Abstracts for Volume 75 | 2014

Volume 75, Issue 1
Author Title
Matthew Wickman Robert Burns and Big Data; or, The Pests That Dwell between Shape and Number

This essay addresses the relationship between shape and number that is implicit to the conversion of statistics into forms of visual display. It does so by way of the work and legacy of Robert Burns, particularly the well-known poems “To a Louse” and “To a Mouse.” Bearing the reputation of Scotland’s national bard, a figure resolving a multiplicity of citizens into the image of unity, Burn’s poems nevertheless present complex, creaturely subjects that seemingly consist in more and less than themselves, in more and less than “one.” The poems thus make a narrow case for the breakdown of sympathy and a broader one for the irreducible complexity of being. Such complexity inflects the very structure of what scholars, after Franco Moretti, call the quantitative analysis of literature (in the conversion of texts to countable units: one, two, three, etc.). It also reveals how texts from literary history both complement and undercut the practices that partly convert those texts into bytes of information.

Jesse Molesworth Gothic Time, Sacred Time

The manipulation of local time, or clock time, constitutes a vital aspect of gothic storytelling, as seen in Horace Walpole’s Castle of Otranto, Matthew Lewis’s Monk, and Ann Radcliffe’s novels. Several concepts emerge: the importance of the hour as a temporal unit, the meticulous marking of events in reference to their time of occurrence, and the personification of individual hours. Such effects promote a secular mysticism: gothic novels translate and reinvent an older liturgical reverence for the hour. Gothic time is, moreover, remade by Charles Brockden Brown and Jane Austen, whose Northanger Abbey formulates one aspect of novelistic realism precisely through the avoidance of gothic temporality.

Kent Puckett Hardy’s 1900

This essay follows several changes in the dating of “The Darkling Thrush” to ask what the number 1900 might have meant to Thomas Hardy. Although Hardy did not make many edits to the poem itself, he did change the way that it was dated at every opportunity: in manuscript, the date appears as “The Century’s End 1899 1900”; in the periodical the Graphic, it is implicitly the issue’s date of publication, December 29, 1900; in Poems of the Past and the Present (1901), it is “December 1900”; and, finally, in The Collected Poems (1919), it takes its canonical form, “31 December 1900.” This essay explores several related problems: the almost occult significance of the publication date 1900; the surprising relevance of calendar debates to “The Darkling Thrush” and other texts, a crisis of temporality characteristic of late Victorian poetry and poetics; and the way that extrinsic historical context becomes the intrinsic stuff of literary meaning.

Simon Kemp Postpsychoanalytic Proust

A la recherche du temps perdu, the last great pre-Freudian novel of the mind, has attracted much attention from psychoanalytic critics since its publication. This article explores the analysis of Proust’s novel by critics, with a particular focus on the representation of the conscious and unconscious mind. It follows the history of such criticism through the rise of psychoanalysis in the humanities to the waning of its influence in the early years of the present century. The article argues that our postpsychoanalytic present is the ideal moment to reexamine the parallels and divergences between Proust’s and Freud’s understandings of consciousness and to measure them against the rival philosophical and psychological theories developed during the twentieth century. The current pluralism in the humanities’ approach to analyzing representations of the mind allows the literary author’s implicit understanding of mental life to assert itself more clearly.

top Volume 75, Issue 2
Author Title
Andrew Elfenbein The United States of Raveloe

George Eliot’s novella Silas Marner, the Weaver of Raveloe was central to the high school English curriculum in the United States for much of the twentieth century. Its status had risen during a period of cooperation between high schools and colleges about standards for admission to the latter at the end of the nineteenth century. Yet even after standardized tests had replaced it as a key to college admissions, Silas Marner remained in high schools to furnish an idealized image of education, in which a nonbiological parent successfully replaced unsuitable biological ones. Although the pedagogical moment that enshrined this work has passed, its history raises questions regarding the value of relevance in high school reading, the role of teaching aesthetic judgment, and the connections between high school and college teaching of literature.

Heather Murray Alexander and After: Browning Culture, Natural Method, and National Education, 1889-1914

W. J. Alexander, trained at London and Johns Hopkins and appointed in 1889 by the University of Toronto as one of the first dedicated professors of English literature in Canada, was well positioned to direct the new discipline of English literary studies across the country and at all educational levels, and he did so for many decades. Less known are his early work as a Browning scholar and his attempt to steer readers of Browning in a “poetical” direction based on close textual study. The history of Alexander’s 1889 Introduction to the Poetry of Robert Browning provides a point of entry into the complex world of Browning readership in the months surrounding the poet’s death. The theorization of “difficulty” first developed in the Introduction underpinned Alexander’s continuing pedagogical work and his efforts to install literary study at the center of the new Dominion’s educational mandate.

