Our teaching history

Notable scholars in the School of English

Through its history, the School of English has counted among its academic staff celebrated writers, researchers and critics whose contributions have shaped the development of their fields. Here, you can read about some of the many significant figures who have been a part of our School over the years.

Bonamy Dobrée (1891-1974)

Bonamy Dobrée was Professor of English at Leeds from 1936 and the son of a Victorian Governor of the Bank of England. A wide-ranging critic, he was editor of Congreve and Vanbrugh, and instrumental in the establishment of the Gregory Fellowships in poetry. His books include Restoration Comedy (1924), Essays in Biography (1925), Alexander Pope (1951), Rudyard Kipling (1965), and, with Herbert Read, The London Book of English Verse (1949).  Dobrée's correspondence with T.S. Eliot is in Special Collections of the Brotherton Library.

J.R.R. Tolkien (1892-1973)

J.R.R. Tolkien was Reader and then Professor of English Language from 1920-5. Although internationally known for his fiction written after leaving Leeds, he produced while here an edition of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (first ed, 1925). A second edition, with his colleague E. V. Gordon (1896-1938: see below), followed in 1930 and remained influential throughout the century.

E.V. Gordon (1896-1938)

E.V. Gordon taught medieval literature at the University of Leeds until taking up the Chair of English Language and Germanic Philology at Manchester University in 1931. He established at Leeds the combined teaching of Old and Modern Icelandic, which has continued to the present day, in the early stages under the directorship of Bruce Dickins, Professor of English Language at Leeds from 1931-45, when Dickins became Elrington and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Cambridge.  On Icelandic, Gordon published the Introduction to Old Norse (Oxford, 1927; second edition with A.R. Taylor, 1957), which is still widely used. He worked with J.R.R. Tolkien on an influential edition of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (see Tolkien, above), and, while at Manchester , published an often-reprinted edition of the Old English poem The Battle of Maldon (1937).

G. Wilson Knight (1897-1985)

G. Wilson Knight was appointed Reader at Leeds in 1946 after an already distinguished career: he became Professor in 1956. His major studies were centrally on Shakespeare, including The Wheel of Fire: Essays in Interpretation of Shakespeare's Sombre Tragedies (1930), with an introduction by T.S. Eliot, The Imperial Theme (1931), The Crown of Life (1947), and The Sovereign Flower (1958), His exceptional range included Bryon, Pope, and John Cowper Powys. Absorbed by the theatre, Wilson Knight was also a playwright and actor; a statue of him as Timon of Athens is held in the Brotherton Library (Special Collections).

Harold Orton (1898-1975)

Harold Orton was educated at Merton College , Oxford. There he knew the remarkable Joseph Wright (1855-1930), editor of the English Dialect Dictionary, who himself had briefly studied at the Yorkshire College of Science which later became the University of Leeds . After periods in Newcastle and Sheffield, Harold Orton, one of the most prominent scholars of the English language of his age, was appointed Professor of English Language and Medieval Literature at Leeds in 1946. A dialectologist of indefatigable energy, his monumental work was the editorship of the Survey of English Dialects (1962-71 [fieldwork began c.1948 and later 'official' publications date on to 1994]) which defined the field.

Kenneth Muir (1907-1996)

Kenneth Muir was one of the most famous English Shakespeare scholars of the twentieth century, and taught at the School of English at Leeds as a Lecturer then Senior Lecturer from 1937-51. Educated at St Edmund Hall, Oxford , he was first appointed to St John's College , York , where he distinguished himself as a Shakespeare producer. His publications included John Keats: A Reassessment (1958), the first editions in the seminal New Arden series of King Lear and Macbeth, Shakespeare as Collaborator (1960), The Life and Letters of Sir Thomas Wyatt (1963), and Shakespeare's Comic Sequence (1979). Professor Muir's work as a translator of Racine was rewarded with an honorary doctorate from Dijon and he edited Shakespeare Survey, the major journal in the field, from 1965-80: he was a Fellow of the British Academy and, after Leeds, King Alfred Professor of English Literature at the University of Liverpool.

Douglas Jefferson (1912-2001) 

Douglas Jefferson, commemorated in the biennial Jefferson Memorial Lecture at Leeds, was the author of important criticism on, particularly, the eighteenth century, on Henry James (including an edition of What Maisie Knew), and on contemporary fiction including Iris Murdoch. His last, posthumous book was a discussion of Walter Scott. Jefferson 's study of Laurence Sterne and the tradition of learned wit (Essays in Criticism 1951) remains a standard point of reference.

Arnold Kettle (1916-1986)

Arnold Kettle was appointed Senior Lecturer at Leeds in 1947 after a period in Cambridge , Yale, and then Cambridge again. He admired F.R. Leavis, but differed from him in politics: Kettle was a life-long member of the Communist party. His most influential publication at Leeds was An Introduction to the English Novel (1951-3), with a second edition in 1967. Other work at Leeds included the edited collection Shakespeare in a Changing World (1964). In 1970, he became the first Professor of Literature at the new Open University.

