The installation of Browning studies in the early Australian academy challenges the dominant narrative that the rise of English was underpinned by a modernist doxa predicated on notions of a historical break—with the Victorians in particular. Sir Mungo William MacCallum, the first professor of literature at the University of Sydney (and a figure central to the direction of the humanities academy in Australia), taught Victorian literature, including Browning, from the 1890s. MacCallum’s public lectures, like his pedagogy, aimed to convert a primary obstacle for many readers of Browning—his difficulty—into an argument for the value of interpretative labor that not only continued a tradition in nineteenth-century Browning criticism of emphasizing the active cooperation of reader and interpreter but also transferred the idea of “discipline,” formerly associated with the classics, especially Latin, to the study of literature in the vernacular. By examining the complex reticulations of disciplinarity and publicness over a contested author in an institutional site at the periphery of the global network that was the British Empire, this essay questions prevailing periodizations and categories of genre and style that diasporic, comparative classicists like MacCallum worked without.

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