Professor Inga-Stina Ewbank

Shakespeare and Ibsen scholar

Professor Inga-Stina Ewbank was probably the only holder of an English chair of English Literature to have spoken no language other than Swedish till the age of 19.

Inga-Stina Ekeblad, English scholar: born 13 June 1932; William Noble Fellow, Liverpool University 1955-57, Assistant Lecturer 1960-63, Lecturer 1963-70, Senior Lecturer 1970-72; Fellow, Shakespeare Institute, Birmingham University 1957-60; Reader in English Literature, Bedford College, London 1972-74, Hildred Carlile Professor 1974-84; Professor of English Literature, Leeds University 1985-97 (Emeritus); married 1959 Roger Ewbank (one son, two daughters); died London 7 June 2004.

Professor Inga-Stina Ewbank was probably the only holder of an English chair of English Literature to have spoken no language other than Swedish till the age of 19.

Born Inga-Stine Ekeblad in 1932, she was at school in Gothenburg before winning a scholarship to Carleton College, Minnesota, where she was elected Phi Beta Kappa, in 1950. As her exceptional talents came to be recognised there followed a string of research appointments: at Sheffield, where she took an MA under William Empson, at Liverpool where she was William Noble Fellow from 1955 to 1957, and at the Shakespeare Institute of Birmingham University from 1957 to 1960. During the later part of this period she taught at the University of Munich at the invitation of the doyen of German Shakespeare scholars, W.H. Clemen.

Clemen, who was to dedicate a book in part to her, was a great man but something of a martinet; Ewbank was fond of him and his family, but would tell nevertheless of how he would bark at his secretary in German while speaking charmingly to her in English. An accomplished linguist, she read widely in English, German and French as well as in the Scandinavian languages that came to her by right of birth. Her early research centred on Elizabethan and Jacobean drama, and she wrote notably on George Peele, John Webster, and Thomas Middleton.

In 1959 she married Roger Ewbank, a distinguished vet with special interests in animal behaviour. It might have seemed an improbable match. A compulsive and unrepentant smoker who needed constant potations of strong coffee, she was (and remained), thin, nervy, a wittily articulate talker as well as a sensitive listener. With her fair hair tied back, her sunken cheeks and her big eyes, she looked a little like Virginia Woolf. Roger was (and happily is) robust, laconic, even bucolic, a stoic pragmatist. But they had many interests in common, and she benefited greatly from his common sense and his sensitive awareness of her emotional and intellectual needs. They were happy in their children, Jane, Kit and Emily, and Inga-Stina's home life meant much to her. Christmas was celebrated with full respect for Scandinavian traditions, and after long working days she would stay up to all hours baking gingerbread houses for children's birthdays.

She returned to Liverpool as Lecturer in 1960, and was promoted to a Senior Lecturership in 1970. Her interest in women's literature was demonstrated in her pioneering study Their Proper Sphere: a study of the Brontë sisters as early-Victorian female novelists (1966). In 1972 she became Reader in English at Bedford College, London, where she took up the Hildred Carlile chair in 1974, succeeding, among other distinguished women incumbents, Anne Barton, Kathleen Tillotson and, further in the past, Una Ellis-Fermor, an expert on Ibsen whose work, along with Shakespeare's, was to play an increasing role in Inga-Stina Ewbank's intellectual life.

Her inaugural lecture in 1975, "Shakespeare, Ibsen and the Unspeakable", linked these interests, and the move to London facilitated involvement with the theatre. She had strong views on the failure of many translators to render the essentially poetic qualities of Ibsen's language, and was delighted to be asked to collaborate with Peter Hall on a National Theatre translation of John Gabriel Borkman and to work with, especially, Peggy Ashcroft and Ralph Richardson in its production.

Later she and Hall also jointly translated The Wild Duck, and she was to collaborate with John Barton on Ibsen, Katie Mitchell on Strindberg, and Adrian Noble on Brand.

Her distinction as an Ibsenite was recognised by election to the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters in 1991 and the award of an honorary doctorate from the University of Oslo in 1998. She worked increasingly on Ibsen in both England and Norway during the later part of her life, and had agreed to edit a volume of his plays for Penguin Books at the time of her death, a few days before her 72nd birthday.

Deeply unhappy about the merger of Bedford and Royal Holloway colleges, in 1985 Ewbank accepted a chair at Leeds. In spite of continuing to live in London she accomplished as always a prodigious amount of work, much of it in the small (and not so small) hours, some of it on trains. She was famous for her ability to go without sleep as she marked essays and prepared lectures (though anyone who accompanied her to the theatre will know that in the dark eyelids were liable to droop and head to drop.)

Greatly in demand as a lecturer and at overseas conferences, she travelled widely, with spells as a visiting scholar at Harvard and other American universities, as Alexander Lecturer at Toronto in 1987, and from 1982 to 1997 as a member of the University Grants Committee for the University of Hong Kong, revelling in the opportunities for sleep provided by long flights, and in the luxury of the accommodation with which she was rewarded for the intensive work that the position entailed. She received an honorary doctorate from the University of Hong Kong and the Governor's Bauhinia Silver Star in 1999.

Indefatigable in the service of others, she was a working member of the board of Shakespeare Survey and of the International Shakespeare Conference, editor of several volumes of essays, and a member throughout her career of innumerable university and other committees.

As a teacher she was unparalleled. She could entrance audiences at every level from schoolchildren to fellow academics with the Swedish lilt of her voice, her gentle smile, her confidingly humorous manner, and her ability to convey complex thoughts with total clarity. She dedicated herself to her students' welfare, personal as well as intellectual, with an unselfconscious generosity that won their deserved adoration.

Her admirers might have wished her to take time off to write the books on, especially, Shakespeare's language and the Jacobean drama for which she was uniquely qualified, but her utter unselfishness stood in the way of personal ambition.

There was also, perhaps, a scepticism about the values of academic endeavour. In her last postcard to me, only weeks before she died, she wrote that she was "putting the last touches to the Cambridge Catiline" - she was editing that "tedious though well-laboured play" (as Leonard Digges called it) for the forthcoming edition of Jonson's works - "into which I have put an enormous amount of work that few will bother to benefit from". This is still to come, as are her contributions to the Oxford edition of Middleton.

Amusing and amusable, irredeemably optimistic, totally without self-importance, endlessly but unsentimentally charitable, capable of suffering fools with apparent equanimity, Inga-Stina Ewbank enhanced the lives of all who encountered her.

Stanley Wells

peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
New Articles
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Cover Supervisor

£75 - £90 per day + negotiable: Randstad Education Group: Are you a cover supe...

Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam