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  • Comments & Queries
  • Philip Appleman, Donald Gray, and George Levine

Michael Wolff

Michael Wolff, one of the founding editors of Victorian Studies, died in Amherst, Massachusetts, on November 7, 2016. Michael was educated at Cambridge, where his interests extended into history and philosophy as well as literature. Early in the 1950s, he came to the US to study at Princeton and completed a dissertation on George Eliot’s writings and work in intellectual journalism. As soon as he came to the department of English at Indiana University in 1954, he joined with young colleagues who were also studying Victorian literature and culture in an ambitious plan to create a new scholarly journal. Like Michael, it was to be transatlantic if not international--within a couple of years of its founding VS had a British editor on its masthead--and it was to enlist and engage scholars of several academic disciplines to illuminate Victorian habits of thought and life. The first issue of Victorian Studies was published in September 1957, three years after Michael and his colleagues had arrived in Bloomington, and while they were still untenured members of the faculty.

We remember those first years of VS as full of long editorial meetings, many new plans, and hard and satisfying work which greatly expanded our own educations. In addition to helping run the journal, Michael and his colleagues edited and contributed to 1859: Entering an Age of Crisis (1959), a book of essays about the anxieties and possibilities current in that year on the threshold of high Victorianism. In the early 1960s, he took the lead in organizing a conference in Bloomington on the wide and rich topic of the Victorian city, in which American and British scholars presented papers which later became the nucleus of a two-volume collection Michael edited with a British historian. Before he left Bloomington in 1970 for the University of Massachusetts, he started the work which led to the creation of the Research Society of Victorian Periodicals and the creation of yet another journal, the Victorian Periodicals Review.

Michael was a dominant figure in the founding of the Northeast Victorian Studies Association in 1975, and until recently he remained an important presence in their meetings and activities, as well as those of RSVP and the Victorian Periodicals Newsletter. When he returned to Bloomington in 1994 for a (somewhat premature) celebration of the fortieth anniversary of the founding of VS, he was wearing a jacket he had been given a year or two before when he had completed a Boston marathon. The energy which had pushed us all in the years of the founding of VS had not flagged, and it never did flag. Over the past few years, Michael was teaching courses in George Eliot, George Bernard Shaw, and--he was preparing this course until the day died--James Joyce.

We who knew him from those early days are grateful for all we learned from Michael at the start of our careers. His own writing, and more importantly the organizations that he helped to found, continue to influence students and scholars, and will do so [End Page 192] for decades to come. His vision of interdisciplinary and cooperative scholarship helped to open the way to fundamental changes in the ways Victorian literature and culture have been studied. Victorianists everywhere, even several generations after he began his seminal work, owe Michael an enormous debt.

Philip Appleman
Donald Gray
George Levine

Comments & Queries are welcome via email. Our address is

On the Cover is a detail from illustration XXI, “Wall-Veil Decoration: San Michele, Lucca,” from the second volume of The Stones of Venice by John Ruskin (London: Smith, Elder, and Co., 1851–53). Courtesy Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana.

Changes at VS:

With this volume, we must bid a reluctant farewell to two excellent VS editors. Mary Bowden has completed her tenure as head Managing Editor. She is beginning work on her third dissertation chapter, which examines horticultural metaphors in George Eliot’s fiction. Her meticulous attention to detail, cool head in a crisis, and impressive botanical...


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