The disciplinary history of English has often been dominated by one kind of story, a story that casts literary study in the role of villain. In this story, English is little more than an attempt to inculcate in its students a particular set of morals and values, promoting a spirit of nationalism and neutralising possible sources of resistance within the increasingly divided society of nineteenth-century Britain. This process of indoctrination is one in which institutions at all levels have been seen as complicit, creating a seamless continuum that links schools, universities and the adult education movement. In such a story, there is, implicitly, little to separate Matthew Arnold’s call for ‘the best which has been thought and said’,1 or John Churton Collins’s emphasis on ‘right feeling and right thinking’,2 from the most recent version of the National Curriculum. English may be an academic discipline, but its more important role in this story is as an agent of morality, spiritual growth and patriotic propaganda.