Matthew Arnold: the discourse of criticism
In the history of criticism Matthew Arnold stands as a central and substantial figure, responsible for the establishing of the discipline of ‘English,’ the transformation of which is a contemporary literary theory’s acknowledged mission. Prior to this identification of Arnold as a mater-strategist in the formation of a hegemonic cultural discourse, his critical work has been acknowledged and celebrated as a seminal influence by another architect of modern criticism, F.R. Leavis. Leavis’ key statement, published in 1938, took the form of a polemical response to T.S. Eliot’s evaluation of Arnold as a precursor of 1890s Aestheticism. The changing fortunes of Matthew Arnold’s reputation, visibly mutating as it passes through the hands of so many key figures in ‘the British Critical Tradition,’ clearly deserves a more sustained examination.