Pragmatic criticism: women and femininity in the inauguration of academic English studies in the U.K., 1900-1950

Wright, Natalie Francesca (2020) Pragmatic criticism: women and femininity in the inauguration of academic English studies in the U.K., 1900-1950. Doctoral thesis (PhD), University of Sussex.

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This project looks at how gender operates in literary-critical values during the formation of U.K. English departments in the early twentieth century through the lives and work of three pioneering women scholars: Edith Morley, Caroline Spurgeon, and Q. D. Leavis. It argues that academic literary studies inculcated masculine critical rhetoric into the discipline, revolving around the conceptual pillars of stoicism, seriousness, and hard work, and that this rhetoric had a material impact on early women scholars. This project finds that these three women did not uphold the emerging critical paradigm, however, but that they produced work concerned with writers’ personal lives, socio-political contexts, and readerly emotion. In chapter one, I find that academia discriminates against Morley and Leavis using a gendered professional lexicon and that, correspondingly, these women are highly politicized workers with pioneer mentalities. In chapter two, I find that early male scholars use scientific discourse to promote unemotional and impersonal criticism as internal intellectual virtues. On the contrary, I find that Morley, Spurgeon, and Leavis perceive critical bias as a methodological issue and understate their own agency in their statistical work. In chapter three, I find that Spurgeon and Leavis represent collegiate environments using queer codes and tropes and respond to other writers’ representations of university life with paranoid criticism. In chapter four, I find that Morley and Spurgeon appreciate women novelists for representing feminine subject matter, whereas Leavis argues that they are valuable because they are serious and hard-working. My research interweaves textual analysis and material social history, using personal and institutional archives, life-writing, and published criticism. This project intervenes in the history of literary studies as it the first to look at early women scholars’ work in tandem or at gender ideology in literary-critical discourse in their era, and it is the first project to narrate the birth of the discipline as it was experienced by women.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Schools and Departments: School of English > English
Subjects: L Education > LC Special aspects of education > LC0065 Social aspects of education > LC0189 Educational sociology > LC0212.9 Sex differences in education
P Language and Literature > PR English literature > PR0031 Study and teaching > PR0040 By period > PR0047 20th century
Depositing User: Library Cataloguing
Date Deposited: 07 Jan 2021 09:36
Last Modified: 07 Jan 2021 09:36

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