Historians of the institutionalized study of English literature tend to treat the British professoriate during the subject’s “growth and consolidation” phase in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as a colorful miscellany of disparate and transitional figures who failed to establish coherent protocols or boundaries for the emerging discipline. This article contests that view by examining synoptically the careers of several key players in the promotion and development of university English studies: John Churton Collins, W. P. Ker, Arthur Quiller-Couch, Walter Raleigh, and George Saintsbury. By treating these “movers and shakers” as a loosely affiliated group whose career trajectories broadly conform to Pierre Bourdieu’s characterization of “losers who win,” the article elicits a number of shared attitudes and aspirations and suggests that, at a time when narrowly conceived definitions of “English” and, indeed, of “discipline” are under increasing question, the achievements and ambitions of the early professoriate may be overdue for revaluation.

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