History of the School of English

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The School of English at the University of Leeds has a distinction which is internationally recognised. But that success is not a new one and it builds on the foundations of a succession of significant scholars who have taught and written at Leeds.

The School has been the academic home for many eminent writers on both language and literature who have helped shape the nature of academic investigation in their fields as it is now recognized. What follows (arranged by year of birth and with only scholars now departed included) is by no means a complete history and more work is being done in this area. But it is an indication of some of the scholars whose writing and teaching continues to be consequential to the wider world and who constitute part of the historical environment of the present School's endeavours.

Bonamy Dobrée (1891-1974) 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) 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. (Eric Valentine) Gordon (1896-1938) 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).

Pages in this document

  1. History of the School of English
  2. History of the School of English 1897 to 1916
  3. History of the School of English 1916 to 1921
  4. History of the School of English 1922 to date