Obituary: William E. Fredeman

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The Independent Culture
THE EARLIEST memory of Dick Fredeman (characteristically, he kept the Christian name he was given at birth, even though he wrote under that given him by his adoptive parents, William) was waking on his mother's veranda to find the barrel of a gun pointed at his face. It was held by an angry acquaintance of hers. Surviving this, he spent his life in determined independence, pursuing his goals with unrelenting energy to become the foremost scholar of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, expert in all things Victorian, of which he was also an omnivorous collector.

He was born in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, south-east of Little Rock, in 1928, a bleak place in a bleak time. His mother was killed in a car accident soon after that terrifying first experience, and he spent most of the following three years at the local orphanage, next to the reformatory and across the street from the garbage dump. There he once found an old lantern and traded it with another boy for a coat.

When he was six, he was removed from the orphanage by Lucille Fredeman; she did not consult her husband, but put her new son in the back of the car and drove him home. There he was looked after by her black maid, Pearl, who took him home with her at weekends. A happier childhood memory was of being taken to the balcony of the black theatre, along with other white children.

His new parents were also determined, but an ill-matched couple. Frank Fredeman was an army officer who eventually became a general, his wife a stockbroker turned lawyer who became the fifth woman in the United States to get a pilot's licence. They separated when he was 11, and after that he went to boarding schools, first a military academy and then the Benedictine monastery school at Subiaco, in the west of the state.

He was tempted to pursue a vocation there, and even embarked on the novitiate, but in the event finished school early and got his mother's permission to enlist in the navy, to spite his father. He arrived at San Diego for his basic training the day the Japanese surrendered, and was sent to the Philippines for something under a year. He returned to take his BA at Hendrix College, at his father's expense, and finished the course in 18 months, graduating in 1948. He then moved to Oklahoma City, where he supported himself by teaching at the Capitol Hill High School while he took his MA and PhD at the University of Oklahoma.

He also enlisted in the army reserve for the very small pay that it brought, and was lucky enough to be sent for officer training at Fort Benning, thus escaping Korea. In the event, the GI Bill paid for the rest of time at Oklahoma, where he became a teaching assistant; he also tutored the famous (or infamous) Oklahoma football team.

It was from these extraordinarily unpromising foundations that Fredeman built an international reputation. No one could ignore the vast range of his knowledge, the range and also the subtlety of a mind that could seek and find in the most unlikely places not only relics but ideas of real importance. His break, so to speak, came when he moved to British Columbia in 1956.

He had his doctorate, but jobs were scarce. A Canadian colleague reminded him of the opportunities there, and he was interviewed in Chicago by the head of the Classics department at the University of British Columbia, an epigraphist of singular charm, Malcolm McGregor.

He painted a picture, at least in his listener's mind, of log-cabins in the Rockies; these turned out to be war-surplus huts in the suburbs of Vancouver, overlooked, it is true, by the mountains that rise from the sea-loch and provide a wonderful back-drop to the city. BC had, still has, a Victorian charm, more British than Britain. It was this, and the view, that suggested the Scotland with which Queen Victoria herself fell in love that set Fredeman's imagination and energy to work.

There was an immense amount of reading to be done, and he did it. There were also any number of Victorian books to be bought in BC, and he began to collect them. There was also an English faculty to which, first as instructor, then assistant professor (1958), associate (1963) and finally (1967) full professor, he contributed an equal and equally demanding energy, to make it famous world-wide.

He was not universally popular, either with his colleagues or with students who contributed less than he thought they ought. Unsparing of himself, he expected the same from others. In 1959-60 he came to London, and terrorised the staff of the British Museum library with an apparently insatiable appetite for books with which they could hardly keep up. He made friends, however, there (notably Ian Willison) and outside, in the still small circle of those who shared his fascination with the Victorian era and the Pre-Raphaelites in particular. Simon Nowell-Smith, the bibliographer, and Jeremy Maas, the first art dealer to revive interest in the then deeply unfashionable world of Victorian pictures, became and remained friends.

