Obituary: Professor Edward McInnes

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The Independent Online
The special affection which the Germans display for Scotland has over the years been reciprocated in the major role played by many Scottish scholars in the study and teaching of German literature in Britain. Edward McInnes occupied a pre-eminent position among them.

He was born in 1935 in Maybole, Ayrshire. His early education took place at Renfrew High School and Greenock Academy, but as the son of a Baptist minister he spent his childhood in a number of different places in Scotland, Northern Ireland and England. He went to King's College London to read German, graduating with First Class honours in 1958, and proceeded directly to research under the supervision of Mary Gilbert.

As a graduate student he established very firm and enduring contacts with the German-speaking world. He spent a period in Vienna, laying the foundations for his subsequent work in Austrian literature, and a year as Lektor in English at the Free University of Berlin. This was a time of worsening East-West relations, resolved in a way (the Berlin Wall) which, by restricting access to libraries and archives, for many years inhibited scholarly activity in central areas of Edward McInnes's work, which he none the less pursued with steady determination.

He completed his MA in 1961, at a time when this was still a research degree, with a substantial thesis on "The Conception of Guilt in Hauptmann's Tragic Drama", and, at a very young age, he contributed alongside an array of the country's leading Hauptmann scholars, Mainland, McFarlane, Garten and Gilbert, to the Hauptmann centenary lectures mounted by the Institute of Germanic Studies in 1962.

After a short period as Assistant Lecturer at King's he returned to Scotland to a lectureship in German at Edinburgh University, where he was promoted to Reader in 1973, where he met his wife, Jean, and where his four children were born. In 1974 he was appointed to the Chair of German at Strathclyde University. In 1979 he moved to the Chair of German at Hull University, which he filled with distinction until his death. The esteem and affection felt for him in that department is evident in the tribute which prefaces the Festschrift published last year on the occasion of his 60th birthday.

In retrospect it can be seen that, with his early work on Hauptmann, McInnes set out the theme which was to provide an unusually strong unifying thread to his work in the subsequent years. At the same time this work established his character as someone who combined the best traditional qualities of moderation and scruple with an independence of mind in the face of the prevailing canon, which made him a more genuine pioneer than other self-consciously iconoclastic scholars.

In the social and politically conscious 1960s he was one who provided a solid basis for the reappraisal of the naturalist drama of the late 19th century. In the 1970s he steadily extended his range with a series of articles, many published in the leading German journals, on dramatists in this same tradition who had been overshadowed in public perception by the dominant figures of Goethe and Schiller. This work is synthesised in his doctoral thesis of 1974 and, above all, his much admired book Das deutsche Drama des 19ten Jahrhunderts (1983), which he was invited to write for the prestigious series "Grundlagen der Germanistik" - a rare accolade for a British scholar, repeated in the invitation to edit the volume on drama and theatre, 1848-80, in the social history of German literature published by Hanser Verlag in 1995. His book "Ein ungeheures Theater": the drama of the Sturm und Drang (1987) similarly brings together work on the drama of the 18th century, which contributed notably to that revision of the canon which has seen the dramatist Jakob Michael Reinhold Lenz come to occupy a position in the 18th century similar to that of Georg Buchner in the early 19th century.

The unifying element in these works and the particular quality which made Edward McInnes such a fine literary historian, one of only a small number of British scholars to enjoy an equal reputation in the countries about whose native literature he wrote, was a sensitivity to the delicate task of recognising the distinctive originality of a literary work without losing sight of its historical involvement; as he put it in a characteristically scrupulous and generous review of a book with whose thesis he did not entirely agree, "asserting its determinateness while stressing its creative individuality".

His more recent work had seen a return to, and extension of, his earlier work on the narrative prose of the 19th century. His 1991 book on the reception of the work of Charles Dickens in Germany from 1837 to 1870 showed once again his ability to recognise and fill an important and inexplicable gap in scholarship. It was followed by a number of studies which begin to throw light into that mysterious "black hole" of 19th-century realism in German literature. More of this is still to come, for, though Edward McInnes was a devotee of Hull City FC rather than the academic conference circuit, he was a serious and thoughtful contributor who courageously continued to pursue his work and communicate his conclusions until shortly before his untimely death.

John Osborne

Edward O'Hara McInnes, German scholar: born Maybole, Ayrshire 5 July 1935; Professor of German, Strathclyde University 1974-79; Professor of German, Hull University 1979-96; married 1964 Jean Kilgour (one son, three daughters); died Hull 16 May 1996.

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