Submitting InstitutionGoldsmiths' College
Unit of AssessmentEnglish Language and Literature
Summary Impact TypeCultural
Research Subject Area(s)
Language, Communication and Culture: Cultural Studies, Literary Studies
History and Archaeology: Historical Studies
Summary of the impact
The 19th century essayist William Hazlitt is a great, but
neglected, master of English prose. Uttara Natarajan's research into his
writings is a major factor in the revival of public interest of his
multi-faceted achievement. She has led public discussions of his works and
life at the Hazlitt Society and Hazlitt Day School, both of which she
co-founded. In 2008, she launched the annual Hazlitt Review which
reaches a wide general readership and academics. Her study has led to a
range of invited public engagements, such as speaking on BBC Radio 4's In
Our Time-William Hazlitt programme and delivering various public
Natarajan was appointed to a lectureship at Goldsmiths in September 1999,
and is now a Reader here. The works of William Hazlitt have been a focus
of her research over this period: having established the philosophical
basis of his writing, his originality and profundity as a thinker, she has
gone on to show his importance and influence in key areas of contemporary
One revelation emanating from her research concerns Hazlitt's role in
shaping attitudes to Shakespeare. He was a key participant in the
construction of Shakespeare as an English cultural icon, and her 2010
essay, `Hazlitt and Shakespeare,' foregrounded his
hitherto nearly forgotten reputation as a theatre critic. The essay
illustrated the originality and influence of his critiques of Shakespeare,
which he developed in response to contemporary performances, and drew
attention to his most influential work, "Characters of Shakespeare's
Plays", which remains prescribed reading for students of Shakespeare
at all levels — from school children through to advanced scholars.
Natarajan's analysis also revealed the political influence of Hazlitt's
readings of Shakespeare: thus his radicalisation of Shakespeare persists
on the modern stage.
The research summarised in the above essay also illuminated Hazlitt's
role in performance history. Of particular note, he reviewed and promoted
the Shakespearean actor, Edmund Kean, whose new emotive style marked a
turning point for the English stage; his positive reviews of Kean rescued
the Drury Lane Theatre from financial ruin, and had a decisively positive
impact on West End theatre more generally.
Another of her articles, "Hazlitt, Ruskin, and ideal form" (2010),
made a strong case for Hazlitt's significance as a leading historian and
theorist of art. Thus for example his Encyclopaedia Britannica
entry, `On the Fine Arts', was retained intact from 1816 till 1842; and
his ground-breaking theory of `the ideal', which upheld Hogarth over
Reynolds, had a formative influence on important later commentators such
as John Ruskin. More generally, in this article and in others such as "Hazlitt's
Common Sense" (2009) and "The spirit of his
age: Hazlitt and Pater on Lamb" (2012),
Natarajan articulated Hazlitt's impact on key developments in literary
realism in the Victorian era.
Among present-day scholars, Natarajan has been the single most insistent
advocate of the originality, power and importance of Hazlitt's thought.
She co-edited the 2005 volume "Metaphysical Hazlitt: Bicentenary
Essays", contributing two chapters which set out the purport and
scope of his philosophy. Her 2003 article, "The
Veil of Familiarity: Romantic philosophy and the familiar essay" 
showed how Hazlitt's philosophy has been translated and popularised — and
by the same token, hidden — in the informal, conversational style of his
`familiar' essays, a genre in which his mastery of English prose is most
References to the research
The international calibre of Natarajan's research is evidenced by
the publication of her work as articles in highly selective peer-reviewed
journals and as chapters by prestigious publishers.
1. Natarajan, U. (2010) Hazlitt and Shakespeare. In Poole A (Ed) Great
Shakespeareans, Vol 4: Lamb, Hazlitt, Keats. London: Continuum; pp
64-108. ISBN 9780826424365. Submitted output; details available in REF 2b.
[chapter in book]
2. Natarajan, U (2002) Hazlitt, Ruskin, and ideal form. Philological
Quarterly 81(4), 493-503. ISSN 0031 7977. [article]
3. Natarajan, U (2009) Hazlitt's common sense. Nineteenth-Century
Prose 36(1),13-26. ISSN 1052 0406.
Submitted output; details available in REF 2b. [journal article]
4. Natarajan, U (2012) The spirit of his age: Hazlitt and Pater on
Lamb. Nineteenth-Century Literature 60(4), 449-64. ISSN 0891 9356;
Submitted output; details available in REF 2b. [journal article]
5. Natarajan, U. (2005) Hazlitt's Essay on the Principle of Human
Action: 1805-2005; and Circle of Sympathy: Shelley's Hazlitt in U
Natarajan, T Paulin, and D Wu (Eds) Metaphysical Hazlitt: Bicentenary
Essays. London: Routledge, 1-14 and 112-22. ISBN 0 415 33566 3.
