What do we learn when we study English literature? Does literary criticism rest on a scholarly body of knowledge, or is it simply a matter of opinion? And does the process of analysis spoil the more innocent pleasure to be gained from the act of reading? The academic study of English literature has always been controversial. In this timely and ambitious volume, Carol Atherton examines these controversies by tracing a number of debates about the study of English, from its institutionalisation in the late nineteenth century to recent arguments about the reform of English A-level. Drawing on archival records from a range of universities, and on the work of critics such as Virginia Woolf, T.S. Eliot and F.R. Leavis, the author demonstrates that the struggle to define literary criticism is still ongoing - presenting readers with a challenging and original perspective on the nature of literary knowledge.