W. J. Alexander, trained at London and Johns Hopkins and appointed in 1889 by the University of Toronto as one of the first dedicated professors of English literature in Canada, was well positioned to direct the new discipline of English literary studies across the country and at all educational levels, and he did so for many decades. Less known are his early work as a Browning scholar and his attempt to steer readers of Browning in a “poetical” direction based on close textual study. The history of Alexander’s 1889 Introduction to the Poetry of Robert Browning provides a point of entry into the complex world of Browning readership in the months surrounding the poet’s death. The theorization of “difficulty” first developed in the Introduction underpinned Alexander’s continuing pedagogical work and his efforts to install literary study at the center of the new Dominion’s educational mandate.

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