At the end of the sixteenth century, scholars and intellectuals were seen as Faustian magicians, dangerous and sexy. By the nineteenth century, they were perceived as dusty and dried up, “dead from the waist down,” as Browning so wickedly put it. In this erudite and entertaining book, a renowned literary critic explores the various ways we have thought about scholars and scholarship through the ages.
A.D. Nuttall focuses on three people, two real and one fictitious: the classical scholar Isaac Casaubon who lived from 1559 to 1614; Mark Pattison, nineteenth-century rector at Oxford; and Mr. Casaubon in George Eliot’s Middlemarch. The three are intricately related, for Pattison was seen by many as the model for Eliot’s Mr. Casaubon, and he was also the author of the best book on Isaac Casaubon. Nuttall offers a penetrating interpretation of Middlemarch and then describes how Pattison recorded his own introverted intellectual life and self-lacerating depression. He presents Isaac Casaubon, on the other hand, as a fulfilled scholar who personifies the ideal of detailed, unspectacular truth-telling, often imperiled in our own culture. Nuttall concludes with a meditation on morality, sexuality, and the true virtues of scholarship.