Teaching and Research Interests

Eighteenth-century literature and children’s literature; the rise of literacy in the eighteenth century

Selected publications:

Playing with Books: A Study of the Reader as Child.  McFarland, 2009.Playing With Books by John Morgenstern

“Parody” in The Oxford Encyclopedia of Children’s Literature, 2006.

“The Fall into Literacy and the Rise of the Bourgeois Child.” Children’s Literature Association Quarterly 27.3 (2002): 136-45.

“The Rise of Children’s Literature Reconsidered.” Children’s Literature Association Quarterly 26:2 (2001): 64-73.

“Children and Other Talking Animals.” The Lion and the Unicorn 24.1 (January 2000): 110-127.


The English Department sadly marks the passing of John Morgenstern on July 5, 2022, after he was diagnosed with lung cancer earlier this year. He leaves family in Nova Scotia, Ontario, and Ohio, including his four children.

John was one of the department’s longest serving members, retiring in 2017 after 39 years. John came to the Mount in 1978 fresh from completing his PhD at the University of Toronto with a dissertation on landscape imagery in eighteenth-century poetry. Prior to accepting the position at the Mount and disillusioned at the time by his job prospects in academia, John had taken a job with a company that specialized in washing windows of high-rise buildings in Toronto though he had no prior experience to prepare him for being suspended hundreds of meters above Bay Street. His family believes that the offer of a job at the Mount may have saved him from a fatal encounter with a sidewalk.

At the Mount, John taught Renaissance and eighteenth-century literature, as well as literature for children and young adults and detective fiction. As a result, he shifted his research focus to children’s literature and published Playing with Books: A Study of the Reader as Child in 2009. Early in his career, he helped to organize the first Annual Atlantic Undergraduate English Conference in 1981, a conference that continues to this day, and was famous for his rendition of William McGonagall’s “The Tay Bridge Disaster” at the department’s annual “Bad Poetry” event. During his career, he was active on many university committees and in the life of the department, serving as its chair for six years and waging a long-term quixotic campaign against grade inflation. He was also an active member of the MSVUFA, serving a term as president (1983-84), two terms as grievance officer (1995-96, 2000-02) and helping to write the union’s first Collective Agreement in 1989.

John saw much of life through the literary works he read and taught and likely romanticized his potential employment as a high-rise window washer through Sir Edmund Hillary’s accounts of scaling Everest. It is therefore unsurprising that he credited his life-long membership of the NDP to George Bernard Shaw’s Major Barbara.

John was known for his love of gardening and, following his retirement, he combined his interest in the landscape imagery of the eighteenth century with his interest in gardening to write a book combining both topics. Unfortunately, the book remains unpublished. John had intended to write his own obituary, but preferred spending his final days in his garden, supervising the weeding. Along with his garden, John loved a good wine and has asked that his life be celebrated with a glass or two: “Here no man tells my cups … But gives me what I call, and lets me eat” (Ben Jonson, “To Penshurst”).

(Written by colleague, Dr. Reina Green, Professor Emerita in the MSVU English Department)