Peter Widdowson

Topics: Thomas Hardy, University, English studies Pages: 2 (837 words) Published: April 16, 2014
Peter Widdowson, who has died of cancer aged 66, played an important role in revitalising the study of English literature through a long career inhigher education, all of it spent in the old polytechnics and new universities - latterly at the University of Gloucestershire. He was an important voice in the debates about "theory" in the 1970s and 80s, and was an internationally renowned Thomas Hardy scholar. Peter was born in Coventry and took pleasure in describing himself as a war baby. An only child of lower-middle-class parents, he was in many respects a classic postwar grammar-school boy, excelling at school and being the first in his family to go on to university: he went to Nottingham to read English in 1961. He also gained his PhD there in 1969, studying first world war poetry and painting; he had a life-long interest in the visual arts and was tempted by further study in this area. But in the event he continued with literature, going with his first wife, Frances, to teach in Sweden for three years in the late 60s, and then returning to the UK in 1971 to work at Thames Polytechnic as head of the division of English. These were exciting times to be working in English. Peter was a leading figure involved in the ferments around the subject, co-founding the journal Literature and History in 1975, and bringing his fine analytical intelligence to bear on some of the founding assumptions of the discipline. In a series of articles and books he articulated a distinctive and challenging historicising position in the debates about literature that have characterised academia over the past 30 years, and the collection of essays that he edited in 1982, Rereading English, occupied a pre-eminent position in the controversies around the re-conceptualisation of the discipline. His editing, with Peter Brooker, of A Reader's Guide to Contemporary Literary Theory, first undertaken by Raman Selden, has been an outstanding resource for generations of English students in this...
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