One upon a time, and a very good time it was in many ways, people with a broad education in the humanities would routinely encounter novels like Roderick Random.1 All round the world, students taking courses on Brit Lit had little chance of avoiding Tobias Smollett, unless they managed to track down some alternative option that allowed them to go off piste into a subject like Old Norse. He figured among the early masters of English fiction (women didn’t get a look in, prior to Fanny Burney and Jane Austen). But today the syllabus of a literature program may well include film noir, graphic novels, rap or vampire videos—in most schools it would be easier to get specialist instruction on fans’ responses to Buffy the Vampire Slayer than on the work of, say, George Meredith. This is particularly...


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