Stephen Thomas Knight
Stephen Thomas Knight MA (Oxon.) PhD (Sydney). F.A.H.A., F.E.A. (born 21 September 1940) was until September 2011 distinguished research professor at Cardiff University in the School of English, Communications and Philosophy; and is currently honorary research professor of English Literature at the University of Melbourne in the School of Culture and Communication. His areas of expertise include English literature, medieval literature, cultural studies, crime fiction, Robin Hood and Australian matters. He has published a large number of books, and is well known in the public sphere for his contribution to these and other fields. His most recent books have been The Mysteries of the Cities (2012), Secrets of Crime Fiction Classics (2014) and Reading Robin Hood (2015). New themes are raised in his forthcoming book The Politics of Myth (2015), and he is now working on the many novels of G. W. M. Reynolds, who wrote and sold more books than Dickens but has been silenced by conventional literary criticism.
- 1 Biography
- 2 Major works
- 3 Media
- 4 Bibliography
- 5 Notes and references
Knight was educated at Bournemouth Grammar School and at Jesus College, Oxford. He graduated from the University of Oxford in 1962, having specialised in medieval English literature. He was appointed teaching fellow at the University of Sydney in 1963 and lecturer in English in 1964. In 1968–69 he was lecturer in English at the Australian National University. He returned to the University of Sydney in 1970, where he was successively senior lecturer and associate professor. In 1986 he was appointed Robert Wallace Professor of English at the University of Melbourne. In 1992 Knight returned to Britain to take up the first chair in English at the new De Montfort University at Leicester. In 1994, he took up a position at Cardiff University as professor and head of English; he was also head of the School of English, Philosophy and Communication, and from 2006 was appointed as distinguished research professor.
Many of Knight's scholarly writings have been in the area of medieval English literature, and he has written extensively on Robin Hood, Merlin and the Arthurian legend in particular. Knight's long-standing interest in crime fiction generated the ground-breaking study Form and Ideology in Crime Fiction (1980), several other books and essay-collections, including Continent of Mystery: A Thematic History of Australian Crime Fiction (1997), for which he was awarded the Ned Kelly Lifetime Achievement Award. Knight has produced many reviews for newspapers, magazines and radio, including for ten years from the mid-1970s a monthly column in the Sydney Morning Herald on crime fiction; he has also written sociocultural commentaries, notably the much-discussed The Selling of the Australian Mind.
Robin Hood: A Mythic Biography
In this mythic biography, which won the 2005 International Mythopoeic Association Prize for Non-Fiction, Stephen Knight traces the origins of the legend, providing invaluable insights into why Robin Hood is still such an essential and evolving legend in culture and literature. Knight presents many of the truths and fallacies of Robin Hood, as he explores conceptions and representations of the legend.
Knight draws on Wyntoun, Bower and other medieval writers to suggest the view that Robin Hood existed in the same way as King Arthur, Herne the Hunter, the devil, the saints, etc. These figures are enduring forces in culture, and thus can be said to exist. But other scholars want a more definitive answer.
The question of Robin Hood's existence may never have an empirical, and reductive, answer. The Robin Hood legend has now taken on a life of its own, influenced by other outlaws like William Wallace. In fact, "The resemblance between Robin Hood and William Wallace is striking: both are provoked to outlawry by legal violence, both go disguised as a potter, and both command substantial numbers of well-disciplined men.".
"To study Robin Hood," as Knight explains, "is to study over five hundred years of the development of modern concepts of heroism, art, politics, and the self. It is an exciting and enthralling domain of study, that can in itself become a guide to the changing patterns and dynamics of society and culture over an enormous period."
Robin Hood is a constant presence in history and literature, even as his nature and appearance is changed. Archetypal in form, he can represent Nature, a Folk-Hero, and a Trickster (although these elements of his character often intertwine and coalesce into what could be named the Robin Hood archetypal figure). He's been portrayed with many different faces and character-types, and in a multiplicity of contexts.
