Professor Ruth Aproberts

Canadian English scholar who championed Anthony Trollope from the campuses of California


Evelyn Ruth Heyer, English scholar: born Vancouver, British Columbia 14 November 1919; Professor, Department of English, University of California, Riverside 1971-90 (Emerita); married 1942 Robert apRoberts (died 2002; one son, three daughters); died Riverside, California 26 March 2006.

Ruth apRoberts, Professor of English Literature at the University of California, Riverside for 19 years, was an internationally recognised authority on the writings of Anthony Trollope, Thomas Carlyle and Matthew Arnold, as well as a distinguished literary analyst of the Hebrew and Christian bibles.

In 1971, in the same year that she took up her position at UC Riverside, she published her most influential work, The Moral Trollope (entitled Trollope, Artist and Moralist in the UK). It was a quietly audacious work of literary criticism that rejuvenated Trollope's reputation and vaulted him into the front ranks of the eminent Victorian novelists.

ApRoberts's aim was to counter the image of Trollope, perpetuated by English "cultists" such as Michael Sadleir and Lord David Cecil, that he was a novelist without ideas, style and technical sophistication. For apRoberts, it was this very absence of "style" that distinguished Trollope's art. His fiction was more realistic because it refused to draw attention to words, and instead offered the reader direct and dramatic access to the inner feelings of its characters.

ApRoberts touched on another theme in her study of Trollope that would dominate her later writings - the value of fiction in liberating human beings from the enervating constrictions of dogma and ideology, and in awakening them to what she called "the dear lovely complicated reality of men and women in society, the delicious possible".

In her next book, Arnold and God (1983), she focused on the author's neglected religious writings and introduced new manuscript evidence that revealed his indebtedness to the German higher critics, notably J.G. Herder, Wilhelm von Humboldt, Friedrich Schleiermacher and David Strauss. For Arnold, the German ideal of Bildung or self-development through culture offered a way out of the trap of religious dogma, which hardened human sympathies and narrowed the intellect. Arnold had discovered a bridge between religion and culture that enabled him to shape his life around "fictions of belief", that were provisional yet inspiring, relative yet true to circumstance. In poetry and literature, Arnold found a way of surviving the upheavals of his age without having to sacrifice the supreme fiction, which was God.

ApRoberts pursued a similar path in her research on Thomas Carlyle, whose Sartor Resartus (1833-34) she regarded as one of the landmark texts of modern times, signalling a profound transition from theological absolutism to spiritual pluralism and many-sidedness. In The Ancient Dialect (1988), she demonstrated the astonishing originality and influence of Carlyle's religion of "natural supernaturalism". His ability to assume the religious viewpoint of others was the direct consequence of his religion of wonder. Carlyle was both a scientist and a poet, and he understood that the true miracle of life lay in the existence of man, "the miracle of miracles".

It was no coincidence, apRoberts reminded her readers, that Carlyle was the first writer in either East or West to attempt to fathom the inner experience of the founder of Islam. Others in Europe had seen in Mohamed's ideas an expression of the essence of all true religion. Carlyle alone was interested in the man, the human person, grappling with the problems of human life and destiny that are common to all men and women.

In her later work on the Hebrew and Christian bibles, apRoberts applied these liberating insights with a refreshing fidelity to language and form. The Biblical Web (1994) reveals a playfully metaphorical approach to the study of Hebrew poetry and the Book of Job. With a Carlylean reverence for the necessity of faith, apRoberts continued to explore this modernist conception of spirituality in essays, lectures and in the classroom.

Born Ruth Heyer in Vancouver in 1919, she may have been inspired by the majestic natural surroundings of her childhood home to cultivate Goethean ambitions of her own intellectual and spiritual development. Her father, who had fled New York and an engineering career in order to practise journalism in Canada, had imbued his daughter with a strong sense of the sacred value of art, literature, music and European high culture. Her mother, who worked as a nurse in the Canadian army, instilled in her a keen awareness of the primacy of compassion in human relations.

