In Memoriam: Simon Edwards

Simon Edwards (May 6, 1946 - April 24, 2020)

It is with great sadness and a deep sense of loss that we share the news of the death of a true friend of the department of English Literature, Professor Simon Edwards.

Simon was principal lecturer in English Literature at the Department of English and Creative Writing at the University of Roehampton, London. I met Simon in Graz in 2003 on the occasion of the first meeting of colleagues from six different European universities and City College, New York, who worked on a new programme design in English and American Studies. The Joint Degree Programme was a genuine European project under the leadership of Prof. Dr. Roberta Maierhofer (Graz). The group of colleagues who met there - and would meet in Graz and at various partner universities the following years - soon became friends sorting out the intricacies of very different university systems. Simon was our strong partner at Roehampton and managed to convince the administration of an English university (at least for a few years) that working together with European partners could be a significant achievement for our students and the participating universities.

As a citizen of the world and a cosmopolitan scholar, Simon contributed his very unique English perspective with a profoundly European mind. He was particularly interested in the changes in countries that used to belong to what used to be called "Eastern Europe", a misnomer of the Cold War years. Simon took a genuine interest in their post-war socialist past as much as in their painful struggles to build free and democratic societies. Universities are the ideal places to work on this with students because they can contribute a lot to this effort.

Simon had the erudition and wit to juggle the sensitivities of very different Europeans in a way which respected their national traditions, continuing the great work of thousands of British people who had contributed so much in rebuilding war-torn Central Europe after the war. This spirit lived on in his commitment teaching all over Europe and especially in the former East.

Never lacking strong political positions and comments, Simon's authority and strength as an academic teacher and mediator of literatures and cultures originated in his overwhelming knowledge of history, politics, and, of course, above all, literature.

His main research interests were in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century fiction: the historical novel (Sir Walter Scott and Fenimore Cooper), the early American novel from Brockden Brown to Melville and Romantic nationalism in Europe; Charles Dickens; representations of the city in English, American and European writing in relation to sexuality and ethnic identity. He also was interested in English poetry of the late seventeenth century as a manifestation of European baroque culture, the literature of the ‘fin-de-siècle’ and mid-twentieth-century British poetry.

Simon taught undergraduate and postgraduate courses in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century English, American and European Literatures throughout his career at Roehampton University including, for instance: Literature and the City; Romanticism and the Novel; the Historical Novel; Travel Writing; Literature and Politics 1776-1832; Charles Dickens.

Simon had stories to tell about so many places and universities in Austria, Bulgaria, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, and Sweden where he had lectured. He presented conference papers at these universities as well as in China, Japan, Korea and the USA.

Since his retirement he regularly taught at the University of Shkodra (Albania), the Karl Franzens University of Graz (Austria), the University of Magdeburg and our university. At Otto-Friedrich-Universität, Simon generously taught classes on "Darwin, Decadence and Dystopia: Aspects of the British Novel in the Age of Empire" (SS 2014), "The Balkanisation of British Poetry" (SS 2015), "The Enlightenment and Its Discontents" (SS 2016), "Romance and Reality: The Making of the English Novel 1800-1850" (SS 2017), "Charles Dickens: David Copperfield, Great Expectations and the Way of the World" (SS 2018).

All our students who took a class with Simon admired him immensely. His advice and the meticulous way of marking term papers were greatly appreciated by them. His high academic standards were a challenge and encouragement to our students, as I was told many times.

When we took our students to a field trip to Dorset in 2017, Simon joined us from London and we spent a very memorable and beautiful time together. We went for long walks with our students and visited pubs, sites of interest, and talked for hours. This was an event I will never forget, particularly because of Simon’s participation. Looking back, it has become even more important and dear to our staff and our students.

Simon was one of the very few colleagues who did not just become a friend, but a person who has been and will be very important in my life. As a scholar and as a human being he inspired and encouraged me by his example. He was an amazing human being and scholar. Like a walking library - we could speak about whatever topic came up. His knowledge of Continental and particularly Central European and German history was incomparable to anybody else I know from the UK. I always learnt something from his recognisably English perspective, which was fascinating to me.

Simon was a very honest and open-minded character. He voiced his opinions about university politics and its consequences for teaching and education whenever possible politely and with a good sense of humour, but nevertheless in a way that one could describe as filterless, like the cigarettes he enjoyed smoking. At a conference we attended with another colleague from London a few years ago, we were confronted with quite a nationalist paper on cultural studies. In the discussion we spoke out against new nationalisms in Europe and its destructive and pernicious consequences. To stand in for the European cause together with two Englishmen at a conference was a wonderful experience and exactly the way it should be. 

We will all miss Simon very much. We will miss the opportunities to learn from the treasure-house of his readings and to experience the overwhelming pleasure he had talking about literature and art. Most of all we will miss his abundant joie de vivre and his humanity. The department has lost a good friend. I will continue my conversations with him about all the topics we came up with whenever we met.

 

Christoph Houswitschka

 

For Prof. Dr. Maierhofer's obituary and a collection of individual memories and more pictures, see here.

To download this obituary as a PDF, please click here(819.4 KB).