Merlin: Knowledge and Power through the Ages
Stephen Knight traces the myth of Merlin back to its earliest roots in the early Welsh figure of Myrddin. He then follows Merlin as he is imagined and reimagined through centuries of literature and art, beginning with Geoffrey of Monmouth, whose immensely popular History of the Kings of Britain (c. 1138) transmitted the story of Merlin to Europe at large. He covers French and German as well as Anglophone elements of the myth and brings the story up to the present with discussions of a globalized Merlin who finds his way into popular literature, film, television, and New Age philosophy.
Knight argues that Merlin in all his guises represents a conflict basic to Western societies-the clash between knowledge and power. While the Merlin story varies over time, the underlying structural tension remains the same whether it takes the form of bard versus lord, vizier versus monarch, scientist versus capitalist, or academic versus politician. As Knight sees it, Merlin embodies the contentious duality inherent to organized societies. In tracing the applied meanings of knowledge in a range of social contexts, Knight reveals the four main stages of the Merlin myth: Wisdom (early Celtic British), Advice (medieval European), Cleverness (early modern English), and Education (worldwide since the nineteenth century).
The Mysteries of the Cities: Urban Crime Fiction in the Nineteenth Century
This study describes the lengthy and serialized popular fictions that realized the new, exciting and alarming experience of city life in the mid nineteenth century. Starting with Eugène Sue’s Les Mystères de Paris (1842-3) it shows how young authors, working for newspapers and street level publishers, did not use the intellectual disciplinary control of detectives or the old patterns of aristocratic and moralising controls, and simply realised the multiple, overlapping, chaotic and often violent stories of modern urban crime. This was picked up by George W. M. Reynolds in his The Mysteries of London (1844-6), but the French author was also directly responsible for multiple American versions, of which George Lippard’s The Quaker City (1844), about Philadelphia, and The Mysteries of New York (1848) by E. C. Z. Judson (better known as `Ned Buntline’) are the most impressive.
The Mysteries genre spread around the world – including Berlin, St Petersburg, Milan, and many American urban centres: the last true realization was in gold-rich Melbourne in 1873, when Donald Cameron produced The Mysteries of Melbourne Life (1844-8), but Sue's influence was responsible for many American versions.
Knight shows how this material expresses and examines the drama of new megalopolitan life, how it influenced authors who sometimes claimed not to admire it such as Victor Hugo, Charles Dickens and Émile Zola, and how this genre is a massively overlooked storehouse of story, melodrama and above all urban emotional history. 
The Politics of Myth
This book challenges the idea that myths are just quaint fables from the past to entertain and distract people from modern anxieties. It argues that major myths represent a set of forces and challenges that remain relevant across time and are reworked and reinterpreted to focus concerns in changing periods and new social contexts. Studying major myths that have remained alive in world culture (all the figures discussed have been in film and television in the 21st century) it shows three major areas of debate through myth, by focusing on Power, Resistance and Knowledge. The myths cross social boundaries – kings and queens like Arthur, Guinevere and Elizabeth I are analysed, and so are mythic celebrities of humble origin like Jeanne d’Arc, Ned Kelly and Robin Hood. As those names indicate, reality and myth interweave. The actuality of another figure discussed here, Shakespeare, has been challenged, and people still write letters to a genuinely mythic thinker, Sherlock Holmes. While some insist Robin Hood must have existed, the only good candidate for ancient reality is that most mysterious man of knowledge, Merlin. Myths are indeed mythic.
Reading Robin Hood: Content, Form and Reception in the Outlaw Myth
Planned to be a last book on Robin Hood, this study delves in scholarly and wide-ranging fashion into aspects of the myth that have not been able to be handled in sufficient detail in other, more general, studies. The book opens by questioning whether the tradition was originally oral or literary, and argues that it has always been both, as part of its volatile multiplicity – a theme resumed in theoretical terms in the final essay on `Rhizomatic Robin Hood’. Other essays explore overlooked aspects of the tradition – the existence of a distinctly Scottish `Rabbie Hood’, the misunderstood sources of the first major text The Gest of Robin Hood (c. 1500), the special and usually overlooked characteristics of the very popular seventeenth-century broadside ballads, the crucial reformation of `Romantic Robin Hood’ in the hands of writers like Keats and Peacock who reshaped him definitively as noble, masculine and a radical patriot.
