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This article is taken from PN Review 27, Volume 9 Number 1, September - October 1982.

Dreadful Spouts Alan Young

American university and college professors who attended the four-day ('Friday through Monday') English Institute conference in late summer 1979 must have left it suffering from acute intellectual and emotional disorientation. Two of the four sessions- one on George Eliot and the other on Allegory-followed a customary English Institute pattern: three or four lectures given by well-known scholars, followed by questions from and discussion with the audience. Perhaps on Saturday afternoon Jerome Beaty on 'George Eliot's Next Novel' ('an exercise in constructionist fictional criticism') produced uncustomary frissons among his colleagues. Maybe, too, Robert Durling's contribution to the Allegory session, 'Deceit and Digestion in Dante's Hell', spoiled a few appetites for Sunday lunch. It is more likely, however, that the adrenalin pumped out in response to the opening session had over-riding effects on participants for at least the remainder of the conference. The three essays of this opening session, on 'English as a World Language for Literature', make up the first half of the book. The second half consists of four essays on 'The Institution of Literature'.

Leslie Fiedler, who directed 'The Institution of Literature' session, argues in the book's preface that 'essay' is hardly the right word to use in characterizing pieces some of which were designed `to be heard rather than read'. He adds:

Not only do the pieces in both categories deal with subjects not ordinarily treated at sessions of the English Institute- being more political, more polemical, more passionate-but their mode ...

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