Edward Neill: Incisive literary critic noted for his work on Jane Austen and Thomas Hardy

Edward Neil was a brilliant, incisive and brave literary critic. He taught at various academic institutions, including the Open University, Chelsea College, and latterly at Middlesex University where he was Senior Lecturer in the School of Humanities and Cultural Studies. He wrote many articles for a variety of distinguished publications, and was never afraid to expose the fads and fashions underpinning much literary discourse. He had the gift for revealing fresh insights into the staid and accepted, most notably in his work on Jane Austen and Thomas Hardy.

Born in Callandar, Perthshire in 1941, Edward Neill graduated from the University of Glasgow in 1962 and then studied at the University of New Brunswick in Canada, where he wrote his MA thesis on the great American poet Wallace Stevens. His doctoral dissertation, completed in 1977 at University College, London, under the supervision of the late Winifred Nowottny, a critic whom he admired very much, partly for her assiduous attention to the linguistic implications of literary language, was "The critical reception of the poetry of T.S. Eliot, 1922-1956, with special reference to the post-war period."

Neill's many articles and reviews may be found in such diverse journals as The Times Higher Education Supplement, Modern Language Review, English, Essays in Criticism, The Oxford Literary Review, Cambridge Quarterly, Victorian Poetry, Victorian Literature and Culture, and Critical Quarterly, to name a few. This spring, Textual Practice published his challenging "Aporia and figurings of the real in 'Two on a Tower': Hardy's 'Betweenities'."

He reviewed without fear or favour, revealing his essential integrity. For instance, in his 1984 essay " 'Give Up Literary Criticism', F.R. Leavis, the Last Phase," (published in English vol 33) he considered the late Leavis's work and especially Thought, Words and Creativity: Art and Thought in Lawrence (1976). For Neill, Leavis's work in the late 1960s and 1970s seemed to follow Wittgenstein's injunction to give up criticism and address the concept of civilisation. Neill insightfully pointed out that Leavis's strategy was marred and that, in going into areas of religion, culture, institutions, work, and leisure, Leavis forgot that he was first and foremost a great literary critic.

Neill's ability to get to the heart of the matter is also seen in a very detailed 1996 review of Valentine Cunningham's In the Reading Jail: Postmodernity, Text and History (1994) found in Essays in Criticism. Towards the end of his review, Neill opens a paragraph by commenting: "The faultlines of the book indicate its doubleness, entailing alternating currents not merely in its various hostings and quashings of theory, but in the kinds of text which seem to lend themselves to his enterprise, some right down the Said line". In other words the book tries to be too fashionable by throwing in obligatory references to the popular "theorist" of the time, Edward Said.

Neill's books came late. There are two on Hardy: Trial by Ordeal: Hardy and the Critics (1998) and The Secret Life of Thomas Hardy: "retaliatory fiction" (2004). In 2003 came The Waste Land revisited: modernism, intertextuality and the French connection.

He also published The Politics of Jane Austen in 1999, in which he challenged the perceptions of "Tory Jane", arguing that much traditional critical effort has been misdirected. Chapter titles such as "'Jane's Fighting Ships': Persuasion as Cultural Critique" and "Props and Properties: Social Imaginaries in Recent Screen Adaptations" convey the radical sense of Neill's scrutiny. He writes that Northanger Abbey "is not only a novel about the novel, but also about fictions as well as fiction, about imaginary relations to real existences epitomised by the attitude of General Tilney—dictatorial and mercenary". Persuasion's "treatment of desire" and "political inflections" also engage him. In his Secret Life of Thomas Hardy, he is intent on creative mischief. For Neill, Hardy is an outwardly conforming writer with a smuggled cargo; the psychological undercurrents in his writing are "darkly, deliciously disturbing".

Neill's handsome mein, his splendid shock of hair, his head bent over a small laptop—his knowledge of modern technology and his incredible typing skills—in Humanities I of the new British Library reading room, where he regularly sat, will be sorely missed. A visit will not be the same again.

Essentially a very private man, underneath the polite, well-dressed exterior, was a deeply thinking, highly reflective person who plumbed emotional depths in his work. He is sadly missed by his many friends, his admiring readers, and his beloved family; his mother, his wife Heather, his sons Edmund, an Oxford historian, and Gregory, a researcher.

William Baker

Edward Neill, English scholar and literary critic: born Callander, Perthshire 8 November 1941; married December 1970 Heather Thomas (two sons); died London 1 April 2009.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Duty Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Duty Manager is required to join one of the ...

Recruitment Genius: Team Leader

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Team Leader is required to join one of the l...

Recruitment Genius: Chef

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Chef is required to join one of the largest ...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Assistant is required to jo...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor