Cunningham, Valentine 1944-

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CUNNINGHAM, Valentine 1944-


Born October 28, 1944; son of Valentine (a reverend) and Alma Lillian (Alexander) Cunningham; married Carol Ann Shaw, August 6, 1966; children: Joseph, Willoughby. Education: Keble College, Oxford, M.A.; St. Johns College, Oxford, D.Phil. Hobbies and other interests: Jazz trumpet, piano.


Office—Corpus Christi College, Oxford, OX1 4JF, England. E-mail—[email protected].


Professor, author. St. John's College, Oxford, junior resident fellow, 1969-72; University of Oxford, lecturer in English, 1972—, chairman of English faculty, 1984-87, professor of English language and literature, 1996—; Corpus Christi College, Oxford, England, fellow and tutor in English, beginning 1972, dean, 1980-91; senior tutor, 1991-94; professor of English, fellow. University of Konstanz, Germany, visiting professor; BBC broadcaster. Judge for literary prizes, including Booker Prize, 1992, 1998, and Commonwealth Writers Prize, 2000-01.


Everywhere Spoken Against: Dissent in the Victorian Novel, Clarendon Press (Oxford, England), 1975.

British Writers of the Thirties, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1988.

In the Reading Gaol: Postmodernity, Texts, and History, Blackwell (Cambridge, MA), 1994.

Reading after Theory ("Blackwell Manifestos" series), Blackwell (Malden, MA), 2002.


The Penguin Book of Spanish Civil War Verse ("Penguin Poets" series), Penguin Books (Hardmondsworth, England), 1980.

Spanish Front: Writers on the Civil War, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1986.

Adam Bede/George Eliot ("The World's Classics" series), Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1996.

The Victorians: An Anthology of Poetry and Poetics ("Blackwell Anthologies" series), Blackwell (Malden, MA), 2000.

Contributor to journals and newspapers in England and the United States, and to books, including Literacy Is Not Enough: Essays on the Importance of Reading, edited by Brian Cox, Manchester University Press (Manchester, England), 1998.


Valentine Cunningham is a professor of English whose interests include nineteenth-and twentieth-century fiction, the Victorian novel, Victorian poetry and poetics, and religion and literature.

His first book, Everywhere Spoken Against: Dissent in the Victorian Novel is a study of religious dissent as considered by such novelists as the Brontës, George Eliot, Charles Dickens, Mrs. Gaskell, Mrs. Oliphant, and William Hale White. Marghanita Laski commented in Listener that Cunningham's "sociological and historical detail is splendidly informative: on the relevant varieties of Dissent, on its association largely with the cities, its social standing, and its links—by no means inevitable—with radicalism. It is when he moves on to examination of specific novelists that the differing approaches—deriving, no doubt, from initial work for separate occasions—make the book as a whole less valuable than it might have been."

Roy Foster wrote in the Times Literary Supplement that in this volume, "the issues of politics, religion and Dissent come together and enlighten the whole nineteenth-century framework. It is a good measure both of the value of Victorian fiction in contributing to a holistic approach to the age, and of the value of Mr. Cunningham's work in his area of scholarship."

For Spanish Front: Writers on the Civil War Cunningham collected more than 100 poems, memoirs, articles, and stories by writers, most of whom were British writers of the left, who took a position on that struggle.

Lisa M. Schwerdt remarked in Modern Fiction Studies that British Writers of the Thirties, in which Cunningham describes and interprets the writings of an era, "is superb in its coverage—but perhaps an instance of when less would be more." The volume encompasses all that was written—not only the literature, but also films, detective stories, political tracts, and travel guides, and includes lists of trends seen in the writing, like the frequency of specific words in titles and text. Schwerdt noted that "there is much here to admire, however, and there are new emphases, if not insights. The book is useful, for instance, in drawing attention to social/historical backgrounds of various period symbols, icons, and metaphors." Cunningham studies the gay and lesbian writers of the period and how heterosexuality, family, and women's interests were often ignored in favor of the emphasis on males, anti-family sentiment, and the importance of school ties. He notes writers who were at school together.

Louis Menand commented in the Times Literary Supplement that Cunningham "connects images of physical violence with examples of surrealistic violence to language and the rhetorical violence of 1930s criticism. He discovers networks of tendencies: the habit among 1930s writers of modifying or replacing their given names, which connects with the notion of literary intellectuals 'going over' to the working class, with Auden's attachment to the charade as a literary form and with the trouble many 1930s texts have with the first-person pronoun."

