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Title: The thinning ranks: Neo-Victorians and the Victorian intellectual tradition, 1860-1980.
Authors: Donner, Henriette T.
Award date: 1990
Presented at: University of Leicester
Abstract: There can be no doubt that Ms Donner has set herself a very difficult task, even a perverse one in terms of the wide-ranging but eclectic study that surrounds her chosen thesis. Because of the diverse nature of her sources, and the synthetic nature of the linkages she tries to establish, much of this difficulty brushes off on her examiners in attempting to assess the validity of her conclusions. This is caused not only because her range necessarily tests my expertise, but also because of the nature of her writing, which is sometimes more assertive than deductive, associative rather than analytical. I have a sense of a thesis being imposed upon a widely discrepant range of sources rather than emerging from them. Herein lies my difficulty, for this is a thesis without a clearly defined body of primary sources, though one could have been produced for many sections, whilst other sections seem to derive entirely from secondary reading. Thus the more normal skills of the deduction and development of an argument from clearly rehearsed sources is much less apparent here. She seems sometimes to miss the substance of issues and to become engrossed with certain accidents of the matter in view. Another difficulty is the differing genre employed as the thesis develops from intellectual history to the sociology of elites. Or again, it seems that the full prescription has not been fulfilled in the writing: e.g., p18 promises a discussion in the third section of Virginia Woolf, John Baillie and William Temple, but in the event Temple seems to get left out. I am also curious as to why Ms Donner looks for the Victorian legacy where she does. Presumably it is because with Pattison, Jowett and Essays and Reviews as her starting point, she wants to lodge the whole enterprise within the Broad Church Tradition. Otherwise she might have looked at areas of more anticpated traditionalism, in theology e.g. the writings of anglo-catholic thinkers like Austin Farrer and E.L.Mascall, or the whole tradition of the neo-orthodox; in practice, debates about language and worship [whether in Prayer Book or Scripture], about the nature of priestood, sacraments, and the received beliefs of Church, and about the nature of authority in the church. All of which might have added some density to the thinning ranks. There is, therefore, much to criticize. On the other hand, there are strengths. The candidate demonstates a shrewd intelligence, even if it is not always well-focussed, but this should not detract from some of her interesting insights. Though sometimes overtaken by jargon and sometimes dense in exposition, she is capable of writing quite well. Moreover she has clearly eschewed the safe option, and thus needs to be rewarded for her courage, even if the end result is not altogether successful. Again the dissertation demonstrates a clear and conscious hypothesis, indeed at times it seems too clear and commanding. There is a freshness that comes from a mind untraditioned by familiarity with the British scene from childhood, though sometimes that leads to imperfect understanding of situations and processes.
Type: Thesis
Level: Doctoral
Qualification: Ph.D.
Rights: Copyright © the author. All rights reserved.
Appears in Collections:Theses, School of Historical Studies
Leicester Theses

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