Professor Geoffrey Stagg

Eminent Cervantes scholar
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The Independent Online

Geoffrey Leonard Stagg, Hispanist: born Birmingham 10 May 1913; Joseph Hodges Choate Memorial Fellow, Harvard University 1934-36; Modern Languages Master, King Edward's School, Birmingham 1938-40, 1946-47; MBE 1945; Lecturer in Spanish and Italian, Nottingham University 1947-53, Head of Department of Spanish 1954-56; Professor, Department of Italian and Hispanic Studies, Toronto University 1956-78 (Emeritus), Chairman 1956-66, 1969-78; President, Canadian Association of Hispanists 1964-66, 1972-74; Vice-President, International Association of Hispanists 1977-83; married 1948 Amy Southwell (deceased; two sons, one daughter); died Toronto, Ontario 10 November 2004.

Geoffrey Stagg was one of the significant figures who consolidated the growth of Spanish language and literature in British universities in the post-war years. Subsequently, he played a decisive role in the development of Hispanic Studies in Canada.

He studied at King Edward's School, Birmingham, and at Trinity Hall, Cambridge, where he graduated with first class honours in both Spanish and French. This was followed by a distinguished fellowship that took him to Harvard University to study for two years under J.D.M. Ford and an MA in Romance Philology. He had already embarked before the war on a professional career, first as a schoolteacher and then as a lecturer at Birmingham University.

During the hostilities he had a distinguished record as an officer in the Intelligence Corps, which was characterised by Churchill himself as "splendid", and was appointed MBE in 1945. Rather than continue in the prominent role he held in the denazification process in Vienna in the aftermath of the war, he decided to return to academic life.

Appointed in 1947, in the post-war flurry of university expansion, to teach Spanish at Nottingham University, Stagg became head of the independent department of Spanish created in 1954. From the start he endowed it with an unusually wide range of interests for the time, encompassing Portuguese, Catalan and Latin America, a feature which lasts to this day.

His activities also went outside further afield. For he became in 1955 the first Honorary Secretary-Treasurer of the newly founded Association of Hispanists of Britain and Ireland, and hosted its second meeting at Nottingham in 1956. His qualities of cool methodical organisation, firm but considerate leadership and unflappable efficiency contributed greatly to the success of the fledgling association. In due course he performed the same service as Secretary of the Canadian Association of Hispanists set up at Montreal.

While in England he also established himself as an eminent Cervantes scholar in a series of influential studies. For example, his meticulous examination of such a crucial subject as the early stages of the structural development of Don Quixote has gained widespread acceptance.

In 1956 Stagg accepted the post of Professor of Spanish and Chairman of the Department of Italian, Spanish and Portuguese at the University of Toronto. It was a challenging task. The management, within Canada's largest university, of such a diverse department required exceptional skills; Stagg's special talents of method and tact supplied these admirably for nearly 20 years. Before long, Italian separated from Spanish and Portuguese Studies, which, building on Toronto's already outstanding reputation and fine library resources, developed or expanded distinctive and very broad areas of expertise, such as medieval studies, building on a wider, already well established Toronto tradition. Portuguese and Latin-American studies flourished, as well as Stagg's own speciality in Golden Age studies, and a strong Catalan section was established.

Geoffrey Stagg was a dedicated teacher. He maintained his own research interests despite his extensive managerial commitments, but perhaps more important is the lasting contribution he made to the intellectual development and research abilities of his students. He inspired in them a broad and appreciative view of European culture, emphasised firm norms of precision in language and methodological rigour in exposition; and he was renowned for the detailed bibliographical support he offered.

All those who knew him as a teacher, colleague or friend will testify to his unfailing courtesy and graciousness. His reserved nature did not preclude kind consideration for others. He and his devoted wife Amy also provided warm personal encouragement and hospitality to students and colleagues. Visitors to the department, too, can attest to his and Amy's generosity, and enjoyed visiting their delightful home by Lake Ontario.

In 1977 the Toronto department was chosen to host the Sixth Congress of the flourishing International Association of Hispanists founded in Oxford in 1962. The choice of Toronto for the first congress of the Association to be held in Canada, indeed in English-speaking America, was a tribute both to the prestige of Stagg's department and to his administrative abilities. Held in the year he officially retired, it was a fitting recognition of his eminence in the field.

He did not remain inactive, however, and continued for many years to publish impeccably researched studies on Cervantes and other subjects. A sign of how his influence continued to endure into his old age is the publication of a substantial Festschrift under the title "Ingeniosa invención": essays on Golden Age Spanish literature for Geoffrey L. Stagg in honor of his 85th birthday (1999).

Geoffrey Ribbans