As an undergraduate studying English literature at the University of British Columbia in the late 1930s, Ruth Heyer met Robert apRoberts, who shared her passion for the Bible, medieval literature, the French and German languages, and scatological humour. They were married in 1942 and for 60 years were inseparable companions.

Drawn to California and its renowned state university system, the apRobertses studied at Berkeley in the late Forties, Ruth receiving a master's degree. But economic pressures drove the family eastward to White Plains, New York, where Robert taught at the North Campus of New York University while Ruth raised her four children. For over 15 years, she remained outside the academy, yet her love of literature and culture never diminished. At home her children were taught to appreciate triangular cloth napkins and were discouraged from either participating in, or discussing, American sports.

In 1960 Robert apRoberts obtained an academic post at California State University, Northridge, and the family moved to Los Angeles. Ruth apRoberts later claimed that it was the free university system of California that rescued her from a life of nappies and laundry. In the early 1960s, she enrolled as a PhD student at the University of California, Los Angeles and began preparing a dissertation under the supervision of Professor Bradford Booth on her favourite English novelist, Anthony Trollope.

At least initially, Ruth apRoberts must have seemed an anomalous figure at UCLA, an institution that had already begun to feel the impact of the social and political counter-culture taking over campus life. The profound divisions that would divide the United States over the next decade were already apparent in the Berkeley riots in December 1964, and in the police attacks on black civil rights pacifists at Selma, Alabama, in March 1965.

It was a curious time for a 45-year-old mother of four to begin pursuing graduate studies in Victorian literature in Los Angeles. But apRoberts was closer in spirit to many of the campus radicals than many of her peers realised. Tall, elegant, slightly rumpled, with a relaxed charm and a girlish propensity to laughter, she concealed her fervent egalitarian ideals behind an appearance of genteel eccentricity. Her instructors and her fellow students quickly recognised that this quirky woman who peered at them through oversized spectacles possessed a fierce intelligence and a richly erudite critical imagination. Fluent in French, German, Hebrew, and Latin, she was intimately familiar with a vast range of literature and philosophy, and displayed an instinctive commitment to multiculturalism long before the notion became fashionable.

At the University of California, Riverside, she never took herself too seriously. She delighted in her Riverside home and the prodigious orange groves that bordered it on three sides, and, even after her retirement in 1990 and the death of her husband in 2002, refused to abandon what she called her "sanctum".

In her eighties, she lived an active life, attending concerts and lectures, and sipping margaritas at the splendid Mission Inn in Riverside. To her last days, she demonstrated Trollope's conviction that laughter, so impossible to atomise, "is in itself a great questioner of things".

David R. Sorensen

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Voices
Pupils educated at schools like Eton (pictured) are far more likely to succeed in politics and the judiciary, the report found
voices
Arts and Entertainment
Simon Cowell is less than impressed with the Strictly/X Factor scheduling clash
tvSimon Cowell blasts BBC for breaking 'gentlemen's agreement' in scheduling war
News
Orson Welles made Citizen Kane at 25, and battled with Hollywood film studios thereafter
people
News
Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie reportedly married in secret on Saturday
peopleSpokesperson for couple confirms they tied the knot on Saturday after almost a decade together
Sport
footballAnd Liverpool are happy despite drawing European champions
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Diana from the Great British Bake Off 2014
tvProducers confirm contestant left because of illness
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live
tv
Life and Style
fashion

Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Client-Side web developer (JQuery, Javascript, UI, JMX, FIX)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Client-Side web developer (JQuery, Javascript, U...

Structured Finance

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: CITY - An excellent new instruction w...

SQL Server Developer

£500 per day: Harrington Starr: SQL Server Developer SQL, PHP, C#, Real Time,...

C#.NET Developer

£600 per day: Harrington Starr: C#.NET Developer C#, Win Forms, WPF, WCF, MVVM...

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone