OBITUARY : William Righter

When the English Department at Warwick University opened for business in 1965, there were five founder members: George Hunter and C.J. Rawson (who both moved to Yale) and three who stayed the course till they retired in the 1990s: Bill Whitehead, Bill Righter and myself.

Those were pioneering days. We all had to teach things we hadn't expected or weren't prepared to teach. Righter's interests, in some ways so wide, were in others highly selective - not for him the broad-brush epic and medieval foundation courses - and he contrived, with his disarming and civilised charm, to carve for himself early on a highly successful career in those areas where literature and philosophy meet, and in which he was to become an acknowledged authority.

He had, indeed, published his first and influential book, Logic and Criticism (1963), before joining the staff. As the link-man between the two departments of English and philosophy he taught courses involving both disciplines to carefully selected and highly responsive students, many of whom became stars.

In other ways, too, Righter stood out among the five of us: not because he was an American (so was Bill Whitehead) but because he had Europeanised himself in the most delightfully Jamesian and cosmopolitan way. He chose to live in London, commuting weekly to Warwick. Consequently he was not always to be found at some of our more tedious meetings. He was conspicuously his own man, and was virtually able to create his own programmes in areas where he was specially qualified. He was an expert in French literature, and throughout his years at Warwick he regularly taught courses in French and English comparative literature, setting side by side, for critical analysis, pairs of poems chosen from the two languages, a technique virtually invented at Warwick. It was in small groups, rather than in the larger lecture, that his talents best shone.

William Righter was born in Kansas City in 1927. He was educated at Harvard and at Oxford University. He then returned to the United States where he taught for some years at Cornell University. In 1960 he began to lecture at King's College, Cambridge, where he remained until his appointment to Warwick.

His second book was The Rhetorical Hero (1964), a study of Andre Malraux which brought together his understanding of French literature and of Malraux' work in philosophy and art criticism. Righter himself was something of a connoisseur of the museums and art galleries of Europe. His other books were Myth and Literature (1975), which enjoyed something of a vogue and became highly influential, and The Myth of Theory (1994), in which he scrutinised with learning and scepticism some of the current fashions in literary theory.

Righter retired from the university in 1993. His retirement party was an agreeable occasion: I recall a characteristically throwaway speech, in which he looked back with fond nostalgia on those early days when some of our new, younger colleagues had not even been born. He continued to keep in touch with the university and to contribute to conferences and seminars up till last summer. He leaves a widow, Rosemary, who is chief leader writer on the Times.

William Harvey Righter, English scholar: born Kansas City 31 August 1927; Reader in English and Comparative Literature, Warwick University 1965-93; married three times; died London 14 April 1997.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Hosting Support Agent

£17100 - £20900 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the North West's leading...

Recruitment Genius: Experienced Health & Safety Support Tutor

£19000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Legal Assistant

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Collections Agent

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company was established in...

Day In a Page

Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent
Markus Persson: If being that rich is so bad, why not just give it all away?

That's a bit rich

The billionaire inventor of computer game Minecraft says he is bored, lonely and isolated by his vast wealth. If it’s that bad, says Simon Kelner, why not just give it all away?
Euro 2016: Chris Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Wales last qualified for major tournament in 1958 but after several near misses the current crop can book place at Euro 2016 and end all the indifference
Rugby World Cup 2015: The tournament's forgotten XV

Forgotten XV of the rugby World Cup

Now the squads are out, Chris Hewett picks a side of stars who missed the cut
A groundbreaking study of 'Britain's Atlantis' long buried at the bottom of the North Sea could revolutionise how we see our prehistoric past

Britain's Atlantis

Scientific study beneath North Sea could revolutionise how we see the past
The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember,' says Starkey

The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember'

David Starkey's assessment
Oliver Sacks said his life has been 'an enormous privilege and adventure'

'An enormous privilege and adventure'

Oliver Sacks writing about his life
'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

The Rock's Chief Minister hits back at Spanish government's 'lies'
Britain is still addicted to 'dirty coal'

Britain still addicted to 'dirty' coal

Biggest energy suppliers are more dependent on fossil fuel than a decade ago
Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

Orthorexia nervosa

How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

Set a pest to catch a pest

Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests