From the Personal Heresy to Ecocriticism: Moving Canons, Creating Reading Communities

by John Thieme

This essay surveys some of the forms that Anglophone literary studies have taken across the last two centuries, placing a particular emphasis on reading communities. It opens with an account of “The Personal heresy” controversy of the 1930s, before moving back to a summary of the origins of the institutionalized study of English, in London in the nineteenth century. Subsequently it discusses New Criticism and the various approaches referred to as ‘theory’ that dominated the academic study of literature in the last decades of the twentieth century. It contrasts formalism with ethically committed approaches, such as postcolonialism and ecocriticism, concluding that in their most altruistic iterations, these two approaches speak for, and to, an inclusive planetary community of readers, and hold out the possibility of an eco-sustainable future.