Nancy Glazener The Browning Society in U.S. Public Literary Culture

Robert Browning had a powerful following in the United States among readers who came of age during and after the Civil War, but caricatures of the Browning Society have obscured the terms on which he was admired. For many of those readers, a taste for Browning marked a generational divide. The difficulty and startling effects of Browning’s poetry distinguished him from poets whose reputations had been made before the war—poets admired by the parents and teachers of these readers. Although he was valued specifically for being his readers’ contemporary, interpreting the difficulties of modern life to modern readers, admiration for Browning was modeled on admiration for Shakespeare, which combined philological caretaking with idealizing investments. Browning’s poetry, because of its syntactical difficulty and dense allusions, in similar fashion merited patient study, and it attracted readers who believed that it offered fuel for social transformation.

Jennifer McDonell “The Fascination of What’s Difficult”: Browning and MacCallum’s Classroom

The installation of Browning studies in the early Australian academy challenges the dominant narrative that the rise of English was underpinned by a modernist doxa predicated on notions of a historical break—with the Victorians in particular. Sir Mungo William MacCallum, the first professor of literature at the University of Sydney (and a figure central to the direction of the humanities academy in Australia), taught Victorian literature, including Browning, from the 1890s. MacCallum’s public lectures, like his pedagogy, aimed to convert a primary obstacle for many readers of Browning—his difficulty—into an argument for the value of interpretative labor that not only continued a tradition in nineteenth-century Browning criticism of emphasizing the active cooperation of reader and interpreter but also transferred the idea of “discipline,” formerly associated with the classics, especially Latin, to the study of literature in the vernacular. By examining the complex reticulations of disciplinarity and publicness over a contested author in an institutional site at the periphery of the global network that was the British Empire, this essay questions prevailing periodizations and categories of genre and style that diasporic, comparative classicists like MacCallum worked without.

Robert Dingley Coming Back for Seconds: Professing English Literature in British Universities, 1880-1914

Historians of the institutionalized study of English literature tend to treat the British professoriate during the subject’s “growth and consolidation” phase in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as a colorful miscellany of disparate and transitional figures who failed to establish coherent protocols or boundaries for the emerging discipline. This article contests that view by examining synoptically the careers of several key players in the promotion and development of university English studies: John Churton Collins, W. P. Ker, Arthur Quiller-Couch, Walter Raleigh, and George Saintsbury. By treating these movers and shakers as a loosely affiliated group whose career trajectories broadly conform to Pierre Bourdieu’s characterization of “losers who win,” the article elicits a number of shared attitudes and aspirations and suggests that, at a time when narrowly conceived definitions of English and, indeed, of discipline are under increasing question, the achievements and ambitions of the early professoriate may be overdue for revaluation.

Leigh Dale T.H. Green and the Modern Novel: English at Oxford

Nobody wants an embarrassing ancestor. What to do, then, with the Victorians in writing the history of the teaching of English in universities? Many have solved this problem by mounting arguments that propel the reader swiftly past the second half of the century—“nothing to see here, folks”—en route from Romanticism to Leavisism and New Criticism, with a quick nod to Matthew Arnold. This essay works against this habit, introducing and analyzing the intellectual legacy of T. H. Green, whose life and work inspired generations of liberal-thinking students and colleagues in the humanities in Britain and its colonies during the last two decades of the nineteenth century and the first two of the twentieth. But the decline in idealism’s credibility and visibility has led to its erasure from histories of the discipline of English. In considering Green and his intellectual circle, which included Algernon Swinburne, Walter Pater, and John Addington Symonds, the essay opens up the sometimes surprising ways in which intellectually innovative discussions about literature might occur within the walls of the university, albeit outside the strictures of the curriculum.

Alison Wood Secularity and the Uses of Literature: English at Cambridge, 1890-1920

“Cambridge English” and the uses of literature it implies proffer, still, an image central to our sense of the history of literary study. Working backward from that behemoth—of F. R. Leavis, William Empson, and I. A. Richards—this essay explores the percolation of the discipline at a religiously reforming, reformed Cambridge. In the three decades before the inaugural (and comparatively late) appointment of Arthur Verrall to the King Edward VII Professorship of English Literature in 1911, ideology and institution had collided brilliantly. For the drawn-out process of formalizing literature as a discipline occurred within broader discussions about the nature of the new, secularized university: specifically, its reconstitution of purpose in the light of a series of legislative reforms (1855–1921) and its radically changing relation to the established Church of England. Events at Cambridge suggest decidedly unstable notions of public secularity and enduring uncertainty about how tensions between precedence and ambitions for future life might be negotiated. Literary study—cast variously as a substitution for theology, ideology, or even intellectual dilution—became a significant proxy for such debates.

Angela Dunstan The Shelley Society, Literary Lectures and the Global Circulation of English Literature and Scholarly Practice

This essay examines the contribution of the Shelley Society to the rise of English studies in the late nineteenth century. It reconstructs what “studying English literature” signified outside the university at the time, offering a parallel history to the well-documented institutional account of the evolution of English studies. This essay builds and tests the theory that literary societies were agents for disseminating not only literature but scholarly practice, spreading productive debate about curricula, relevance, and the public benefit of literature over the English-speaking world. It also explores how literary societies publicly negotiated the controversial conception of English literature as a legitimate subject for scholarly pursuit, how they built the case for vernacular literature’s capacity to be studied “scientifically,” and how they then exported these ideas—and texts—across the globe.

Herbert Tucker A Field of Magpies: Disciplinary Emergence as Modus Vivendi in English Studies

Amid undeniable institutional pressures, one more strictly intellectual aspect of the chronic crisis in English studies is its perennial state of emergence toward a disciplinarity that, in Thomas S. Kuhn’s sense, it never achieves. Since its early nineteenth-century inception the field has instead borrowed tools, procedures, and standards, immethodically yet retentively, from other fields it has found engaging and adaptable. Notable waves of change that have irrigated the field include, in rough historical sequence, philology, seminary education, psychology, social science, history, anthropology, linguistics, philosophy, and sociology—none of them long dominant yet none ever quite superseded, each leaving its mark on literary scholarship and criticism. Analytic and interpretative practices incubated in English having at times flowed back with a difference into their sponsoring disciplines, it is incumbent on English studies now to see that these practices flourish in the field of media studies that seems likely to succeed it during the century ahead.

top Volume 75, Issue 3
Author Title
Sarah Ellenzweig Paradise Lost and the Secret of Lucretian Sufficiency

The question of how and why a body falls in Paradise Lost persistently returns to the declining bodies that occupy Lucretius’s De rerum natura. Milton’s Christian support of the Arminian doctrine of free will, his argument that man is “Sufficient to have stood, though free to fall,” thus unfolds in a provocative dialogue with the Lucretian theory of agency. Setting forth a view of matter’s autonomous and vital properties that flirts dangerously with naturalism, Milton emerges as the uneasy inheritor of an ancient and underground Epicurean tradition that understood motion as a self-expressive endeavor of bodies. Moreover, his use of Lucretian physics in Paradise Lost challenges established models of providential superintendence. From Satan to the poem’s speaker to Adam and Eve, this challenge presents itself most enduringly through the Lucretian concept of self-motion, of animate and potentially endless movement independent of external power.

Nicholas Birns The System Cannot Withstand Close Scrutiny: 1966, the Johns Hopkins Conference and the Anomalous Rise of Theory

It is often said that the 1960s was an era of phenomenology in literary criticism. Interrogating this only partly justified statement leads us to a revised genealogy of theory in US academe. The famed 1966 conference at Johns Hopkins University saw the nearly simultaneous emergence of structuralism and poststructuralism on American shores. In charting the happenstance of critical fortune at this pivotal and liminal moment, this essay suggests a new understanding of the institutional and intellectual bases of theory. It also addresses the anomalous status of the 1960s as a decade tumultuous in the outer world but fairly placid in academe, and it mediates the role that discussions of theory play in the attempt to categorize the 1960s as a “very short twentieth century” that can be outflanked by past and future.

Carmen Nocentelli The Dutch Black Legend

English “Hollandophobia” is usually understood as a function or reflection of the rivalries that characterized Anglo-Dutch relations during the seventeenth century. Working against such a circumscribed understanding, this essay contends that Hollandophobia is best thought of as a “Dutch Black Legend” — that is, as a deliberate repetition of the Hispanophobic topoi known as the Spanish Black Legend. Only by acknowledging the intimate relationship between these two phenomena can we make sense of Hollandophobia’s peculiar features while discerning how this seventeenth-century discourse helped construct what the English took to be proper Europeanness.

Michaela Bronstein A Case for Literary Transhistory: Ngũgĩ’s Use of Conrad

Criticism has long sought the political significance of literature in its engagement with an immediate historical context. Yet this approach fails to account for one of literature’s most important effects: its interaction with readers distant from its moment of creation. The transhistorical travels of literature are usually seen as antihistorical aesthetic transcendence, as a flight from political relevance. This essay argues, using Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o’s repurposing of Joseph Conrad as a case study, that the literary aspiration to write for the future is instead an invitation to multiple historical uses. Ngũgĩ makes use of Conrad not by engaging with his historical context but by dehistoricizing his literary forms and themes for anti-and postcolonial purposes. Conrad’s novels are usually assimilated to a narrative of modernist experimentation in which innovative literary form becomes politically progressive through its representation of the uncertain and unknowable; for Ngũgĩ, however, the literary techniques are tools for generating political judgments and commitments. Later authors’ uses of their predecessors illuminate not just the possible political uses of earlier works but also the effects of literary form on a wide array of readers.


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