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  • Doubled Lives:Florence Valentine Keys, David Reid Keys, and the Work of English Studies
  • Heather Murray

In her bestselling collection of double-jointed biographies, Parallel Lives, Phyllis Rose narrates the tandem tales of some noteworthy Victorian married couples. As Rose's analyses make clear, such yokings of emotional and intellectual effort, such sharing of life's path, may happen in spite of (or, one suspects, in some cases, because of) affective and psychic differences or incompatibilities. There is often, as Rose observes, a wide gap between those parallel tracks.

It is also possible that relational lives (marital, familial, or otherwise affiliated) will initially appear parallel, seeming to run along commonly formulated lines with harmony and consistency, while being, on closer inspection, divergent. Such is the case with the two lives I consider here, of linked Canadian academic figures from the transition years of the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries.1 David Reid Keys (1856-1939 ) and Florence Valentine Keys (1869-1951) were siblings in a comfortable but not elite Toronto family. Although thirteen years separated them, both graduated in the Modern Languages Honours stream at University College, Toronto, and both pursued postgraduate studies in Europe. Each belonged to the pioneering generation of instructors and professors of English - Florence at Vassar, David at University College - and each sensed the nascent potential of the new discipline for social and cultural reform. Each was a 'joiner,' a member of societies and social movements; each was a traveller and an internationalist at heart; both ended their lives in Toronto. But while their biographies and scholarship may seem on the face of things consonant, how they lived those lives, what they had to do to achieve the positions with which they were rewarded, and how they accomplished their critical and educational labours were deeply differentiated. (Indeed, the lives and careers of both would ultimately become 'doubled' in other senses: David Keys lived in a perpetual [End Page 1007]

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Figure 1.

Florence Keys (photograph courtesy of the Toronto Reference Library)

disjunction between his aspirations and his position, while Florence's interests would lead her to two consecutive and quite different vocations.) Gender was a factor, of course, but other elements were at work as well: they were separated by their respective ages, by family status, possibly by sexual orientation, and perhaps most of all by their politics. Critical inclinations also played no small role: while each was expertly trained as a linguist and as a literary scholar, they adapted differently as their discipline shifted at the turn of the century to an inclination that could be variously described as 'literary,' aesthetic, or idealist: David Keys remained strongly attached to the philological mode of study, while Florence's emergent feminism meant she focused increasingly on literature's capacity to express ideas and ideals.2 [End Page 1008]

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Figure 2.

David Keys (photograph courtesy of the Toronto Reference Library)

For the purposes of this analysis, one additional difference should be marked: while David Keys is so inscribed into the fabric of the University of Toronto that his career could be readily reconstructed even without [End Page 1009] the evidence left by his considerable personal and academic papers, Florence Keys left little trace in her own institution, and her papers are fragmentary: the record that follows is a mosaic, a bricolage.3 The record of David Keys is primarily that of a public man, but the correspondence and journal of Florence Keys record her strong beliefs and loving friendships. Though the activities of each were wide-ranging, this essay will be focused as a paired scholarly biography, with an eye to learning more about the discipline of English during the years of its emergence from within the modern languages, and the ways two early practitioners of that discipline viewed its purpose and potential. This then is a story, quite literally, of English in two different keys.4

That the Keys family was Irish and Methodist on both sides is not incidental to this story. To be a dissenter, and a vocal one, was a perilous position in early nineteenth-century Ireland, and it is...


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