Two major areas of Robin Hood activity that have had special power at different times are the almost unread nineteenth-century popular outlaw novels, here studied in detail in the longest chapter in the book, and the more fugitive, though also long-established, tradition of Marian – of increasing interest and power in the context of modern feminism. Treating the outlaw tradition as a mainstream cultural formation across time, the book as a whole shows how different contexts and periods have reshaped Robin – and Marian – in terms of their own concerns and interests.
Knight has appeared in the media numerous times, including on the BBC Radio 4 programme In Our Time, discussing Robin Hood, Merlin, and the legend of the Fisher King, as well as on the 2006 BBC television production World of Robin Hood, with Jonathan Ross. He has done a range of interviews on The Politics of Myth (2015).
He received considerable attention across the world in 1999 for research of his relating to gender roles in the Robin Hood legend, which some elements of the media took to be evidence that Robin Hood was gay.
- Knight, Stephen (1972) Rymyng Craftily: Meaning in Chaucer’s Poetry. Sydney : Angus and Robertson.
- Knight, Stephen (1973) The Poetry of the Canterbury Tales. Sydney : Angus and Robertson.
- Knight, Stephen (1980) Form and Ideology in Crime Fiction. London : Macmillan.
- Knight, Stephen (1983) Arthurian Literature and Society. London : Macmillan.
- Knight, Stephen (1986) Geoffrey Chaucer. Oxford : Blackwell.
- Knight, Stephen (1990) The Selling of the Australian Mind: From First Fleet to Third Mercedes. Melbourne : William Heinemann Australia.
- Knight, Stephen (1994) Robin Hood: A Complete Study of the English Outlaw. Oxford : Blackwell.
- Knight, Stephen (1994) Freedom Was Compulsory. Melbourne : Minerva.
- Knight, Stephen (1997) Continent of Mystery: A Thematic History of Australian Crime Fiction. Melbourne : Melbourne University Press.
- Knight, Stephen & Gustav Klaus (Eds) (1998) The Art of Murder. Stauffenburg Verlag.
- Knight, Stephen (Ed) (1998) Robin Hood: The Forresters Manuscript. Cambridge : D.S. Brewer.
- Knight, Stephen & Gustav Klaus (Eds) (2000) British Industrial Fictions. Cardiff : University of Wales Press.
- Knight, Stephen (2003) Robin Hood: a Mythic Biography. Ithaca and London : Cornell University Press.
- Knight, Stephen (2004) A Hundred Years of Fiction: Writing Wales in English. Cardiff : University of Wales Press. Second Edition, Crime Fiction 1800 to the Present, Detection, Death, Diversity, 2010
- Knight, Stephen (2004) Crime Fiction, 1800–2000: Detection, Death, Diversity. London : Palgrave Macmillan.
- Knight, Stephen (2009) Merlin: Knowledge and Power through the Ages. Ithaca : Cornell University Press.
- Knight, Stephen (2012) The Mysteries of the Cities: Urban Crime Fiction in the Nineteenth Century. Jefferson N.C. : McFarland.
- Knight, Stephen (Ed) (2012) Robin Hood in Greenwood Stood: Alterity and Context in the English Outlaw Myth. Turnhout : Brepols
- Knight, Stephen (2014) Secrets of Crime Fiction Classics: Detecting the Delights of 21 Enduring Stories. Jefferson, NC : McFarland
- Knight, Stephen & Maurizio Ascari (Eds) (2014) Romantic Sublime to Detective Crime. Monaco : Libero. http://www.academia.edu/7908347/Crime_Sublime_Calanchi
- Knight, Stephen (2015) Reading Robin Hood: Content, Form and Reception in the Outlaw Myth. Manchester : Manchester University Press
- Knight, Stephen (2015) The Politics of Myth: Social Meanings from King Arthur to Ned Kelly. Melbourne : Melbourne University Press
- Evans, Fulton & Matthews (Eds.) (2006) Medieval Cultural Studies: Essays in Honour of Stephen Knight. Cardiff : University of Wales Press.
Notes and references