Major figures and topics in English literature have been dealt with in great detail in academic literature, so coming up with original ideas can be a major challenge. However, there are some topics arcane enough that the advanced graduate student can consider writing on them for a doctoral dissertation.
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Sir Thomas More
St. Thomas More's Utopia has been dealt with in detail, but some newer angles can be used to approach the text. One good approach might be to see if it is possible to link the radicalism of the religious “Utopians” to his own conservative Catholicism. Is More a medievalist or a modernist? This topic has been dealt with, but the different approaches to it seem to be endless.
Francis Bacon's New Atlantis was a revolutionary approach to modernism and scientific rationalism. One general direction to explore is the beneficiaries of the New Order that Bacon describes. For Bacon, the new world was going to be dominated by a small scientific elite, ostensibly for the good of mankind. Did Bacon seek limits on the power of this elite? This was clearly a Utopian work, and Bacon can be compared and contrasted with More.
Christopher Marlowe was opposed to the arcane elite that came to power under Elizabeth I. It is clear that he opposed the scientific elite that Bacon sought to bring to power. It can be argued that Marlowe saw the attempt to dominate nature in the interests of this elite as ultimately self defeating. It can be said, in a way, that his famous "Doctor Faustus" was an attack on this new elite under Elizabeth and the Baconian project of the scientific oligarchy. It is also very possible to connect this with Mary Shelley's views on modern science in Frankenstein.
While Edmund Burke has been written on endlessly, a few topics remain that might be worthwhile. A good starting place might be Burke's relation to Benjamin Disraeli on basic aesthetic theory and his relation to Conservative politics. On the Irish question, Burke is also worth exploring, although the literature here is vast. Since Burke's upbringing was half Catholic, half Protestant, his basic ecclesiastical views might also be worth exploration.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
R.W. Emerson, it can be argued, brought the Romantic movement to the United States and attached it to the agrarian life. Emerson and agrarianism might be interesting research for Americans, and his possible connection to the contemporary Southern Agrarians might be able to produce some original work. It is also possible to bring other English ruralist writings into conversation with Emerson, including British writers like Thomas Hardy and even G.K. Chesterton or T.S. Eliot.
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