Dead from the Waist Down

Scholars and Scholarship in Literature and the Popular Imagination

A. D. Nuttall

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December 9, 2011
240 pages, 5 1/2 x 8 1/4
ISBN: 9780300185263
Paper

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Cloth

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.

A.D. Nuttall is professor of English at Oxford University and the author of numerous books.

“I have now read A.D. Nuttall’s book with all the pleasure I expected. He is the most learned of literary critics, and his subject here is, appropriately, scholars and scholarship. I do not think I have ever read an account of Middlemarch and Casaubon as fine as this, and the studies of Mark Pattison and the other Casaubon, Isaac, are beautifully executed. The distinction he draws between scholarship and pedantry should be of great interest in the modern graduate school, and his love of Oxford is not mere sentiment but part of his scholarly character. I would recommend this book to all who seriously aspire to good scholarship.”—Frank Kermode    

 

“Nuttall has written a book thoroughly alive and enlivening. It entertains, endlessly, but it also illuminates and returns emotion and love to scholarship and criticism.”—Harold Bloom

“This remarkable and brilliant book explores literary myths about scholarship, in its relation to knowledge, sexuality and the rest of life; in the end it makes some profound observations about scholarship itself. Its final section is a small masterpiece of contemporary cultural and moral criticism of its own, and makes a powerful and moving plea for the acknowledgment of the importance of Truth. Nuttall’s study is itself a major work of literary scholarship and of imaginative thought.”—John Hollander

“Impressively comprehensive in its scope.”—Art Times

"Dead From the Waist Down is the product of satori-like erudition. . . . Nuttall’s book is nothing short of an intellectual aphrodisiac that enhances our reading of the texts considered."—Christopher Byrd, BookForum

"[This] new book not only refutes the popular notion that a life of the mind renders scholars boring, but almost succeeds in making Mr. Casaubon and his cobwebbed ilk downright sexy."—Joshua Glenn, Boston Sunday Globe

“A. D. Nuttall’s project is indeed brilliant. . . . Nuttall’s book contains many fresh insights, crisply and winsomely stated.”—Patrick Henry, Christian Century

"Brilliantly erudite."—Julia M. Klein, Chronicle of Higher Education

"A valuable scholarly work; of interest to academic libraries."—Library Journal

“The reader can have no better idea of learning than that shaped by reading A.D. Nuttall’s account. . . . Nuttall . . . is greatly, deeply, and seriously learned.”—Sheldon Rothblatt, Victorian Studies