Professor Ivy McClelland

Scholar of 18th-century Spain
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The Independent Online

Ivy Lilian McClelland, Hispanist: born Liverpool 18 May 1908; Assistant Lecturer in Spanish, then Lecturer, Glasgow University 1930-56, Head of Department of Hispanic Studies 1940-45, Senior Lecturer in Hispanic Studies 1956-66, Reader 1966-73, Honorary Senior Research Fellow 1973-97, Honorary Professor 1997-2006, Honorary Professorial Research Fellow 1997-2006; died Glasgow 2 April 2006.

Ivy McClelland, who has died a few weeks short of her 98th birthday, was a living link with the pioneering days of Hispanic studies in Britain. In the late 1920s, she was taught at Liverpool University by E. Allison Peers, a robust publicist for the new discipline. When she became Assistant Lecturer at Glasgow in 1930, the Stevenson Professor there was the ex-classicist W.J. Entwistle; he was succeeded in 1932 by William Atkinson, the first Professor of Spanish in the British Isles to have graduated in that subject. McClelland's Glasgow career outlasted even Atkinson's 40-year tenure and her productive scholarship continued long into retirement. In quality, she was fully the equal of these senior figures and one of the great Hispanists of her time.

Something, indeed, she absorbed from each of them: Entwistle's broadly grounded humanism; Atkinson's punctiliousness; Peers's enthusiasm and energy. She greatly respected them all, finding it natural, for example, to link her early research to Peers's interest in the Spanish Romantics.

But the title of her 1937 book, The Origins of the Romantic Movement in Spain: a survey of aesthetic uncertainties in the Age of Reason, strikes a distinctive note, suggesting someone less concerned with the strident echoes of things that are, than with the still, small voices of things coming to be. That note persists in 1991, in her last major study of 18th-century Spanish culture, Ideological Hesitancy in Spain 1700-1750. Arguably, it informs her whole scholarly engagement with the 18th century: the monographs on Feijóo (1969), Torres Villaroel (1973), and Luzán (1976); and the massive Spanish Drama of Pathos 1750-1808 (two volumes, 1970; Spanish translation, 1998).

When McClelland began her work, nothing in the Spanish 18th century seemed to qualify it for such concentrated critical attention. In a nationalistic reading of Spanish history, it was an inauthentic, foreign-dominated hiatus, limply subordinate to French cultural norms. To most outsiders, it was simply very dull.

Bringing it relevantly to life demanded a modesty without passivity before evidence that was at once copious and hard to locate, commonplace yet challenging. Ivy McClelland had that kind of commitment, reinforced by her breadth of European reference, her assured precision in handling ideas, and her forceful, lucid writing.

As Spaniards came increasingly to see in their Age of Enlightenment an important precedent for efforts to bring the country into more modern courses, they responded with gratitude to McClelland's achievement in interpreting that period. The wider international renown secured by that achievement is attested by the homage volumes which the American journal Dieciocho (1986), and the Bulletin of Hispanic Studies (1991) dedicated to her.

Of her other output, Tirso de Molina: studies in dramatic realism powerfully asserted, as early as 1948, the case for Tirso's uniqueness among 17th-century playwrights. She also ghosted, expertly and anonymously, the posthumous third volume of Allison Peers's Studies of the Spanish Mystics (1960).

Such self-effacing service marked her time in Glasgow too. In every role assigned to her she gave richly of time and attentiveness and good judgement. For colleagues, from the poet Luis Cernuda (lector in Glasgow in a particularly stressful phase of his life) to some strikingly extrovert figures in later decades, she was a valued source of quiet strength and support. To students, her uncompromising standards were rendered welcome and accessible by patient attentiveness to their needs and difficulties.

In 1972 William Atkinson retired at 70 - the statutory age for Glasgow University professors. McClelland, by now promoted to Reader, was 64. She would have been an outstanding occupant of the Stevenson Chair, but was inexcusably passed over. She gave no hint of all that she might, legitimately, have felt about this, and the department, after her own retirement in 1973, enjoyed many more years of her help and friendship and good counsel.

She graciously accepted an Honorary Senior Research Fellowship and the naming in her honour of an annual lecture. In 1989 the university made her an Honorary DLitt, and in 1997 an Honorary Professor; two years earlier it had created a chair named for her.

Hers was the happiest of retirements: rich in honours and productive work. Annual visits to the Residencia de Estudiantes in Madrid, to work in the National Library and catch up on the latest theatre, continued as long as eyesight allowed. Until her final few weeks, she was spared serious health problems. To the last, she enjoyed the affection of countless former colleagues and pupils, and the devotion of a core group of more intimate friends; these things she returned with loyalty and grace. It seemed a serenely predictable existence.

Yet there was always the unexpected about Ivy McClelland. She was deeply attached to Scotland, but her English origins remained unmistakable. Her devout Anglican faith coexisted with a fierce rationality. Underlying her small physique, delicate appearance, and unfailing kindness was a special blend of gentleness and steel. Tirso de Molina, adding one more to his gallery of intelligent, determined, self-sufficient women, would have made her memorable - but not more memorable than she was.

Nicholas Round

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