Professor Robert Niklaus

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The Independent Online

Robert Niklaus, French scholar: born London 18 July 1910; Senior Tutor, Toynbee Hall 1931-32; Assistant, then Assistant Lecturer, University College London 1932-38; Assistant Lecturer, then Lecturer, Manchester University 1938-52; Professor of French, Exeter University 1952-75 (Emeritus), Head of Department of French and Spanish 1958-64, Head of Department of French and Italian 1964-75, Dean of the Faculty of Arts 1959-62, Deputy Vice-Chancellor 1965-67; President, Association of University Teachers 1954-55; Vice-President, International Association of University Professors and Lecturers 1958-60, 1964-66, President 1960-64; Vice-President, Society for French Studies 1967-68, 1970-71, President 1968-69; Treasurer, International Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies 1969-70; President, British Society for XVIIIth Century Studies 1970-72; married 1935 Thelma Jones (died 1970; two sons, one daughter), 1973 Kathleen Folta; died Exeter 16 January 2001.



Robert Niklaus, French scholar: born London 18 July 1910; Senior Tutor, Toynbee Hall 1931-32; Assistant, then Assistant Lecturer, University College London 1932-38; Assistant Lecturer, then Lecturer, Manchester University 1938-52; Professor of French, Exeter University 1952-75 (Emeritus), Head of Department of French and Spanish 1958-64, Head of Department of French and Italian 1964-75, Dean of the Faculty of Arts 1959-62, Deputy Vice-Chancellor 1965-67; President, Association of University Teachers 1954-55; Vice-President, International Association of University Professors and Lecturers 1958-60, 1964-66, President 1960-64; Vice-President, Society for French Studies 1967-68, 1970-71, President 1968-69; Treasurer, International Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies 1969-70; President, British Society for XVIIIth Century Studies 1970-72; married 1935 Thelma Jones (died 1970; two sons, one daughter), 1973 Kathleen Folta; died Exeter 16 January 2001.



Robert Niklaus was Professor of French at Exeter University for 23 years and a luminary of 18th-century French studies.

The General Editor of the Exeter University Press series Textes Littéraires and Hodder & Stoughton's Textes Français Classiques et Modernes, he was widely published on Diderot, Rousseau and Voltaire; he was a contributor to the Voltaire Foundation Complete Works of Voltaire and his edition of Eriphyle appeared in 1998 - several more volumes will be published posthumously.

His lectures to undergraduates were moments of delightful intellectual carnivalese where scenes from the French Enlightenment were staged to provide students with a contextual understanding of the oeuvre under consideration. He became Diderot, he was Voltaire, and he took us there with him.

Robert Niklaus was born in London in 1910, the son of Swiss parents (his father was a Calvinist minister), and educated at the Lycée Français de Londres. He took two undergraduate degrees, a Licence-ÿs-Lettres at the University of Lille and then a BA in French with first class honours at London University. In 1934 he obtained his PhD for his thesis on the poet Jean Moréas - published in 1936 as Jean Moréas: poÿte lyrique. Two years later he was appointed to his first full-time post, as Assistant Lecturer at Manchester University, where he remained until 1952, when he became Professor at Exeter.

Niklaus built up the French department at Exeter from a small unit into one of the largest in Britain. In 1958, he enlarged the department to encompass Spanish, which by 1964 had become an independent department; and in that year he introduced Italian, which in turn gained autonomy as a specialist subject in 1975.

He was active, too, in the launch and growth of learned societies. He was President at various times of the British Society for XVIIIth Century Studies and of the Society for French Studies, for 10 years Treasurer of the International Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies and for 14 years a member of the Executive Committee of the Modern Humanities Research Association. He was also President of the Association of University Teachers and of the International Association of University Professors and Lecturers. At Exeter, besides being Head of Department, he was for three years Dean of the Faculty of Arts, 1959-62, and then Deputy Vice-Chancellor, 1965-67.

After his retirement in 1975, Niklaus remained busy, serving as a visiting professor at the universities of British Columbia, Natal and Rhodes. From 1977 to 1978 he was the Head of the Department of Languages at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, where he helped to reshape the department and re-energise the academic programme.

Robert Niklaus was a consummate conversationalist and a loyal friend, with a mischievous sense of fun. He was completely unselfish, never competitive, but he knew his own worth and how to measure the worth of others, with compassion, curiosity - even love.

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