Professor Paul Stevens

Paul StevensPaul Stevens is Professor and Canada Research Chair in Early Modern Literature and Culture at the University of Toronto. He is an internationally recognized authority on seventeenth-century English literature, especially the works of John Milton. He was the Head of the Department of English at Queen’s University from 1996-2002 and in 2006 he was elected both President of the Milton Society of America and Visiting Fellow at All Souls College, Oxford. He has also served as the President of the Canadian Association of Chairs of English.

Professor Stevens was born in Cardiff, Wales, where most of his family still lives. He was educated at St Illtyd’s College, Cardiff and the University of London. His first career was in the British Army. As a young soldier in the Royal Welch Fusiliers he served in the UN peacekeeping force in Cyprus, and later as an officer in the Royal Regiment of Wales he commanded a rifle platoon in Gibraltar, Germany, and Northern Ireland during the “Troubles.” One of his last duties in the army was guarding the Nazi war criminal Rudolf Hess at Spandau Jail in Berlin.

In the bicentennial year of 1976, the then Lieutenant Stevens led his platoon through the back country of up-state New York and Vermont to recreate the historic journey of his regiment to the Battle of Saratoga in 1777. It was during this adventure that he decided to leave the army in order to pursue a PhD in English literature at the University of Toronto. He was supervised by Hugh MacCallum and while completing his dissertation, he worked for Northrop Frye for three years as a teaching assistant on his celebrated Bible course. As with many others, the influence of Frye both in terms of scholarship and teaching was seminal. In 1983 Professor Stevens’s doctoral dissertation on Milton and the psychology of religious faith, “The Evidence of Things Not Seen,” was awarded the A.S.P. Woodhouse Prize. It was during his time as a graduate student that he met his future partner of 28 years, also now a professor in English at Toronto, the distinguished Shakespeare scholar, Lynne Magnusson.

Before returning to Toronto in 2003, Professor Stevens taught at the University of Richmond in Virginia and Queen’s University. He made his reputation as a major Milton scholar with his book, Imagination and the Presence of Shakespeare in “Paradise Lost” (1985) and two highly influential sequences of articles, one on Milton and colonialism (1992-96) and one on Milton and nationalism (2001-9). He remains the only scholar to have won the Milton Society of America’s Hanford Prize for most distinguished article twice. His contributions to understanding literary criticism and the seventeenth century are not confined to Milton and he has published extensively on such figures as Spenser, Shakespeare, Bunyan, Tennyson, and Winston Churchill, and on such topics as paradox, the public sphere, orientalism, and the new historicism. His interest in literary theory and history is evident in the two much cited collections he edited with Viviana Comensoli and Joseph Lowenstein, Discontinuities: New Essays on Renaissance Literature and Criticism (1998) and When is a Public Sphere? (2004). The present focus of his work is early modern literature and culture especially as they illuminate such contemporary phenomena as nationalism, post-colonialism, and globalization. His most recent publications include Milton in America (special issue of UTQ 77:3 [2008]), edited with Patricia Simmons, and Early Modern Nationalism and Milton’s England (U of Toronto Press, 2008), edited with David Loewenstein, which has just won the Irene Samuel Memorial Prize. He is currently completing a book called Milton Imagining England.

Professor Stevens is a passionate and dedicated teacher. He enjoys both undergraduate and graduate teaching and has been involved in the supervision of over 40 doctoral and master’s theses. He is especially interested in training doctoral candidates in such a way as to facilitate their success in winning academic positions. Since taking over as placement officer in 2005, the English Department has won 50 tenure-track positions. He himself has won numerous teaching prizes, most recently the 2008 Northrop Frye Award for Excellence in Teaching and Research. Last year he was a finalist in the TVO Best Lecturer competition.