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Shanley, J. Lyndon (James Lyndon), 1910-1996



  • Existence: 1910-1996


James Lyndon Shanley was born July 3, 1910 in Allenhurst, New Jersey, the son of John Francis and Elizabeth (O'Neil) Shanley. Shanley received his PhD from Princeton and worked briefly at Cornell before joining Northwestern's English Department faculty in 1936. His research interests focused on Chaucer, Spencer and Thoreau. Shanley retired from the University in 1978 and died in 1996.

As a seven year old Shanley went to the Montclair Academy for two years, then to a boarding school, Newman School, for six more years, where he excelled scholastically. He led his class in five out of those six years, and was second in the other. He graduated from Exeter in 1928, where he was the managing editor of The Exonian, the school paper. He entered Princeton in the Fall of 1928 and discovered poetry. In his senior year he wrote a thesis on Keats. He received his A.B. degree magna cum laude in 1932 and became a member of Phi Beta Kappa. In 1932 he enrolled in Harvard Law School, which he left in April 1933 to attend Graduate School at Princeton, having “decided I wanted to be a college or university teacher instead of a wealthy metropolitan lawyer.” He took his MA from Princeton in 1935, and received his Ph.D. in English in 1937, also from Princeton. His doctoral dissertation was entitled “Study of Spencer's Gentleman”, an account of the aims, training, and virtues Spencer thought necessary for the leaders of society.

In 1936, after a two-week stint at Cornell he accepted an offer to join the faculty at Northwestern as an instructor in the English Department. He was promoted to Assistant Professor in 1940, Associate Professor in 1946, and Professor in 1951. In 1943 Shanley headed the English Department component of the Navy V-12 program, which was geared for Navy personnel considered officer material but who had not finished college, which was a requirement for Officers Candidate School. In 1945 he was appointed Education Coordinator for the entire program.

Beginning in 1946, when he was appointed Assistant Dean of the College of Liberal Arts, his time was spent mostly in administrative functions. Nevertheless, his love of poetry and the teaching of it continued to be articulated in two classes that he taught until his retirement in 1978. His favorite of the two, which he developed, was “The Elements of Poetry”; the other was “Chaucer.” Shanley served as Assistant Dean of the College, 1946-1953, and Associate Dean from 1953 until 1976. As the Associate Dean he represented Northwestern on the Committee of Institutional Cooperation (the Big Ten and the University of Chicago).

Shanley was active in numerous professional and scholarly organizations. He was a member of the Scribner Fellowship at Princeton (1935-1936), and served as Chairman of the Regional Selection Committee of the Woodrow Wilson Fellowship Program (1951-1967). He was a member of the Modern Language Association of America, the American Association of University Professors, and the National Council off Teachers of English. He was an active member of the Thoreau Society and served as its President in 1958-1959.

Shanley's research interests, for which he received several grants, were Chaucer, Spenser, and Thoreau. He authored two books: A Study of Spenser's Gentleman, (1940), and The Making of “Walden” (1957), a study of how Thoreau wrote and rewrote Walden in the years 1846-1854. He also edited Walden and added a historical and textual introduction. This volume was part of the CEAA edition of the The Writing of Henry D. Thoreau, (1971). In addition, he wrote several articles about Thoreau, Spenser, and Chaucer that were published in literary and philosophical periodicals.

Shanley met Barbara Smith at Northwestern University, where she was teaching art history, and the two had offices in the same hall. They married on April 7, 1938 in the Rectory of St. Mary's Church in Evanston. They had two children: Frank Sheppard (b. 1942), and Mary Lyndon (b.1944). Barbara Shanley died in 1984, after which Shanley moved to The Georgian, a retirement home in Evanston. He died in 1996 at the Wagner Health Center in Evanston.

Found in 1 Collection or Record:

J. Lyndon Shanley (1910-1996) Papers

Identifier: 11/3/11/28
Abstract J. Lyndon Shanley joined the faculty at Northwestern University as an instructor in the English Department. He was promoted to assistant professor in 1940, associate professor in 1946, and professor in 1951. Shanley retired from the University in 1978. His research focused on Chaucer, Spencer and Thoreau. The J. Lyndon Shanley Papers are organized into three categories: personal files, appointment calendars, and curricular material for the two classes Shanley taught at Northwestern, English...
Dates: 1936-1991