The obsession of academic critics with differentiating “major” writers from “minor” ones, and summarily dismissing the latter, serves the interest of no one but their fellow-academics and actively harms not only those authors they deem minor, but also that large majority of the public who reads novels and poems purely for pleasure, with no scholarly or careerist motives. Within the academy, “major,” at least since the heyday of Eliot and Pound, has tended to mean “difficult”—possibly because difficulty supposes a need for expert interpretation and therefore justifies the existence of professional explicators. Kipling and Trollope, for example, so popular during the Victorian era as to have become an integral part of England’s cultural fabric, are not only ignored in modern universities but actively denigrated.

This has also been true of postwar England’s bestselling...


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