Professor A. D. Nuttall – b. 1937 d. 2007 (OH 1948 – 1954)
19/09/2012
Anthony David Nuttall was born in Hereford on 25 April 1937 and joined the school at the age of 11 as a dayboy in East House. He won a scholarship to Oxford University where he read Classics at Merton College. He remained within the academic world after graduating and joined Sussex University as Assistant Lecturer between 1962 and 1970. He became Reader in English from 1970 to 1973, Professor of English from 1973 to 1984 as well as being appointed Pro-Vice-Chancellor between 1978 and 1981.

He returned to Oxford in 1984 and became a Fellow of New College between 1984 and 2004 (Emeritus) then a Reader in English between 1990 and 1992, becoming a Professor of English from 1992 until his retirement in 2004. He was also appointed FBA in 1997. Married to Mary Donagh in 1960, they had one son and one daughter. Tony died suddenly at home in Oxford on 24 January 2007 aged just 69. ( see also Obituary section of this website )

The following is an extract of an Obituary article which appeared in The Independent on 8th February 2007.

A dazzling English scholar - A. D. Nuttall once gave a lecture at Sussex University about some difficulties in the Darwinian theory of natural selection, of which the first sentence was: "This lecture is the rashest act yet committed in an admittedly rather unadventurous life." No written account can capture the blend of frankness and self-deprecation in his voice as he said it, but the sentence is a splendid glimpse of the intellectual atmosphere of the early years of Sussex (a new university in 1961) which he did so much to create.

A Literary Expert - Tony Nuttall was willing to explore all intellectual issues that seemed to him to impinge on our way of seeing the world: not, as so many literary scholars used to do, by lamenting the heartless materialism of science, but by taking its challenges wholly seriously: he showed his lecture to his colleague John Maynard Smith, one of the world's leading Darwinians, who took its objections wholly seriously. Since he passed his whole life in universities - teaching at Sussex for more than 20 years, and from 1984 at Oxford University, where from 1992 he was Professor of English, Nuttall was no doubt sincere in describing his life as unadventurous. However, when he later spent three years as Pro-Vice-Chancellor at Sussex during the years of student unrest, he found himself in the world of political conflict and tough bargaining, and handled it extremely well.

Fascination with The Bard - Born in Hereford in 1937, Tony was educated at Hereford Cathedral School and Merton College, Oxford, where he read Classics. The way in which he moved naturally between disciplines is indicated by the fact that he wrote his thesis on the philosophical issues raised by Shakespeare's The Tempest. This thesis later turned into his first book, Two Concepts of Allegory and was published in 1967. |t is worth noting here that one of his supervisors was Iris Murdoch ! Nuttall’s triple interest was always in Classics, in philosophy and in English literature and this was evident in virtually everything he subsequently wrote. This theme remained with him all his life and permeated into his teaching.

An intellectual teaching mind - He joined Sussex University in 1962 as a Lecturer, becoming Professor of English in 1973, following which he played a leading part in the development of the contextual course on the Modern European Mind, which placed some of the great modernist writers in their intellectual context. His students therefore read Dostoevsky or Lawrence along with Freud, Conrad or Sartre along with Marx and Thomas Mann along with Nietzsche. This course was an unforgettable intellectual adventure for several generations of students - and for their teachers.

A Brilliant Author - Nuttall wrote several books but there was one published in 1978 about Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment, which he entitled Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment: murder as philosophical experiment. Another of his brilliant books, A Common Sky, published in 1974 and subtitled "Philosophy and the Literary Imagination", was about the connections between solipsism (the philosophical theory that no one except oneself exists) and the imaginative literature of the last two or three centuries. Exploring these connections leads him to some brilliant and highly original insights into Sterne, Wordsworth, Sartre and Eliot, among others.

Theology v. Philosophy? - All readers of Nuttall will have different favourites among his many books. Almost all of them begin from a puzzle that can be expressed either in literature or as philosophy - or even as theology, as in the short and fascinating Overheard by God (1980), subtitled "Fiction and Prayer in Herbert, Milton, Dante and St John", which begins with a shock tactic: "Imagine - if you can - God reading this poem", it says, and then quotes George Herbert's "Dialogue", which is written as a dialogue between the poet and God. The book shows how Herbert paints himself into a corner, not in order to score a point over him, but to explore the logic of a human being trying to show that prayer is answered.

Modern sceptism rejected - Tony also wrote a bigger book in 1982 on current literary theories: A New Mimesis: Shakespeare and the representation of reality. This attacks the radical scepticism of Jacques Derrida and his followers, which has been so influential in literary theory, and its rejection of modern scepticism is sophisticated but total: "Artists," it asserts, "always find new ways of imitating through form the indefinite richness of reality", and theorists who deny that we have any access to reality are shrinking, even undermining, the possibilities of literature.

Nuttall's interest in the past never prevented him from responding to recent and modern literature; and his interest in theory never prevented him from responding to the full richness of actual poems, novels and plays. This could be illustrated from almost any of his books - nowhere better than from his last published book, Dead from the Waist Down (2003), which contains a wonderful exploration of Tom Stoppard's picture of Housman in The Invention of Love, lovingly revealing how much meaning is packed into apparently casual dialogue.

Since the "revolution in English studies" hit universities in the 1970s, a popular view has contrasted the old-fashioned lovers of literature who live in the past and hate theory, with the sophisticated post-modernists, at home with deconstruction, semiotics and psycho-analysis, who read criticism rather than poems and novels. Tony was a living example of how misleading this contrast can be. He lived in the past but lived in the present as well. He loved theoretical argument but loved literature too. He admired and practised the famous doctrine of Occam's razor (don't multiply concepts beyond what is essential) but all his writings - as he himself occasionally remarked - could be described as "Occam's beard".

Tony retired in 2004 but remained active. He had begun to amuse himself by writing fiction and had finished two quirky and very readable novels, dealing with time travel and mythology in realistic modern settings. Almost nothing he wrote was without some reference to Shakespeare, and his big book on Shakespeare, Shakespeare the Thinker, currently being printed, will alas, appear posthumously.

Tonys' distinguished academic career was not what made him remarkable. He possessed acute moral awareness and sheer goodness; more so than any man I have ever known. His life was devoted to Mary, his family and his many friends, and to his students. He loved truth, beauty, hard work, intellectual integrity and Shakespeare. There can be no one left alive who knew as much about Shakespeare as Tony did, yet you'd never have guessed this from talking to him. He carried his talents lightly, gave them generously --and was immensely funny with it."
InTouch-Online (v 2.7.3.7) supplied by InTouch Software
Contact Us : Claire Morgan-Jones 01432 363590 or Helen Pearson 01432 363566
Email : c.morganjones@herefordcs.com or development@herefordcs.com
TwitterLinkedinFacebook