Tim McFarland: Noted authority on the literature of medieval Germany

 

In February 1994 in the Bloomsbury Theatre in London there was a performance in German of Goethe's Faust given by staff and students of the UCL German department. During the rarely performed second part, where we are shown the Holy Roman Emperor solving his financial problems by issuing paper money, the Emperor was played by a member of staff who relished to the full the comedy and the density of historical and cultural allusion in the text. He was the department's senior medievalist, Timothy McFarland, who had, so it was said, long harboured a secret ambition to be Holy Roman Emperor. His death is a grievous loss.

McFarland was a New Zealander, born in Hamilton in 1936. His mother died when he was only one, but a relative on the mother's side moved in to run the household. She adored the little boy, whose childhood was happy and sheltered until two bitter blows fell. At the age of eight he was sent to Dilworth, an Anglican boarding school which, with its ethos of sporty heartiness, was profoundly uncongenial to him. He was nine when his father committed suicide; he never forgot that the headmaster sent for him, gave him the news, and suggested that he should get a glass of hot milk from matron and then return to his class.

None the less he progressed academically, gaining a scholarship in the national exams. His school had no history teacher but undeterred, McFarland taught himself and emerged with the highest marks in the country. He then went to Auckland University, where he studied German and English initially, and then, with the support of a senior scholarship, proceeded to take an MA in German with First Class Honours.

A Humboldt Scholarship took him, at the age of 20, to Munich where he spent nine happy years as a research student and then as Lektor at the University. He was fond of recalling that he could measure the unfolding of the German economic miracle by the upward trajectory of the drinks that his friends were able to serve – from beer to wine to Sekt to champagne. It was in Munich that he came into the orbit of the great medievalist Hugo Kuhn; and medieval German literature became the centre of his scholarly life.

In October 1965 he moved to University College London as Lecturer, subsequently Senior Lecturer, in German. He stayed at the College until his retirement in 2000. He was a stunning teacher who persuaded his students to share in his love of precise textual study, through his sheer enthusiasm for ideas. With the drive of someone who thought across disciplinary boundaries McFarland masterminded the introduction of the European Studies degree, but as a scholar he remained true to medieval German literature. His various essays and papers combined meticulous precision and detailed philological detective work with an ability to suggest broader perspectives.

An early paper of 1972 on a relatively minor writer explored the issue of themed, self-reflexive authorship in the text – an insight taken up by later scholars. He wrote on and edited volumes on such authors as Wolfram von Eschenbach and Walther von der Vogelweide. He did not, it has to be said, publish as much as he and his colleagues would have wished; but that was in part because of the breadth of his intellectual interests and because of a particular understanding he had of what scholarship entailed. One of his particular fortes was organising and taking part in colloquia. And that sense of delight in dialogue was central to his understanding of scholarship which, he believed, at its best to be a gregarious, and sociable activity.

His range was astonishing, and it embraced art, music, history, architecture. He worked, for example, on Gunter Grass's novel The Flounder, teasing out the implications of an important medieval intertext; on the importance, in the 1920s, of the American journal The Dial; on music composed in Theresienstadt concentration camp; on an historical guide to Bavaria. His last publication was on the issue of antisemitism in Wagner's music dramas (refuting the contention that the figure of Beckmesser in The Mastersingers is an anti-Semitic caricature).

He also had wide civic commitments – to liberal politics, and to the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson School for Girls in Islington (in which Michelle Obama has taken a great interest). He was a governor of the school, and he was hugely generous with both time and money, contributing handsomely to an important building project.

He had a genius for friendship and his gift for conversation was miraculous. Yet for all his wonderful fluency he was never overbearing. His lively sense of irony was always ready to screen out any pomposity, and his gurgling laughter was constantly in evidence, and was inseparable from the deep humanity that informed everything that he did.

Mention has been made of the theatre, which was a major love of his life. In the opening scene of Brecht's Life of Galileo two aspects of the great scientist's being emerge with particular force. One is his belief in the sheer sensuousness of ideas, in the almost physical need of the human mind to think, reflect, and debate – a need as urgent as that for food and drink (both of which McFarland enjoyed to the full). The other is his genius as a teacher; he instructs the boy Andrea in the new cosmology, and he does so by putting him on a chair and moving him bodily. At the heart of that pedagogy is not simply information, but rather an understanding that speaks to and moves the whole person.

Those two strands of abundant living were present in McFarland. Everything he did was shared most generously with those around him. For something over 40 years, his life was shared by Jenny Davies. They married in 2011, and they were inseparable.

Timothy Duffus McFarland, scholar: born Hamilton, New Zealand 28 May 1936; married 2011 Jenny Davies; died London 16 February 2013.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
A 1930 image of the Karl Albrecht Spiritousen and Lebensmittel shop, Essen. The shop was opened by Karl and Theo Albrecht’s mother; the brothers later founded Aldi
people
News
Lane Del Rey performing on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury 2014
people... but none of them helped me get a record deal, insists Lana Del Rey
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules
filmReview: The Rock is a muscular Davy Crockett in this preposterous film, says Geoffrey Macnab
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
British author Howard Jacobson has been long-listed for the Man Booker Prize
books
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmA cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Sport
Louis van Gaal watches over Nani
transfers
Arts and Entertainment
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius
theatreThe Shakespeare play that proved too much for more than 100 people
News
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
Sport
New Real Madrid signing James Rodríguez with club president Florentino Perez
transfersColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
Arts and Entertainment
Stir crazy: Noel Fielding in 'Luxury Comedy 2: Tales from Painted Hawaii'
comedyAs ‘Luxury Comedy’ returns, Noel Fielding on why mainstream success scares him and what the future holds for 'The Boosh'
Life and Style
Flow chart: Karl Landsteiner discovered blood types in 1900, yet scientists have still not come up with an explanation for their existence
lifeAll of us have one. Yet even now, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Arts and Entertainment
'Weird Al' Yankovic, or Alfred Matthew, at the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival Screening of
musicHis latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do our experts think he’s missed out?
Travel
Hotel Tour d’Auvergne in Paris launches pay-what-you-want
travelIt seems fraught with financial risk, but the policy has its benefits
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe best children's books for this summer
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

Senior Private Client Solicitor - Gloucestershire

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: Senior Private Client Solicitor - We are makin...

Microsoft Dynamics AX Support Developer

£50000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: A unique and rare opport...

Insight Analyst – Permanent – Up to £40k – North London

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum plus 23 days holiday and pension scheme: Clearwater ...

People Change Manager

£260 - £325 per day: Progressive Recruitment: IT Trainer: E-Commerce Experienc...

Day In a Page

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn