Doctor Richard Kroll

Groundbreaking scholar of Restoration and 18th-century British drama
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The Independent Online

Richard Wilhelm Francis Kroll was a highly regarded scholar of Restoration and 18th-century British literature, and a much-loved professor of English at the University of California, Irvine. He was the author of two groundbreaking studies on the literature and culture of the English Restoration period: The Material Word: Literate Culture in the Restoration and Early Eighteenth Century (1991), and Restoration Drama and the 'Circle of Commerce' (2007), a revisionist study of the symbolic forms at work in the later 17th-century English theatre.

Grandson of the renowned classicist Wilhelm Kroll, Richard Kroll was born in 1953 in Nakuru, Kenya, to Philip Wilhelm Ulrich Kroll, Chief Agricultural Officer under the British colonial government, and Thusnelda Kroll, founder of the first multi-racial school in East Africa. He attended Pembroke House in Gilgil until 1965, when his father was murdered in his home by an itinerant farm labourer. His family moved to Bristol the following year and Kroll left behind what he always considered his homeland. He attended Christ's Hospital school in Horsham, West Sussex, and would characterise the years he spent there as having saved his life following the traumatic disruption occasioned by his father's death and the family's relocation.

Before going up to Downing College, Cambridge in 1972, Kroll taught for a year at the Starehe school for orphans in Nairobi. In 1977 he began graduate study in English literature at UCLA, where he met his first wife, Victoria Silver, a Renaissance scholar.

In 1984, Kroll completed his doctoral degree at UCLA, where he had been a student of one of the world's leading Dryden scholars, Alan Roper. UCLA's William Andrews Clark Memorial Library was at that time the centre of the massive editorial project that would result in what remains the definitive edition of Dryden's work. As a research centre, the library brought together philosophers, historians, and literary scholars, and it was at the intersection of these disciplines that Dr Kroll's critical imagination was both catalysed and formed. His dissertation, "Words and Acts: The Naturalization of Discourse in the Restoration and Early Eighteenth Century," reflected his early and ardent commitment to the historical study of language as a form of political engagement and ethical practice.

This commitment shaped his teaching career. Dr Kroll went on to positions at Princeton University, Hofstra University, and, ultimately, the University of California, Irvine, where he taught from 1992 until his death, and where he met his second wife, Allison Kroll (née Garey), a modern British literary scholar. He joined the English and Comparative Literature faculty at Irvine at a time when it was heavily identified with critical theory. Dr Kroll was determined to hold that theory accountable to history, championing Ciceronian rhetorical practice over Hellenist and romantic models, and countering abstract continental styles with the British empirical method.

As a teacher, he married a classical intellectual tradition to the democratic values of the American educational system, and he was fiercely dedicated to the public university as an instrument of the ancient ideal of paideia – the cultivation of the entire person as a moral entity and political actor. At Irvine, he oversaw a Master of Arts programme designed for secondary-school teachers, and taught large introductory courses as well as specialised classes in his areas of scholarly interest. He was affectionately teased for his penchant for bolo ties and Hawaiian shirts, feared for his exacting intellectual standards, admired for his erudition and vibrant critical imagination, and beloved for his untiring work with students.

Dr Kroll was the author of two groundbreaking studies on the literature and culture of the English Restoration period. His first book, The Material Word: Literate Culture in the Restoration and Early Eighteenth Century (1991), identifies a new "literate culture, in which all forms of knowledge... were commonly known and confessed to be rhetorical." The Material Word scrutinises several such "forms of knowledge," from theology to natural philosophy and from illustration to poetry. His intricate discussions of contemporary intersections of method, image, and action in the work of such figures as Davenant, Hobbes, Rymer, Dennis, and Dryden reveal a socially constitutive symbolic economy that had been previously invisible. The Material Word remains an essential work in its field.

Dr Kroll's second book, Restoration Drama and the 'Circle of Commerce' (2007), is now making a similar imprint on the discipline. A revisionist study of the symbolic forms at work in the later 17th-century English theatre, it focuses on the mixed genre of tragicomedy, here seen as continuous with the drama of the earlier 17th century. The book makes a strong and original case for theatre as a crucible for new forms of economic, political, scientific, and even architectural thought and practice, and casts Restoration drama as the source of several distinctively modern methods of coping with radical uncertainty.

Dr Kroll was also the author of numerous widely cited articles on Pope, Dryden, Davenant, Congreve, and others. With Perez Zagorin and Richard Ashcraft he co-edited the essay collection, Philosophy, Science, and Religion in England, 1640-1700 (1992), and he single-handedly edited two indispensable critical readers, The English Novel, 1700 to Fielding (1998), and The English Novel from Smollett to Austen (1998). At the time of his death, he was at work on a potentially controversial study of the political cosmologies of three 17th-century women writers, Aphra Behn, Margaret Cavendish and Lucy Hutchinson. He intended to approach these writers as thinkers dynamically involved in the intellectual ferment of their times, and as architects of new literary forms designed to withstand that ferment.

As a scholar, Dr Kroll leaves a legacy of forthrightness, intellectual courage and integrity. He will be remembered for the exceptional insight and imagination with which he brought political and symbolic practices to bear upon one another, conceiving of both as they had not been since the Restoration itself. Few have better understood, or more entirely and robustly lived, the mutual constitution of thought, expression and ethos. He was in all things he undertook passionate; an avid classical music lover, gardener, cyclist, traveller, and collector of decorative art, he was also a tremendously loyal friend, as well as a devoted uncle, father, son and husband, and a man deeply committed to his Christian faith.

Professor Jayne E. Lewis and Allison Adler Kroll

Richard Wilhelm Francis Kroll, scholar of English literature: born Nakuru, Kenya 14 January 1953; William Andrews Clark Memorial Library Fellow, 1981-1982; Assistant Professor, Princeton University, 1984-1991; Visiting Professor, Hofstra University, 1991-1992; Associate Professor, University of California, Irvine, 1992-2003, Professor, 2003-2009; married 1978 Victoria Silver (one son, marriage dissolved), 1997 Allison Garey; died Irvine, California 5 February 2009.