turning from her early interest in nonsense—that is, Lewis Carroll—to the dismal scientist himself, Jeremy Bentham and his progeny.

One function of her study of Utilitarianism in Victorian literature is to redeem for it the status of pure pleasure, both as a constituent of the not-so-dismal science and, I might add, as a part of the pleasure that scholars and students can now take in the study of that much maligned and often ignored movement.

Between the disciplinary play of Lewis Carroll and the playful rigors of Bentham, Kathleen made her great contribution to Women’s Studies in the Victorian period, Love and the Woman Question in Victorian Literature (Harvester Press, 1983), where the subtitle—The Art of Self-Postponement—suggests the degree of her own deep personal investment in work and scholarship. Self-postponement is not simply delayed gratification, and it certainly is not procrastination, especially for Kathleen, who has done such an amazing job of balancing priorities and getting work done. But the term burrows deep into the experience of women, then and now, for whom the dual human appeal of the personal life and work has demanded the kind of poise and balance only known, perhaps—metaphorically, at least—to great dancers.

—Joseph Butwin

John C. Coldewey

This past autumn, John C. Coldewey retired from his position as Professor of English after 38 years of service. His legacy will include establishing the Department as a world-renowned center for the study of early English drama while enhancing the University’s high profile in performance studies. His essays in The Cambridge Companion to Medieval English Theatre (1994) and The New Cambridge History of British Theatre (2004), both still fundamental and widely cited, covered the whole spectrum of early theater in Britain. His four-volume work, Medieval Drama: Critical Concepts in Literary and Cultural Studies (2007), served to define the state of the discipline in every area of his specialization.

One outstanding quality of John Coldewey’s scholarship is his determination to break through barriers that complicate any attempt to achieve a deep understanding of literary monuments in their cultural contexts. He has consistently resisted rigid separation of the ‘Middle Ages’ and ‘modern’ times as well as ‘literary scholarship’ and ‘critical theory.’ These efforts peaked in a major collection, coauthored with Professor William Streitberger, Drama, Classical to Contemporary (1998). His most incisive integration of theoretical analysis and primary-source studies, however, appears in a quintet of long essays that span two decades of his time at UW, including “The Way Things (Never) Were” and “Watching the Watchers.”

John Coldewey arrived in the Department in 1972, having just completed his doctoral work at the University of Colorado. Productive on many fronts, he has received numerous awards from the American Council of Learned Societies, The National Endowment for the Humanities, among others. His editorial work on the Modern Language Quarterly (1980-93) ushered our most prominent international literary journal into a new era. Contributing his expertise to the Council of Editors of Learned Journals, he soon was elected its President. He has been rated one of the “top ten professors to take no matter what your major.” Serving on dozens of Ph.D. committees, students under his direct supervision have been hired at prestigious institutions nationwide. Remarkably, John Coldewey has found time to pursue a range of vigorous recreational activities on top of all this. Typically, he will mark the beginning of his retirement years with an epic bicycle trip across South America.

—Paul Remley

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