"Ignorance is the parent of fear," wrote Herman Melville more than a century ago. As a feminist professor specializing in American literature who teaches Melville, Hawthorne, Faulkner, Hemingway and Frost, as well as Catharine Sedgwick and Lydia Maria Child, I was surprised and saddened by the ignorant diatribe launched against new perspectives in literary study by Jonathan Yardley {"Paradise Tossed," Style, Jan. 11}.

Why Yardley is afraid of learning more literature and more about how literary history is constructed with relatively few excellent pieces canonized, I do not know. Because many of us have been exhorting ourselves and each other to question our assumptions, we of that "most ludicrous American institution, the Modern Language Association," are discovering more about our literary past instead of locking ourselves up in a fascistic ivory tower with such misguided notions as "all the really good subjects for study already have been taken." Having read his petulant and naive assault on English professors, I'd like to make a few suggestions for Yardley so that he might educate himself before he parrots The New York Times in yet another bitter campaign of misinformation.

First he might read "Blues, Ideology and Afro-American Literature" (published by that "retrograde" University of Chicago Press) by Houston A. Baker Jr., eminent Albert M. Greenfield professor at the University of Pennsylvania, before he yanks another of the distinguished scholar's comments out of context.

Second, I suggest that he read Zora Neale Hurston's "Their Eyes Were Watching God" before he again blithely remarks that in revaluation "grace of style, vigor of prose and originality of expression have been downgraded."

Third, I suggest that he read Catharine Sedgwick's "Hope Leslie" (1827; reprint Rutgers University Press, 1987) side by side with "Moby Dick" or "The Scarlet Letter" or "The Deerslayer" and then say that traditionally standards of literary excellence have been the criteria for what has been "properly regarded" as major and minor literature.

Fourth, I recommend that he read Joseph Wittreich's "Feminist Milton" (Cornell University Press, 1987) before he again proclaims that feminism is "strident" or implies that there is nothing to be said about authors long considered great or that the purpose of the new methods is merely "careerist."

Last but not least, I invite Yardley to be my guest and visit us at the University of Maryland English Department, where he will find a lot of intergenerational exchange and support. A microcosm of a literary universe in which Milton, Shakespeare, Dickinson, Faulkner and Hurston peacefully and productively coexist, ours is a department in which scholars of various critical persuasions talk with each other instead of ridicule one another. We believe that encouraging diversity, allowing disagreements in opinion and daring to learn more are strengths, and that ignorance, not difference, is all we need fear. Martha Nell Smith The writer is an assistant professor of English at the University of Maryland.

I'm a little confused. I get up at 6 a.m., read The Post, tutor students from 8 to 9, teach freshman writing from 9 to 10, tutor again from 10 to 11. From 11 to 3 I read and write about Shakespeare. From 3 to 6 I work a second job. At night my wife and I read or watch TV, and on the weekends we have friends over and spend some time with a church youth group we're sponsoring. Last year we paid roughly one-third of our gross income in taxes. I'm nearsighted, and my hair's getting pretty thin in back.

Here's where I'm confused: in Jonathan Yardley's Jan. 11 column, he suggested that I'm living outside the "real world." Would you please tell me where I might find that world? Should I move to Washington and write columns about Tama Janowitz?

Writing book reviews in Washington -- now that's the "real world"! Stephen Farmer