default-logoBy Paul Strickland. The modern English department began to take shape in the mid-19th century. As science gained in prestige then and religion lost much of its authority in society, the best of English literature came to be sacred texts for study and analysis, and some English professors could even act like clerics. Matthew Arnold, the mid-century British poet and critic, was a representative humanist in his approach to literature. Dr. William Robbins, a mid-20th-century Arnold scholar and English professor at UBC, emphasized his humanistic faith in class.
However, from the early part of the 20th century, the political leanings of some literary modernists cast doubt on the idea that the study of literature would always lead to society’s adoption of humane, democratic values. The poets T.S. Eliot, W.B. Yeats and Ezra Pound came to endorse fascism, and Pound broadcast his anti-democratic and anti-Semitic views on Italian fascist government radio in Rome during the early 1940s. A Canadian neo-Arnoldian professor and critic, Louis Dudek of McGill, was considered by some to be a little too philosophically close to Pound before he repudiated Pound’s views late in life. More...