William Walsh (1916-1996) 

William Walsh was appointed Professor of Education in the University of Leeds in 1957, but became the first Professor of Commonwealth Literature in the School of English in 1972, the first such position in the UK . He later (1965-7) served as Pro-Vice-Chancellor, retiring in 1981. Afterwards, he served as Acting Vice-Chancellor for some two years after the sudden death of Lord Boyle in September 1981. William Walsh graduated from Downing College Cambridge where he was a student of F.R. Leavis, with whom he maintained a long friendship. Professor Walsh's published work covered a wide range from the role of imagination in education, to the British Romantics, to contemporary Australian and Indian literature. His position gave Leeds a powerful role in the shaping of Commonwealth and Postcolonial literatures as an academic subject area. Professor Walsh's books included Coleridge: The Work and the Relevance (1967), D.J. Enright: Poet of Humanism (CUP, 1974), F.R. Leavis (1980), Introduction to Keats (1981), and Indian Literature in English (1990). He also published studies of V.S. Naipaul, Patrick White, and R.K. Narayan.

John Heath-Stubbs (1918-2006)

John Heath-Stubbs, poet, critic, and translator, was Gregory Fellow in Poetry at Leeds 1952-55. Among his often myth-inspired poetic works was Artorius: A Heroic Poem in Four Books and Eight Episodes (1973). His bibliography, The Verse Satire, appeared from Oxford University Press in 1969.

A. Norman Jeffares (1920-2004)

A. Norman Jeffares, appointed Professor at Leeds in 1956, was one the most influential critics of W.B. Yeats of his generation and author of the indispensable New Commentary On the Poems of W.B. Yeats (1968) as well as many books on Yeats and Irish literary themes including W. B. Yeats, Man and Poet; W. B. Yeats: a New Biography; Images of Invention: Essays on Irish Writing; A History of Anglo-Irish Literature; Yeats's Poems; The Irish Literary Movement; Irish Love Poems; A Pocket History of Irish Literature; and Ireland's Love Poems: Wonder and a Wild Desire. Jeffares wrote also on Congreve, Farquhar, Goldsmith, Maria Edgworth, Sheridan, Swift, George Moore, and Whitman.  Jeffares' energy also led him to establish the first chairs in Commonwealth Literature (see William Walsh) and in American Literature (see Douglas Grant) at Leeds: the first such positions in the UK .

Douglas Grant (1921-1969)

Douglas Grant, first Professor of American Literature in the School of English and the first such appointment in the UK , died suddenly aged 47 in Singapore . He had taught previously in Canada and was appointed to Leeds in 1960. Professor Grant's position gave to Leeds a decisive role in the establishment of the study of American literature in the UK . A critic of great range, and an authority particularly in nineteenth-century American literature and eighteenth-century English writing, Professor Grant's books included the World's Classics American Short Stories (1965), the standard edition of Charles Churchill's poems (Clarendon Press, 1956), an edition of Matthew Arnold's poetry and of Dryden's poetry (1952), a biography of James Thomson (1951), and The Fortunate Slave (OUP 1968). A selection of his criticism of American literature appeared in Purpose and Place (1965) and an autobiographical account of his time as a Marine as The Fuel of the Fire (1950). Professor Grant was a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

Vernon Scannell (1922-2007) 

Vernon Scannell, poet, critic, and novelist, read English at the University of Leeds, and was inspired by Bonamy Dobree and G. Wilson Knight. His critical work includes Not Without Glory: Poets of the Second World War (1976) and How to Enjoy Novels (1984), reprinted in Melvyn Bragg's arts series. He published a substantial number of volumes of poetry, from Graves and Resurrections (1948) onwards, including with Jon Silkin. He was a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature: Vernon Scannell died in Leeds.

Arthur Ravenscroft (1923-1989)

Arthur Ravenscroft was born in South Africa and, after teaching at Stellenbosch University and the University of Rhodesia ( Zimbabwe ), came to Leeds in 1963. He was a founder, with A.N. Jeffares and Douglas Grant, of the Journal of Commonwealth Literature, and edited it from 1965-78. The Journal rapidly established itself as the leading periodical for debate about the emerging field of Commonwealth (and then later Postcolonial) literatures in which field the School was the first to establish a chair (see William Walsh). Arthur Ravenscroft, whose studies included a short but influential book on Chinua Achebe (1969), is commemorated in the Ravenscroft lectures at Leeds . His collected papers, including much material about the Journal, were given to Special Collections at the Brotherton Library in 1989 and are catalogued as Manuscripts: MS 1524.

Jon Silkin (1930-1997)

Jon Silkin was Gregory Fellow in Poetry from 1958 to 1960, after which he took his BA as a mature student in the School of English. He founded the poetry magazine Stand in 1952, which he continued to edit before leaving for Newcastle in 1964. With Andrew Gurr, then also on the School of English staff, he set up Northern House Pamphlet Poets; in 1994, Silkin was Senior Fellow in Poetry in the School. His first significant book of poems The Peaceable Kingdom was published in 1954; the last edition of his Selected Poems to appear during his life was issued in 1988. Jon Glover edited the posthumous Making a Republic for Carcanet in 2002. Silkin's interest in the Great War led, among other works, to The Penguin Book of First World War Poetry (1979) and the study Out of Battle: The Poetry of the Great War (1972).