The produce of all this research began to pour out. Pre-Raphaelitism: a bibliocritical study was published in 1965, A Pre-Raphaelite Gazette: the Penkill letters of Arthur Hughes in 1967, and Prelude to the Last Decade: Dante Gabriel Rossetti in the summer of 1872 in 1971. He edited the text of the original PRB Journal in 1975 and commandeered two entire double numbers of Victorian Poetry for William Morris and D.G. Rossetti in 1975 and 1982.

His edition of the correspondence of William Bell Scott, The Letters of Pictor Ignotus, appeared in 1976, and in collaboration with Ira Nadel he produced the four volumes of the Dictionary of Literary Biography (1983- 85) that dealt with Victorian novelists and poets. He wrote innumerable articles and chapters in other books that dealt with the PRB, Tennyson and Earle Birney. All this was properly rewarded, and also made possible, by a Canada Council fellowship, the first to be awarded in 1959, followed by three more, two Guggenheim fellowships and three Killam senior fellowships.

He also collected. Every book, every edition, impression, issue or state, of every book, pamphlet or article written or to do with his heroes was swept up into a house that became full to bursting point with books, pictures, and also other relics of the age. He had a touching, almost familiar, veneration for the person of the great Queen herself, expressed in a bizarre collection of every conceivable likeness that loyalty or convenience had called into being, from Staffordshire figures to dinner-bells.

His third wife, Jane (they married in 1964), who remains fond of him, tolerated this as long as she could, but was eventually almost squeezed out of the house. Visitors to the shrine would be virtually locked in for days on end, while every last detail of the collection and the ideas and knowledge that inspired it poured on to them, momentary escape into the incessant rain a welcome breath of fresh air.

The greatest achievement of his collecting career, however, was undertaken not for himself, but for his university. It was on a visit to Britain in 1965-66 that he first met the bookseller Norman Colbeck, of Ophir Road, Bournemouth, legendary for his knowledge and stock of the highways and byways of Victorian literature.

He relied on his customers' coming to him, and only once issued a catalogue, forced from him by the crippled John Hayward, for whom he laboriously typed out a list in an edition limited to one copy. Fredeman, at once thorough and impatient, could not bear to think of the books that came and went when he was not there. Only he could have devised the solution that he created for this problem. He got the university to buy not only all Colbeck's stock, but also the bookseller himself, who spent his declining years on the catalogue of his own books. It was edited by Tirthankar Bose, and published in 1987, with an introduction by Fredeman.

If he was a hard taskmaster to others, he was even more so to himself. There were those who disliked what they took to be his arrogance, and feared the merciless criticism that he could bestow on work that fell below his own high standards. As a researcher, he was in the first class; no detail was too slight or remote to escape him (his eyes, enlarged behind the spectacles he always wore, were like a searchlight that penetrated the darkest and furthest corners of his work).

He was sometimes appallingly heavy-footed, even with those whom he liked and loved; but he also possessed an innate sympathy, even sensitivity, towards the living as well as the writers and painters whose works he knew so intimately. For those who shared his enthusiasm and showed the same energy in pursuing their aims, even if they were not his own, his generosity and support were limitless. Andrew Lloyd Webber was only one of many with the same passion for things Victorian who made the journey to visit the Fredeman collection and meet the man, and were greeted with a thoughtful hospitality that anticipated their own special interests.

His last wife, Betty, herself a scholar, was the partner in his final stages of his work on the much- needed new edition of the letters of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, to replace that of Oswald Doughty. The first two volumes are on the brink of publication by Chadwyck-Healey. The remaining eight will follow, a monument to a life of unresting energy and lasting achievement.

Richard Merrill (William Evan Fredeman), scholar and collector of Victoriana: born Pine Bluff, Arkansas 19 July 1927; four times married (one son); died Abbotsford, British Columbia 15 July 1999.