Idris Parry: Scholar of German literature

Idris Parry was a noted scholar of German literature, writer and broadcaster. After 15 years as a lecturer at Bangor, he was appointed to a Chair in German at Manchester University, where he stayed until his retirement in 1977. His literary interests were immensely wide-ranging, but his attention was chiefly directed towards Goethe and his contemporary Heinrich von Kleist, and the classics of German modernism such as Kafka, Thomas Mann, Rilke and Hugo von Hofmannsthal.

Through his broadcasts on the BBC Third Programme in the 1960s and 1970s, a much wider audience came to be familiar with these writers and their ideas. Most of his published work grew out of these broadcast essays, many of which were collected in the volume Speak Silence (1988).

Parry was born in Bangor in 1916. His first language was Welsh, and not only did he retain a superb command of that language throughout his life, but a delight in all language, which came across in his spoken English and in the mastery of German, which he acquired at school. He excelled academically, at Friars Grammar School in Bangor and at the University College of North Wales, where he took first class honours in German. He was also awarded colours in rowing and rugby. It was there that he met his wife, Eirwen Lloyd Jones.

He was called up in 1940, and with his command of German he was immediately seconded to the Political Intelligence Department of the Foreign Office. By the end of the Second World War he was in charge of a team of 30 specialists interrogating prisoners of war.

Parry returned to his academic career in 1947 and became recognised as a leading interpreter of German literature, so that he was highly recommended as a candidate for the second Chair of German in Manchester in 1963. His strength was in interpretation, and it was his imaginative insights into literary works, especially those which explored the bounds of rationality, that formed the core of his broadcasts and essays. He was immensely perceptive in seeing links in ideas across cultures, convinced that all things flowed and were in some way connected.

He had the gift of penetrating to the core of a work, and of conveying his ideas to students, radio listeners and his readers. Everyone who met him or heard him was struck by his mellifluous speaking voice and the easy eloquence of his delivery. He took language and literature seriously, and was meticulous in his attention to detail, but he was also remarkably unstuffy and detested pretension and pomposity – it was difficult to walk down the corridor of the department in Manchester in his time without hearing a few of his jokes.

Through his teaching, writing and broadcasting he acquired a wide circle of friends. The novelist Stevie Davies was a student of his in Manchester and her 2002 novel The Element of Water drew on inspirations born of him; she describes him as an inspirational teacher who offered insight into the way the intellectual and ethical world of German poets and thinkers had been transgressed by the heinous machine of National Socialism.

The German writer W.G. (Max) Sebald was a lector in Manchester in the 1960s and wrote a dissertation under Parry's supervision on the expressionist dramatist Carl Sternheim. It is tempting to think that the marvellous portrayal of North Wales in Sebald's last novel, Austerlitz, went back to their conversations, but Idris doubted this. Philip Pullman, at the end of the trilogy His Dark Materials, acknowledges his intellectual debt to Idris Parry's translation of Kleist's essay "On the Marionette Theatre" (first published in Hand to Mouth and Other Essays, 1981) – a tour de force which grapples successfully with some of the most difficult German prose ever written.

The same linguistic skill can be seen in his outstanding translation of Kafka's The Trial, published by Penguin in 1994. In the 1960s he met the writer Elias Canetti and they became close friends; it was on Parry's initiative that Canetti, who had lived in Manchester before the First World War, received an honorary doctorate from Manchester University in 1975, six years before he was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature.

Among other things they went on a week's walking holiday in Wales – although as Canetti's legs were not really up to long walks they spent much time in pubs where Canetti became fascinated by the Welsh language around them. Parry's essay on Canetti's Auto-da-fé (1935), "Attitudes to Power" (originally in Hand to Mouth, republished in Speak Silence), offers penetrating insights into what has been seen as one of the seminal novels of the 20th century.

Idris Parry saw himself as being "in the business of explaining the inexplicable" and thought "one should realise that's a magical and wonderful thing". A brief glimpse into his essays shows how well he succeeded.

Martin Durrell

Idris Frederick Parry, German scholar: born Bangor, Caernarvonshire 5 December 1916; Lecturer, then Senior Lecturer, in German, University College of North Wales, Bangor 1947-63; Professor of German, Manchester University 1963-77; married 1941 Eirwen Lloyd Jones (died 1992; two daughters); died Frinton-on-Sea, Essex 25 January 2008.

News
Andy Murray with his girlfriend of nine years, Kim Sears who he has got engaged to
people

Tennis star is set to marry his long-term girlfriend, Kim Sears

News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
filmDirector said film would 'never have been financed' with ethnic minority actors in key roles
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Sport
footballArsenal 2 Borussia Dortmund 0: And they can still top the group
Arts and Entertainment
An unseen image of Kurt Cobain at home featured in the film 'Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck'
filmThe singers widow and former bandmates have approved project
News
Andy Murray with his girlfriend of nine years, Kim Sears who he has got engaged to
peopleWimbledon champion announces engagement to girlfriend Kim Sears
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
tv
Arts and Entertainment
George Mpanga has been shortlisted for the Critics’ Choice prize
music
News
Albert Camus (left) and Jean-Paul Sartre fell out in 1952 and did not speak again before Camus’s death
people
Arts and Entertainment
Roisin, James and Sanjay in the boardroom
tvReview: This week's failing project manager had to go
News
Ed Miliband visiting the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem. The Labour leader has spoken more openly of his heritage recently
newsAttacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But are the barbs more sinister?
Arts and Entertainment
'Felfie' (2014) by Alison Jackson
photographyNew exhibition shows how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
News
i100
Life and Style
Fright night: the board game dates back to at least 1890
life
Environment
The vaquita is being killed by fishermen trying to catch the totoaba fish, which is prized in China
environmentJust 97 of the 'world's cutest' sea mammals remain
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: Web Marketing Specialist

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's leading Renewable Energy compa...

Ashdown Group: Data Warehouse & Business Intelligence Co-ordinator

£35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Required skills include SQL querying, SSRS, u...

Ashdown Group: C#.Net Developer - C#, ASP.Net, PHP, HTML, JavaScript, CSS

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: C#.Net Developer - C#, ASP.Net, HTML...

Argyll Scott International: Senior Business Analyst- Insurance

Negotiable: Argyll Scott International: Senior Business Analyst - Insurance ...

Day In a Page

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

Staying connected: The King's School

The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up
Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition

Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund

The Ox celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition
Billy Joe Saunders vs Chris Eubank Jnr: When two worlds collide

When two worlds collide

Traveller Billy Joe Saunders did not have a pampered public-school upbringing - unlike Saturday’s opponent Chris Eubank Jnr
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?