Obituary: K. W. Gransden

K. W. GRANSDEN, poet, scholar and literary critic, was a man of many and varied talents, whose life no official title can encapsulate. Emeritus Reader in English and Comparative Literature at Warwick University is part of the story, but he was more than that.

Ken Gransden was born in 1925 at Herne Bay in Kent, and educated at the City of London School. After military service he went up to Jesus College, Cambridge, where he took a double First in Classics. One of the brightest young graduates of his day, he was approached by the spy service, but declined, preferring instead to take up the post of assistant keeper of manuscripts at the British Museum, where he worked from 1951 until 1957. In these austere surroundings (like a monastery but without the consolations of religion, as it was once described) he met Antonia Harrison, whom he married in 1956.

He was simultaneously pursuing his literary interests, writing poems, reviews and occasional pieces; his first book, John Donne, was published in 1954, and a collection of his poems, Any Day, appeared in 1960. When he was invited to become literary editor of the Listener, he left the museum to immerse himself wholeheartedly in the vibrant life of literary London in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

There were numerous visits to the theatre (this was the period of Look Back in Anger and the revival of the British stage), glamorous parties, and the opportunity to meet and entertain the leading literary figures of the day. Edith Sitwell came to tea, and E.M. Forster, who came down from Cambridge to talk about his work, read Babar stories to Gransden's young daughter. Gransden kept up the connection with Forster, and later wrote a book about him, E.M. Forster, which Forster himself read in typescript. Another publication from this period was his study of Tennyson's In Memoriam (1962).

After such a dazzling early career it was fortunate indeed for the then new Warwick University that Gransden was persuaded, in 1965, to become one of the four founding members of the Department of English and Comparative Literature. With his classical training, his deep knowledge and love of English literature, and his experience outside the narrow confines of academic life, he was the perfect person to help create an interdisciplinary department, in which English would be studied in conjunction with other European literatures.

All English students were expected to study a foreign language, whether classical or modern, and a core course on the Epic Tradition (Homer, Virgil, Dante and Milton) ensured that students were not ignorant of the primary influence of classical culture on the literatures of Europe. It was a brave vision, and one which has left its mark, despite the much changed circumstances of academic life in 1990s.

Gransden devised and taught a wide range of courses in classical and English literature, from Virgil and Horace, through Spenser and Donne, to Auden and Greene, a range which is also reflected in his publications. When the joint School of Classics was set up in 1976, largely through the efforts of Tom Winnifrith and Donald Charlton, Gransden served as Chairman, and played an active part in teaching for the degree in English and Latin Literature. One of the high points of my time at Warwick were the seminars which I taught together with Gransden, when for me, as for the students, his learning, sensitivity and enthusiasm brought life to the poems we were reading.

He continued to write poetry, and a collection, The Last Picnic, was published in 1981. For many years he was one of the judges of the Gregory awards for poetry, a role which he particularly valued, as he describes in the introduction to The Gregory Anthology 1987-1990, jointly edited with Alan Brownjohn.

In his later years he turned back more and more to the study of classical poetry, particularly Virgil. He published editions of Aeneid viii and xi, Virgil's Iliad (an intertextual study of Homer and Virgil), a volume on the Aeneid in the "Landmarks of World Literature" series, and finally Virgil in English (1996), an anthology of translations of Virgil from Chaucer to Seamus Heaney. This last book brought together in a peculiarly appropriate way the various strands of Gransden's intellectual life, the poetry, the scholarship and the keen critical judgement, which he exercised on classical and English literature alike. It also demonstrates that for him the study of classics was not simply an antiquarian indulgence, but part of a living literary tradition.

Ken Gransden's career was highly successful, but like many gifted people, he was a vulnerable human being. It was a great stroke of luck, the goddess Fortuna perhaps, which caused him to meet Maureen Daniels, with whom he shared many years of happiness. Her warmth and earthiness complemented his somewhat excitable and highly strung temperament. They were chalk and cheese, as she herself says, but they admired each other for their differing qualities, and together they enjoyed life's many pleasures: gardening, walking, and swimming, dancing, travelling, music, food and wine.

Music was a lifelong passion, particularly opera, and in his later years he also discovered that he could paint. Ken Gransden was a true Epicurean in the enjoyment of life, never advertising his talents, nor overly concerned with worldly success. He was a secular man, but with a spiritual side, which became increasingly evident in his long and often painful final illness. This he bore with remarkable equanimity and inner strength, sustained by the love of Maureen and the family. He continued to compose poetry, and when he could no longer write, he recorded his musings on tape. His wit, charm and elegance never left him, and he died as he had lived, a truly civilised man.

When I visited him in the hospice where he lay dying, he showed me his commonplace-book which he kept with him, now that he was no longer able to use his library. He had inscribed it with an epigraph in reminiscence of Horace: "lusisti satis, satis bibisti. Tempus abire est" ("you've enjoyed yourself, indulged yourself. It's time to go"). He had a good life, he said, and was happy with all that he had experienced and done.

Penelope Murray

Karl Watts Gransden, literary critic, scholar and poet: born Herne Bay, Kent 24 February 1925; Assistant Keeper of Manuscripts, British Museum 1951-57; Lecturer, then Reader in English and Comparative Literature, Warwick University 1965-91 (Emeritus); married 1958 Antonia Harrison (two daughters; marriage dissolved 1977); died Warwick 25 July 1998.

Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment


film review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Relocation, relocation: Zawe Ashton travels the pathway to Northampton
Arts and Entertainment
BBC Three was launched a little over five years ago with the slogan: “Three, is a magic number, yes it is.”

BBC Trust agrees to axe channel from TV in favour of digital move

Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Armie Hammer in the new film of ‘The Lone Ranger’

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

    EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

    An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
    Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

    Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

    The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
    How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

    Heavy weather

    What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
    World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

    World Bodypainting Festival 2015

    Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
    alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

    Don't call us nerds

    Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high
    How to find gold: The Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge

    How to find gold

    Steve Boggan finds himself in the Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge
    Singing accents: From Herman's Hermits and David Bowie to Alesha Dixon

    Not born in the USA

    Lay off Alesha Dixon: songs sound better in US accents, even our national anthem
    10 best balsamic vinegars

    10 best balsamic vinegars

    Drizzle it over salad, enjoy it with ciabatta, marinate vegetables, or use it to add depth to a sauce - this versatile staple is a cook's best friend
    Wimbledon 2015: Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

    Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

    Serena dispatched her elder sister 6-4, 6-3 in eight minutes more than an hour
    Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

    Greece referendum

    Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
    Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

    7/7 bombings anniversary

    Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

    Versace haute couture review

    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
    No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

    No hope and no jobs in Gaza

    So the young risk their lives and run for it
    Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

    Fashion apps

    Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy