Obituary: Robert Powell-Jones

ROBERT POWELL-JONES was one of the most promising of his Oxford generation but also one of the most reckless. He was somebody whom you only had to meet once, on form, to know his exceptional capabilities. While his life was outwardly conventional - leading from a scholarship to Winchester and another (aged 16) to Wadham, where he won academic laurels; then an early, happy marriage and 20 years at the Bar - he was far too independent-minded and Romantic a character to be anything but fundamentally restless.

He was born in 1954. At Winchester, he suffered from severe depression and opted to go with his mother to Brazil. Apparently far from robust (though in fact he boxed well), Powell-Jones threw himself into a succession of hazardous activities, working at a banana plantation near Sao Paulo, trekking through forests in search of rubber, and then embarking for the Amazon on a small cutter which was destroyed in a storm. This culminated in a three-day sojourn with the rescuers, Indians, hitherto unaccustomed to Europeans; it is likely that Powell-Jones was the only person present to have read A Handful of Dust.

After these Conradian experiences, Powell-Jones found difficulty in settling down at Oxford. He was arrested for being drunk and incapable in charge of a bicycle, when dressed as a Chinaman. Nevertheless he obtained a First in Russian and in his later career invariably contrived to repair the ravages of the night. He had a lucid legal mind.

The son and stepson of diplomats, he was a formidable linguist, reading and speaking at least seven languages, and had a sound knowledge of pre- Christian civilisation. Some found him overly intellectual. He was not likely, for example, to take part in a discussion of fishing quotas given the option of looking at a Poussin. (Once, when he did look at a Poussin in a Bond Street gallery, he politely interrupted the gallery owner's detailed account of the painting to reinterpret its entire mythology.)

His interest in European culture, and in particular the art and architecture of Rome, Florence, Venice and Paris, was passionate; he had limited affection for London and showed a marked reluctance to cross the river. He collected pictures and also commissioned them, notably an ongoing series of portraits of his daughter, Stella, by Matthew Carr.

Though he often seemed happiest with his own company, Powell-Jones revelled in companionship, even encouraged a Dionysian streak in others, though he could at times be an enervating and forbidding presence. Easily irritated by what he perceived as an oafish element in many English men, he was strongly drawn to the company of women and was capable of developing tendresses at speed. An endearing feature was his ability to communicate freely, when he chose, with absolutely anyone.

The gifts of penetrative intelligence and pure intellect which enabled him to maintain an envied status at the Bar, where he specialised in Chancery work, were marred by a tendency to erratic behaviour, often associated with drink, which became steadily more prevalent and ended by disrupting both his professional and his domestic life.

He accepted all consequent changes of status with dignity and retired last year to York to work on a verse translation of Pushkin's The Bronze Horseman. He rediscovered the pleasures of research, establishing himself in the basement of the Brotherton Library, Leeds, where the essential Russian lexicon lived. He completed the translation of this and other Pushkin poems, also a short story, and arranged for their publication before his death from a heart attack. They will appear next year.

William Joll

Robert James Powell-Jones, barrister: born London 6 January 1954; called to the Bar, Middle Temple 1978; married 1980 Flora Fraser (one daughter; marriage dissolved 1992); died York 17 December 1998.

Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

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

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Arts and Entertainment
Panic! In The Disco's Brendon Urie performs on stage

music
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Arts and Entertainment
James singer Tim Booth
latitude 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Lee says: 'I never, ever set out to offend, but it can be an accidental by-product'
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe judges were wowed by the actress' individual cooking style
Arts and Entertainment
Nicholas says that he still feels lucky to be able to do what he loves, but that there is much about being in a band he hates
musicThere is much about being in a band that he hates, but his debut album is suffused with regret
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
    Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

    Take a good look while you can

    How climate change could wipe out this seal
    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

    Farewell, my lovely

    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
    Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

    Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

    Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

    John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
    Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

    Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

    The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
    The 10 best pedicure products

    Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

    Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

    Commonwealth Games 2014

    Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
    Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

    Jack Pitt-Brooke

    Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
    How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

    How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

    Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game