Criticism and the Modernists: Woolf, Murry, Orage

  • Carol Atherton


The resistance to literary scholarship, in the form of a set of critical philosophies that emphasised the relationship between text and reader over the codes and practices of academic study, was to become a recurring theme in the arguments about academic English that took place over the next few decades. Significantly, this debate about different forms of literary knowledge took place not just within the universities, but also in other cultural arenas. Laurel Brake’s work on nineteenth-century periodicals has uncovered the extent of theorising about criticism that took place even in apparently ‘generalist’ publications such as the Cornhill Magazine, with the ‘problems of identity, method and language’ experienced by the men of letters being seen as symptoms of the chaos brought about by the fragmentation of criticism into its various journalistic and scholarly forms.1 Just as the early supporters of literary study had to defend the subject’s claims to academic status, it seemed that those who worked outside the universities had to justify their right to include it in non-specialist debate, arguing that its wider relevance meant that it should not be allowed to become the possession of a purely academic domain. Specialists may have succeeded in claiming some aspects of English as theirs, but the continuing presence of literature in general debate meant that they could not ‘own’ the subject entirely.


Literary Criticism Aesthetic Experience Mass Market Literary Knowledge Personal Authority 
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  1. 3.
    A. R. Orage, quoted in Wallace Martin, Orage as Critic (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1974), p. 74.Google Scholar
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    John Middleton Murry, ‘Northcliffe as Symbol’, Adelphi, 1 (October 1930), pp. 16, 18.Google Scholar
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© Carol Atherton 2005

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  • Carol Atherton

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