English saviours and pseuds 1

June 28, 2002

Anyone might think that English literature was in the doldrums after reading last week's THES .

First came the news that "Manchester admits 'sexism and hostility'" then, in features, Bob Eaglestone told us that "something is rotten in the state of English" ("Lit critters need selling"). Scholars are apparently failing to communicate with the wider world, and it is all the fault of "traditionalists".

But Eaglestone's argument rests on the same false paradigms he accuses the media of perpetuating. The idea that English lit. was "higher gossip about nice novels" until the "theorists" swept such things away betrays an absurdly narrow conception of the work done in English departments.

What about the palaeographers, historians of the book, textual editors, sociolinguists, cultural historians, theatre historians and iconographers without whose work the critics whom Eaglestone praises for pushing the discipline forward would be whistling in the dark? Such work is not "fusty" or "arcane", and it has no trouble establishing dialogue with the wider community.

The successful collaboration between academics and the theatre community that produced the New Globe project is evidence that work in English is well understood and popular beyond the academy.

Greg Walker
Department of English
University of Leicester

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