Obituary: Kathleen Speight

Kathleen Speight, Italian scholar: born 3 June 1903; died Cambridge 18 August 1993.

KATHLEEN SPEIGHT devoted her life to stimulating interest in Italian studies in Britain.

Born in 1903, she was educated at St Mary's and St Anne's, Abbots Bromley, and Manchester University, where she was only the third student to graduate in Italian Studies, having arrived with the intention of taking a degree in Geography. It is rumoured that the change of subject was due to a collision with the lecturer in Italian, Azeglio Valgimigli, which scattered his armful of books. While retrieving these she had her first, unusual, but apparently irresistible, contact with Italian literature.

After graduating under Professor Piero Rebora in 1926, Speight spent several years in secretarial work before returning to academic circles in 1932. She then worked for a year as Assistant in Italian at Manchester University under Professor Mario Praz, with whom, in 1933, she took her MA. Three years in Italy followed, teaching English in the British Institute in Florence. In 1936 she was awarded the degree of Dott Lett by Florence University. Florence became thereafter her second home: she visited the city for at least a month every year.

Returning to England, she went as Lector in Italian to Cambridge for two years, where she took her M Litt in 1938, then went back to Manchester as part-time Assistant Lecturer in the Department of Italian under Professor Walter Bullock. This period coincided with the years of the Second World War and she lectured in Liverpool as well as Manchester. Despite this she managed for two years to find time to care for three Spanish children, victims of their country's civil war.

After Bullock's sudden death in 1944, Speight was left in charge of the Manchester Italian Department, of which she continued as acting head until the chair was filled in 1961. Under her guidance and care the department grew and developed considerably and played an increasingly important part in the work of the Faculty of Arts.

Kathleen Speight was an inspiring teacher whose enthusiasm was infectious, and her profound knowledge of Italian literature was never allowed to smother a bubbling sense of humour. Her special love was for the 'golden age' of Italian writing, the 14th century, but her interests, like her teaching, covered the whole field of Italian culture.

In addition to work within the university, she was for long an active member of the directing committee of the Society of Italian Studies in Britain. She was chairman of the Manchester Medieval Society and for 25 years held the position of honorary secretary to the venerable Manchester Dante Society, founded in 1906. On the occasion of the society's golden jubilee in 1956, she organised the festivities and a 'Works of Dante' exhibition for the John Rylands Library. The exhibition afterwards toured Nottingham University and the University of Toronto. In 1965, to celebrate the seventh centenary of Dante's birth, she arranged for the Whitworth Art Gallery the exhibition 'Dante and his Illustrators', which was then shown at the Italian Institute in London and at Warwick University.

Speight attended numerous international conferences and in 1966 was visiting Professor at the University of Toronto. Later the same year, after the disastrous flood in Florence, she organised the collection of a considerable sum of money, both to help flood victims and to contribute towards the restoration of damaged works of art. She also exhorted Manchester University to give generous financial help.

Her numerous publications include the popular Teach Yourself Italian, Italian Novels of Today and TJ Mathias - an English writer of Italian verse. In 1962 she prepared the Italian part of the programme for the Writers' Conference at the Edinburgh Festival.

In 1961 the Italian government awarded Speight the Cross of Cavalicci Ufficiale della Repubblica Italiana. It was an honour of which she was justly proud. Inspired by boundless love for Italy, she was ceaselessly active and enthusiastic promoter of Italian studies. On retirement she spent winters near Cambridge and summers in her little tower in Montesi near Florence. She never really retired and to the end continued her Italian studies and contribution to the benefit of Anglo-Italian relations.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Ashdown Group: Human Resources Manager

£28000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: A successful organisation...

Recruitment Genius: Internal Recruiter - Manufacturing

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Internal Recruiter (manufact...

Ashdown Group: HR Manager (CIPD) - Barking / East Ham - £50-55K

£50000 - £55000 per annum + 25 days holidays & benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Man...

Recruitment Genius: Operations / Project Manager

£40000 - £48000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This software company specialis...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent