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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
tech

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

News
There have been various incidents of social media users inadvertently flouting the law
news

Life and Style
Stack ‘em high?: quantity doesn’t always trump quality, as Friends of the Earth can testify
techThe proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
News
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
i100
Sport
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty
footballCSKA Moscow 2 Manchester City 2: Premier League champions let two goal lead slip in Russia
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

IT Technician - 1st Line

£19000 - £21000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPOR...

PPA Cover Teacher

£110 - £130 per day + Competitive rates of pay: Randstad Education Reading: Pr...

Primary Teaching Jobs Available NOW-Southport

£80 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Liverpool: **Due to an increase in dema...

KS2 Teacher

£80 - £100 per day: Randstad Education Bristol: Randstad education are working...

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London