Volume 75, Issue 2 | June 2014

Special Issue: Lessons from the Past: The History of Academic English

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Leigh Dale and Jennifer McDonell Lessons from the Past?
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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.
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Catherine Robson Afterword: “On Difficulty”

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