Robert Clark's Profile
Robert Clark was Reader in English at the University of East Anglia until his retirement from teaching in 2012. He was brought up in England, Ireland and Germany and received his intellectual formation at Dulwich College. He broke off studying medicine in May 1968 and for several years worked as Assistant Director of the Great Georges experimental community arts centre in Liverpool, directing "happenings" by Robert Rauschenberg and organising poetry readings by such poets as Adrian Henri and Roger McGough. He also worked as a free-lance photographer, made two documentary films, and learned the arts of bricklaying whilst rebuilding furnaces in Britain's car factories. This was, after all, the late 1960s when "Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive"! After these Wanderjahre he studied European and American Literature at the University of Essex where he was inspired by the sociology of literature and Goethe's concept of Weltliteratur. He went from there to the University of East Anglia where he taught English, American and French literature, history and social thought from the 1680s to the present.
In 1989, in response to the "Bruges speech" in which Mrs Thatcher spoke about an England that was not part of Europe, he decided to reaffirm Britain's European identity by founding the European Society for the Study of English (ESSE) with the support of his colleagues in the nascent Council of University English in the UK. He served as the Founding Secretary of ESSE until 1996, founding the European Journal for English Studies and The European English Messenger. ESSE now has over 8000 members and organizes valuable biennial conferences which do much to provide trans-European perspectives in English Studies.
In 1989 Robert also began to appreciate the potential of information technology and subsequently developed several database systems and provided consultancy to major publishers about digital publication. His first digital publication was The Annotated Bibliography for English Studies (ABES) for which he designed the systems, recruited the contributors, and edited over 40,000 entries. ABES was judged by the MLA one of the "outstanding publications of 1999" and was published first by Swets and Zeitlinger, then by Routledge until 2012. From 1996 he also worked closely with the Macmillan Press on his proposal to build The Literary Web, but in 1998 Macmillan decided not to continue because they "could not see how such a publication would be profitable". As Kurt Vonnegut loved to say, "so it goes". This rejection led Robert to found The Literary Encyclopedia, funding it for many years at his own expense, supported by his wife, Marianne Majerus.
Robert Clark's print publications include History and Myth in American Fiction (Macmillan 1984); James Fenimore Cooper: New Critical Essays (Barnes and Noble 1985); English Studies in Transition (Routledge 1993) edited with Piero Boitani co-founder of ESSE; the New Casebook on 'Sense and Sensibility' and 'Pride and Prejudice" (Macmillan 1994); and The Arnold Anthology of British and Irish Writing in English (Arnold 1997), edited with Thomas Healy. He has also prepared editions of Austen, Fenimore Cooper and Defoe for Everyman Books, published essays on eighteenth-century landscape representation in America, on Henry Fielding and magistracy, Austen and contemporary agricultural change, Dickens and incest, Henry James's transatlantic romance, Angela Carter and sexual politics, Michael Ondaatje and castration, and on spectatorship and Srebenica in Looking back at Mr Spectator, a collection of essays he edited for Media History (14:3 December 2008).
Recently he has published a reprise of his earlier thinking about Defoe’s Roxana, “Scandalous Contracts in Defoe’s Roxana” published in Daniel Defoe: Roxana, The Fortunate Mistress, edited by Emmanuelle Peraldo (Paris: Ellipses, 2017), and two further essays on Defoe: “Robinson Crusoe’s Implausible Palisades: Colonialism, Myth, Realism, and the South-Sea Bubble”, Études Anglaises, 72-2 (2019), 167-181, and “ The Ambiguities of ‘Captain Singleton’, Defoe’s Piratical Novel. La Revue XVII-XVII. “Crimes et Criminels” 76 (2019) 1-15.
He is also bringing to completion research he has been conducting for the last twenty years on Jane Austen and the transformation of capitalism during the French wars. The first step in this process was an essay which explores Austen's relationship to anti-slavery, “Mansfield Park and the Moral Empire”, published in Persuasions 26 (2014), 136-150. It was followed by an essay on the history of the English wilderness garden and Austen's use of it in Mansfield Park, “Wilderness and Shrubbery in Austen’s Works”, Persuasions Online (2015). There followed a volume of essays with colleagues on the subject of Jane Austen's Geographies (Routledge 2017) which included his essay that established connections between the Austen circle in Steventon with the anti-slavery Prime Minister, Spencer Perceval, a probable model for Edmund Bertram in Mansfield Park. This sequence of work will be concluded with Jane Austen and the Transformation of Capital, charting how Austen's work is engaged with the shift from customary to free-market capitalism.
Robert also writes occasional magazine articles about gardens and garden history. He has wide interests in the history of literature and of ideas, especially political theory and psychoanalysis, and has contributed numerous essays to The Literary Encyclopedia. For many decades he has lectured widely in Europe and North America about Defoe and about Jane Austen and her times.
In 1996 Robert Clark was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts in 1996 and a in 2001 he was elected a Foundation Fellow of the English Association. From 2000 to 2005 he served as Chairman of the Advisory Committee for the UK Humanities Hub, and twice served on the Executive of the Council for College and University English in the UK.