The material in this series is organized in two parts, by files and by cards in “shoe boxes”. The files contain a variety of material including correspondence, reading lists, course outlines, lecture notes, other notes, and exam questions. The card boxes contain both notes and lectures.
The series beings with the file of correspondence, reading lists, course outlines and related material on the new course, ‘Studies in Canadian history and letters’, that Dr. Bissell began developing in 1946 with Donald Creighton. Other courses he taught in the immediate post-war period were ‘The modern novel’, for undergraduates, and ‘The late Victorian novel’ for graduates.
From the mid-1960s he taught a graduate course in ‘Canadian literature’ and, briefly, an undergraduate one in ‘Victorianism in the British Commonwealth’. After he stepped down as president, he taught courses in ‘Major Canadian writers’ and ‘Contemporary Canadian literary criticism’ at the graduate level. Also present are his teaching files from his sabbatical at Harvard University in 1967-1968 and the graduate course in Canadian literature he gave at the University of Leeds in the spring of 1973. These are followed by appraisals and correspondence relating to two theses Dr. Bissell supervised, one from 1952 and the other from 1983.
The cards are organized from the broader aspects of the study of literature to the specific study of individuals within the context of the literary traditions of their respective countries. The first cards are devoted to English literature, beginning with lectures on topics ranging from writing an essay and assembling a bibliography to modern thought, an introduction to poetry, the theory of comedy and drama, the short story, and the history of the novel. These cards are followed by notes and lecture notes on individual writers and poets, filed alphabetically and beginning with Matthew Arnold and ending with James Thomson. Most are Victorian novelists, though there are also files on earlier writers such as Chaucer, John Dryden and Sir Walter Scott, and early twentieth-century writers such as T. S. Eliot and John Galsworthy, and a scattering of French authors. This section ends with notes and lectures on Victorian thought, literature and poetry, the modern novel, and notes on social and historical issues, and philosophical, religious and scientific thought in Victorian England. Some of the notes appear to date from the late 1930s, while the lectures date from about 1946 through the early 1950s.
The following sets of cards have notes and lectures on Canadian, American, and Australian literature, politics and society that document the wide range of disciplines that Dr. Bissell mined in preparing his lectures. The first section on Canada is devoted to the Canadian novel (later “Canadian fiction”) for the academic years 1946-1947 to 1954-1955, followed by specific topics, writers, and poets, arranged more or less alphabetically. The topics include the contemporary Canadian novel, Canadian culture, best sellers (1896-1933), pre-Confederation poetry, the university question in the 1840s, the Canada First movement; journals such as Canadian Forum, The Varsity, and Canadian Monthly/National Review; economic history, the frontier, and the French-Canadian novel. There is even the text of an address from 1951. Dr. Bissell covers a wide range of novelists, newspapermen, poets, politicians, amongst whom are Bliss Carman, John W. Dafoe, Robertson Davies, Mazo de la Roche, Archibald Lampman; William Lyon Mackenzie King and his political adversary, Arthur Meighen; Charles Mair, Robert Service, Goldwin Smith, Daniel Wilson, Frederick Philip Grove, Abbé Lionel Groulx, T. C. Haliburton and Joseph Howe.
The cards with notes and lectures on American literature begin with general questions and an overview of the subject, but most are about individual writers, filed alphabetically. The principal figures discussed are Jacob Bailey, Jonathan Edwards, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Francis Parkman, Carl Sandburg and John Steinbeck.
These cards are followed by ones containing notes on Australian literature, a talk Dr. Bissell gave on Australia to the U of T Engineering Society in 1954, and notes on the Australian character.