The Spectator's David Wright noted Cunningham's use of "lavish quotations, mainly from books that have long been unobtainable or undeservedly forgotten." Edward Mendelson wrote in the London Review of Books that the volume "marshals everything there is to know about the literary Thirties into an extraordinary and indispensable resource."

In In the Reading Gaol: Postmodernity, Texts, and History, Cunningham focuses on the "relationship of word and world" and references a slip in the diary of Virginia Woolf, wherein the word "underword" was mistakenly entered for the word "underworld." He writes that the "amalgamation of word and world is the condition not just of Virginia Woolf's writing but of all writing," and further says that it indicates the "persistent duality of language—made of both wordy and worldy things and not absolutely either the one or the other."

Also in In the Reading Gaol, Cunningham studies a number of fictional works, including Jane Eyre, Emma, Hard Times, and Middlemarch. Tony Tanner observed in the Times Literary Supplement that "the close and detailed readings of these works (and others) is often brilliantly perceptive and original."

In a Review of English Studies article, Robert Crawford wrote that Cunningham "has been infected by his reading.…So, spending much energy on a Huntley and Palmer's biscuit tin (from Reading) that appears in Heart of Darkness, Cunningham tells us how such biscuit tins carried empire and other biscuits to the ends of the imperial dominions, and he cites an array of texts giving documentation on the travels and uses of the tins."

In referring to some of Cunningham's puns, Tanner noted that "this rich book is undeniably clever, at times it is wearyingly 'clever'-clever.… Still, let me end by commending, and recommending this book. It gives an impressively clear and comprehensive account of the various theoretical issues raised during the past twenty years; it is full of intelligence and insight; and there is some exemplary close reading." Choice reviewer W. B. Warde, Jr. called the volume a "well-written (even manifesting a graceful, ludic spirit) and incisive study of 'postmodern' literary theory and practice."

Cunningham wrote Reading after Theory for the "Blackwell Manifestos" series, a collection that explores contemporary ideas. Library Journal's Francisca Goldsmith stated that Cunningham "is stellar in his honing to that theme." He explores the concepts of the reader, the text, and the act of reading in the "post-theory" era.

John Kerrigan, who reviewed the volume in the London Review of Books called it a "survey of the strengths and drawbacks of Theory as it has influenced literary study in the last few decades. The settling of accounts may be timely, given that so many 'new approaches' have run out of steam. But the real test of the book comes in the chapter called 'Touching Reading,' which goes beyond the survey mode and argues for a style of criticism that is alert to touch and tact. The chapter raises fascinating questions." Goldsmith concluded by calling Reading after Theory "fun, involving, and inviting as both a social book-discussion subject and an important text."



Choice, March, 1995, W. B. Warde, Jr., review of In the Reading Gaol: Postmodernity, Texts, and History, p. 1108.

Library Journal, February 1, 2002, Francisca Goldsmith, review of Reading after Theory, p. 104.

Listener, March 4, 1976, Marghanita Laski, review of Everywhere Spoken Against: Dissent in the Victorian Novel, pp. 283-284.

London Review of Books, October 9, 1986, Michael Church, review of Spanish Front: Writers on the Civil War, pp. 16-17; June 23, 1988, Edward Mendelson, review of British Writers of the Thirties, pp. 12-14; September, 2002, John Kerrigan, review of Reading after Theory, pp. 19-20.

Modern Fiction Studies, winter, 1988, Lisa M. Schwerdt, review of British Writers of the Thirties, pp. 700-701.

Modern Language Review, January, 1978, T. J. Winnifrith, review of Everywhere Spoken Against, pp. 171-172.

Review of English Studies, February, 1996, Robert Crawford, review of In the Reading Gaol, p. 125.

Spectator, February 6, 1988, David Wright, review of British Writers of the Thirties, pp. 26-27.

Times Literary Supplement, February 27, 1976, Roy Foster, review of Everywhere Spoken Against, p. 229; June 10, 1988, Louis Menand, review of British Writers of the Thirties, p. 651; July 15, 1994, Tony Tanner, review of In the Reading Gaol, p. 6.*

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Cunningham, Valentine 1944-

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