6. Natarajan, U (2003) The veil of familiarity: Romantic
philosophy and the familiar essay. Studies in Romanticism, 42(1),
27-44. ISSN 0039 3762. doi 10.2307/25601601
Details of the impact
Natarajan has been instrumental in renewing public interest in Hazlitt
since the late 1990s. She is on the Committee of the Hazlitt Society
which grew out of a 2001 initiative instigated by The Guardian to
restore his long-neglected grave. Its £26,000 restoration cost was funded
by private donations and gifts sent by some 700 Guardian readers, many of
whom attended the unveiling of the renewed gravestone on 10 April 2003,
the 225th anniversary of Hazlitt's birth. The Society was then established
as a continuing collaboration between the Guardian and the academy with
the aim of raising awareness, understanding and appreciation among the
general public of Hazlitt's multiform achievement and of its continuing
relevance. Natarajan's research demonstrating Hazlitt's diverse strengths
as philosopher, critic, aesthetician, journalist and radical is highly
pertinent to the aims of the Society. Her explanations of his ability to
communicate complex philosophical, political, and aesthetic principles in
an everyday, conversational style means she is uniquely placed to promote
his achievements. Her activities on behalf of the Society, underpinned by
this research, have been critical to the growth of its membership, which
is between 150 and 200 with about two-thirds being lay members.
Since 2007 she has been instrumental in organizing the Society's public
annual lecture, held on the Saturday closest to
18 September (the anniversary of his death). It is given by a leading
public intellectual known for his or her ability to engage large general
audiences; these have included philosopher A.C. Grayling, the politician
Tony Benn, the poet Tom Paulin, the writer Tariq Ali, and the critic Terry
Eagleton. There is typically an audience of 150 to 300 people, the
overwhelming majority of whom (around 85-90%) are general readers who come
from across the country specifically to attend it. Natarajan's expertise
feeds into the open discussion at the end of the lectures, as noted in the
transcript of the 2011 Benn lecture.
She is also editor of The Hazlitt Review, an
annual peer-reviewed journal published by the Society to promote and
maintain Hazlitt's standing, both in the academy and to a wider audience
of about 200 lay readers, by providing a forum for new writing on Hazlitt
and his contemporaries. Natarajan edits the annual lecture for publication
in the journal, and through this mechanism her scholarship reaches all the
In 2000 Natarajan and colleagues Paulin and Wu founded an annual
School", a symposium comprising talks and plenary sessions
led by Hazlitt specialists which is open to members of the Society and the
wider public. She now runs it with Gregory Dart at University College
London. It attracts about 50-60 attendees each year, of whom about
three-quarters are non-academic. Natarajan is a regular speaker (for
instance, in 2010), thereby broadening the reach of
her findings to an interested literary audience which extends beyond the
She also regularly accepts invitations to talk about Hazlitt for general
audiences. For example:
- in 2008 she gave two public lectures with audiences of about 150 each
as part of the Oliver Smithies lecture series at Balliol College,
- in 2010 she was the primary speaker on BBC Radio 4's In Our Time,
in an edition focusing specifically on Hazlitt. She
talked about the research undertaken during her time at Goldsmiths,
focusing particularly on the variety of his achievement, his
contribution to theatre history, his view of Shakespeare, and his
innovations in the essay form. Although exact audience figures for any
single broadcast are unavailable, the estimated figure for programmes in
this series is two million, with the permanently-archived podcast making
it accessible to a substantially larger cumulative audience. She
received a number of responses, including the
following from a listener; for example: "Your contribution on
Hazlitt was excellent and I congratulate you for it! It was during my
schooldays over half a century ago I read few of his essays!"
Her role in establishing Hazlitt's importance in English intellectual and
cultural heritage is reflected in the citation of her research in the
Wikipedia entry on Hazlitt, which receives about 5500 views per month.
Contemporary essayist Arthur Krystal noted in The New Yorker
(2009) that `Hazlitt has been enjoying a serious revival'. He
attributed this to the founding of the Hazlitt Society and to new academic
research by `literature professors', naming Natarajan among the key
participants in both respects.
Sources to corroborate the impact
- The Hazlitt
Society: The Assistant Readers' Editor at The Guardian can be
contacted for confirmation, and for information about membership
lecture of the Hazlitt Society
- Annual Hazlitt Society lecture by Tony Benn: The Hazlitt Review
4 (2011), 5-10. ISSN: 1757 8299.
Review: The Assistant Readers' Editor at The Guardian can be
contacted for confirmation, and for information about audience numbers.
Hazlitt Day-School, 5 June 2010: England's Missing Critic.
- The Oliver
Smithies Lectures at Balliol College, Oxford
- `In Our Time' on William Hazlitt, broadcast on BBC Radio 4, 8th
April 2010. For estimated audience figures for `In Our Time', see
says Britain is dumbing down?"
- A compilation of responses from members of the public is available on
request from Goldsmiths Research Office.
- Wikipedia article
on Hazlitt. Viewing figures here.
New Yorker, 18 May 2009. This essay was reprinted in Krystal's
2011 book Except When I Write.