OBITUARY: Professor Gilbert Gadoffre

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The Independent Online
Gilbert Gadoffre was one of the most remarkable Frenchmen ever to hold a chair of French in Britain. As an assistant at Manchester University before the Second World War, he already championed courteous discussion - in beautiful surroundings - of methods and values. That ideal he saw partly realised in the common life then shared in English universities, and continued to uphold throughout his experiences in the French Resistance movement during the war.

At the fall of France in 1940, Dunoyer de Segonzac founded L'Ecole des Cadres in the romantic chteau at Uriage, near Grenoble. An idealistic yet practical community, it sought to instil values into the youth of their dismembered and defeated country. Gadoffre helped to turn it into a seedbed of the Resistance. Rumbled by Vichy (who paid the bills), les hommes d'Uriage were scattered by Joseph Darnand's militia. They regrouped in a rambling chteau, La Thbade, at Murinais, close to the Massif du Vercors, a centre of the Resistance. Gadoffre was the master, training "flying missions" in the techniques of resistance and in those ethical and cultural values which made the Rsistants not rebels or bandits but patriots, prepared for leadership in the liberating of France. When German and Vichyite troops encircled, stormed and sacked La Thbade in December 1943, the "missions" were away: for four days, Gadoffre hid alone in the attics, reading Shakespeare. When the enemy razed La Thbade, Gadoffre shot his way out through the flames and escaped to the maquis.

For his bravery he was awarded the Croix de Guerre, the Mdaille de la Rsistance and the Lgion d'Honneur, and the RAF expressed its gratitude. Gadoffre rarely spoke of his wartime experiences, but he wrote of them once - in his book Les Ordalies (1955). In 1953 he happily married Alice Staath, herself a heroine of the Resistance.

Once the war was over, Gadoffre became Director of Information in the French Zone of Austria. After lecturing in Manchester and Berkeley, California, he returned in 1969 to Vinaver's Chair of French in Manchester, a power- house of French studies. His interests centred on the Renaissance. His Ronsard (1960) is a model of the genre. His Du Bellay et le sacr (1978) was at once recognised as a probing and original study of the work of the mid-16th-century poet Joachim Du Bellay, a key figure in the French Renaissance. His last book - with proofs sent to Gallimard days before he died - is devoted to Renaissance humanism.

As Professor, Gadoffre held fast to his belief in the "colloque" (colloquy), the word he had introduced into French. In 1947, he had founded the Institut Collgial Europen where, first at Royaumont, outside Paris, and eventually in Loches, near Tours, young thinkers and writers came from many countries to live for a while with scholars, writers and artists known the world over. Gadoffre brought scholars from Germany, Austria and Italy back into the cultural fold; so too China and Japan (he felt a deep attraction to the cultures of the Far East).

Colloquies at the Institut were high-powered but leisurely. Intellectual effort ruled in the mornings around the baize- covered dining-room table; afternoons gave rise to relaxed talk, cutting across age and subject, and lasting friendships were formed. The one rule was courtesy. Disagreements were matters of rationality not ranting. In the highly charged atmosphere of post-war France, that was not to be taken for granted.

Gadoffre, an outstanding colleague, practised those ideals in Manchester, and spent hard-working vacations at the Institut. After his retirement in 1978 he gave even more time to the colloquies and their publication and to the interdisciplinary seminars he had co-founded at the Collge de France. For him there were never two cultures.

He lived for his ideals and for his dreams. Like many a brave man, he was a man of peace. To his humiliated country he brought honour; in England, living respected among colleagues who had also "done their bit", he was loved as an original and patient teacher and admired for his vision and drive.

M. A. Screech

Gilbert Gadoffre, French scholar and wartime resister: born 16 June 1911; Director, Institut Collgial Europen 1947-95; Professor of French, Manchester University 1969-78; married 1953 Alice Staath; died 2 March 1995.